Sharon Emek, founder and owner of Work at Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE). (photo from WAHVE)
Sharon Emek’s company, Work at Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE), celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
WAHVE matches experienced professionals who are transitioning into retirement with businesses that are looking for the professionals’ specific skills and expertise. One of the draws for what WAHVE calls “pretirees” is that the pretiree can work from home. “By removing the requirement that workers be in the office, we break down the walls that confine businesses to a smaller talent pool,” notes the website. “Wherever the best talent is for the job, we help make it happen.”
Company founder Emek was raised in a moderate Chassidic home, but her parents refused her request to pursue a higher education. Nonetheless, she went to university, earned a doctorate and became a professor. Being computer and tech savvy, however, she started consulting for companies that were developing efficiency procedures and protocols. In the early 1980s, she went into business for herself.
When she was consulting for brokers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, she said, “The insurance companies began noticing how the work I was doing helped them run a better operation, so they asked if I’d like to start my own insurance brokerage firm. They said, ‘We don’t have any women,’ so I said, ‘Great. I’ll be happy to.’ I’d never actually sold insurance before, but I know a lot of people, so I wrote a business plan.”
Emek’s agency became one of the largest female-owned agencies in the area, before it merged with a larger brokerage firm in 2003.
“The industry began to worry about a potentially huge talent drain to come … everyone was turning grey,” said Emek. “It was a huge boomer industry. Young people hadn’t come into the industry and everyone was concerned at what we were going to do and how we’d get our work done.
“For me,” she said, “for every problem, there’s a solution. The research started to show that the more active you are, the more you engage your brain, and the longer you live.”
Within a few years, smartphones came out and laptops were gaining popularity. A couple of years later, voice systems and video calls became commonplace.
“You can [work] … at home and no one would know that you weren’t in the office, so it occurred to me, why don’t people do that? I bet people want to continue to work, but they don’t want to be in an office any longer,” said Emek. “After 30 years of driving to work, they are ready to retire from the regular office setting … but they’re not ready to retire from work.
“We did a whole survey in the industry of people over 55, asking them about that. All of them said that they love what they do, that they don’t want to stop working – they just don’t want to work in the office. And, also, that they are worried they don’t have enough money for retirement. So, all that came together in my head and I woke up one day and said, ‘Duh!’”
While people were ready to work from home, brokerage firms did not know how to make that a reality, so Emek developed a methodology for qualifying people interested in going this route. Creating a matrix of questions similar to dating sites, but for business purposes, she assessed 50-to-80-year-olds and helped them create a resumé to qualify them for remote positions in the insurance industry.
For the past 10 years, WAHVE has been connecting “vintage” experts with brokerage positions, filling needs on both sides of the spectrum.
Neither side meets in person, she said, so the potential employer has no idea of the applicant’s ethnicity or physical attributes.
“Our clients fill out a whole job request that includes their work culture, their daily functions, etc.,” said Emek. “We created this very sophisticated software and the whole point is to transform how everyone views retirement. These people are ‘un-retiring’ … retiring from the office, not from work. That’s the key.”
While Emek acknowledges that many other industries could benefit from this type of worker, her focus for now is on the insurance and financial services sectors.
“People are still old-fashioned, thinking the only way to supervise is to see you in the office, but they are beginning to understand that they can have a flexible work environment. They also realize that you can’t always find the right talent in your backyard,” she said.
Although many younger people also would love the opportunity to work from home, Emek recommended that they start by working in an office, to gain experience and expertise.
“That’s the problem with millennials,” said Emek. “They want to work from home, but they don’t have institutional knowledge yet. How are they going to learn it unless they work with people? A 25-year-old has to be trained. They don’t yet have the knowledge to work from home.
“My customers will hire my people because they know they are experts with 25 or 30 years of experience. Within two days, they are 100% productive. My people fill a need immediately. And there’s no turnover, they aren’t looking for a promotion – they just want steady work for the rest of their lives.
“WAHVE is more than a placement agency,” she said. “It provides support to clients, insurance and tech support…. In a sense, it provides home office management services, so professionals can do their jobs. I call it the ‘independent contractor model.’”
Emek gave the example of a woman who contacted WAHVE several months ago. In an email of thanks, the woman shared, “I moved to be near my daughter and granddaughter. I’ve been in the business 30 years and I have excellent credentials, but, every time I walk into the office for an interview, they’d see my age and that I have a limp. So, for over a year, almost a year-and-a-half, I could not find a job. I applied on WAHVE and, within a month-and-a-half, I now have a job I love. And nobody knows how old I am or that I have a limp.”
Of this, Emek said, “That’s why, that’s the purpose of WAHVE.”
WAHVE is not yet in Canada, but Emek would like to see it branch out here and beyond. “At this point,” she said, “we are trying to finish penetrating the big insurance companies. Once we do that, we’ll head to Canada – in two years, we hope.”
For more information, visit wahve.com.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.