When Estelle Savage retired at age 91 from Josh Early Candies in South Whitehall Township, she had been on the payroll for more than 40 years.
While Savage was one of the company’s oldest workers, her age and tenure are not anomalies at the fifth-generation Lehigh Valley candy maker, which was recognized Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging for its long-standing practice of hiring older workers.
Josh Early received the department’s 2018 Outstanding Employer award at the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association’s annual conference, attended by nearly 800 people in Hershey.
The company will be enshrined in the department’s Hall of Fame of Champions of Older Workers.
Josh Early, which has another store in Bethlehem Township, has 65 employees whose average age is 65 and have worked there an average of 13 years. Ten percent of its workers are 75 or older.
The company’s oldest employee, Madge Ackerman from Macungie, is 89 and has worked there for 46 years.
Hiring older workers just “seems to be a natural fit for our business,” said Barry Dobil, one of the owners.
“It has been our practice, and we’ve had good results following that procedure all along,” Dobil said. “They have a good work ethic and they are dedicated to the job.”
Dobil said a number of employees say they enjoy coming to work because it’s a social outlet for them.
“They enjoy the camaraderie of other individuals of a similar age,” he said.
Teresa Osborne, secretary of the Department of Aging, said in a statement, “Employers like Josh Early Candies, which prides itself on creating a work atmosphere based on teamwork, respect and an inclusive working environment, wisely turn to mature Pennsylvania workers who have a lifetime of experience working with others, solving problems and seeking help when necessary.”
Dobil said he took three of his employees to the awards luncheon who had a combined average of 65 years of service to the company.
“One of them became an octogenarian just last week,” he said.
While Dobil couldn’t say if the dark chocolate they make is a factor in his employees’ longevity, but it probably contributes to their happiness. They have carte blanche when it comes to tasting.
“We encourage employees, when they start, to eat anything and everything,” he said. “You can’t describe it if you haven’t experienced it yourself.”
Nearly a dozen employers and training providers also were presented the Governor’s Achievement Awards for outstanding hiring and workforce development.
The awards are sponsored by the state workforce development agencies in the departments of Labor & Industry, Aging, Human Services and Education.
The PWDA is part of a federally funded, nationwide program developed to assist people looking for a new job or to advance their careers, as well as employers who need to fill vacancies with skilled workers or to train their workforces.