GEORGIA – When most Forest Service employees shutdown their computers and leave their office for the last time, they don’t look back. They go into retirement with plans to travel, spend time with family, take up hobbies or even start second careers. Others, though, know they’ll miss their jobs, the “Forest Service family” and, most of all, the opportunity to share their knowledge with employees who are new to the agency or coming up in the ranks.
“You’ll understand when you retire,” says Sue Brown, with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s not the same as having to come to work. Now I come to work because I want to. Back in the 1970s, women like me—we were pioneers. Now we can come back and mentor others, help them solve problems. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that.”
Brown retired from the Forest Service in 2015 after more than 36 years, making her way from receptionist to timber sale administrator. She is one of four retired agency employees hired by the National Forests in Florida last year through the Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services Program.
Authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, ACES started as a yearlong assessment initiative in May 2017 with a focus on technical assistance in silviculture and timber sales, but has now been extended until December 2018.
“The benefits of the ACES program are immeasurable,” says Marcia Pfleiderer, natural resources staff officer for the National Forests in Florida. “Our employees are gaining skills and knowledge from retirees and retirees are happy to be back with their Forest Service family. The hiring process is simple. It’s a win-win all the way around.”
“It’s really easy on our side, too,” says Brown. “ACES is much easier than the regular contractor process. Now that the program has been extended, I can stay until December. I’m really happy about that.”
Although retirees with the required skill and knowledge base are encouraged to apply for positions, the ACES program is open to anyone with the right skill set. Currently the National Older Worker Career Center serves as a conduit and manager for the program in Florida. NOWCC handles the outreach and recruiting, application process, time and attendance, onboarding and payroll. The hiring unit handles security, office space, position description, work assignments, oversight and computer profile access.
“In our case, we’ve been able to hire retirees who bring all the benefits of a full career,” says Pfleiderer. “It’s also an added bonus to have familiar faces that support solid working relationships.”
When asked, Brown said she didn’t know how long she would continue to work in her retirement.
“There’s always more customers and more problems to solve,” she says. “I love working with the staff, side by side, figuring things out and providing excellent customer service. I really can’t ask for anything better.”