WATERBURY, Conn. — For most of her 62 years, Deborah Klein has lived a relatively comfortable life. She raised two children, held down a career and considered herself a productive member of society. But in 2005, her fortunes began to change.
She was laid off from her $80,000-a-year job but managed to find a series of other — albeit, lower-paying — positions, including two years doing graphic design and six months as a marketing communications manager. Since 2008, she has done some part-time and volunteer work but has been unable to find a full-time job.
Two years ago Klein took advantage of a state-sponsored program that paid for the cost of retraining in a field that at that time was greatly understaffed — pharmacy technician.
“I looked at the possible jobs I could train for and saw where the greatest potential was,” she says. “Coincidentally, it was something I was interested in.”
After graduating at the top of her class from Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Conn., in April, she began looking for a tech job. Nearly 500 resumes later, she is still looking.
As her job inquiries have gone unanswered and the few interviews she has had before and after retraining have gone nowhere, Klein says she is beginning to think that her age may be working against her.
For example, she recalls, one of the few times she was called in for an interview she sensed immediately that age would be a barrier. “I walked in and I was the old lady of the place,” Klein recently told an interviewer from NPR. “I did not fit the demographic at all,” she said. “The woman who was initially speaking to me was this little girl — I could almost have picked her up by the scruff of her neck. I mean, you knew I was not a fit.”
Instead of viewing her age as a detriment, Klein says she feels that being over 60 with a solid job history, a strong education and board certification as a pharmacy technician make her the ideal candidate for a technician’s position at retail or in a clinical setting. “I can do the job better than young people, because I have 25 years of customer experience,” she says. “But I can’t even get my toe in the water.”
In most cases, Klein says, prospective employers tell her that they would be happy to hire her as a pharmacy technician but she has no experience. And while they admit that certification from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board is a plus, most pharmacies — especially those of large chains — have internal training programs that a person must take to qualify as a pharmacy tech.
“How can I get experience if no one hires me?” Klein asks. “And, as for their own training, I am more than willing to take whatever courses they want me to.”
At the time Klein began training to be a pharmacy technician the field offered one of the greatest opportunities available. Forecasters said that between 2010 and 2020 the nation’s pharmacies would need a record number of technicians.
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in 2010, the demand for pharmacy technicians was expected to increase by about 30% by 2018.
“This means that experienced pharmacy technicians will have plenty of job opportunities regardless of where they choose to live,” the report said.
Yet Klein’s plight and recent trends have shown those projections to be overly optimistic.
“It may be more a function of the area she is in than her qualifications,” says Carmen Catizone, president of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which advocates for the greater use of technicians in the nation’s pharmacies.
“If they needed the bodies like they did a few years ago, she would have no problem. But just like with pharmacists, there is a glut of technicians now and companies can be more selective.”