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    Older Workers – Celebrating an Opportunity and Not a Challenge

    The United States is experiencing a demographic shift that has older workers coming into the workforce at greater projections than other demographics. By 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that workers 55 and over will make up about one quarter of the civilian labor workforce. There is an increase in workers over the traditional retirement age of 65 working longer and retiring later.

    National Employ Older Workers Week, held annually the last full week in September, was created to increase awareness of this labor segment in the workforce and share innovative strategies on how to tap into it. It also highlights the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which provides subsidized training at nonprofits and government agencies to older adults 55 and over with limited financial resources. SCSEP has been responsible for helping over one million older Americans enter into the workforce since its creation 52 years ago and provides services to an estimate number of over 65,000 older workers each year.

    SCSEP is mandated through the Older Americans Act to serve older unemployed adults who are most-in-need and have significant barriers to employment. Most participants have an average of two or three unique barriers that include homelessness, at risk of homelessness, disability, living in rural areas and long-term unemployment. Long-term unemployed older adults often enroll in SCSEP experiencing depression and exhaustion. The longer you’re out of work, especially if you’re older, the harder it becomes to get a job offer. The ability to find a job declines by roughly 50 percent within eight months of unemployment, according to a 2016 paper by economists Gregor Jarosch of Stanford University and Laura Pilossoph of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

    Yet failure of SCSEP providers to transition half of its unemployed participants into unsubsidized employment has SCSEP targeted to be eliminated.  The focus on older workers during National Employ Older Workers Week is more important than ever, with the highlight on SCSEP being the only federal workforce program targeted to low-income older workers. Other key points include: SCSEP provides income assistance to participants while they upgrade their skills pertinent to today’s labor market, increase confidence and self-esteem, provides ways to overcome feelings of isolation and supports thousands of community service hours throughout each and every state.

    As we prepare to celebrate National Employ Older Workers Week this September, take a moment to think about the vital role that older workers have in the workforce and some different ways in which you can increase awareness of this labor segment. As people continue to delay retirement, businesses and leaders should be looking at how older workers can provide critical experience, skills and transfer of knowledge. Flexible and part-time work schedules are crucial for older adults who have other life commitments, such as caring for a parent. Other suggestions include:

    • Target older adults for workforce trainings and certification programs, including basic digital literacy.
    • Develop strategies to increase age diversity in the workplace.
    • Promote intergenerational activities that help employees understand how to communicate across different generations.
    • Create training opportunities for SCSEP providers in your state.

    Brian Sloan, managing director of Age Scotland, stated, “An ageing workforce should not be viewed as a challenge, but as an opportunity. He stressed that one’s chronological are is less relevant than one’s attitude and behaviors. The older workforce does demonstrate a resilience, loyalty and great work ethic but you must be willing to give them a chance. What a perfect time, as we celebrate National Employ Older Workers Week September 24 through September 30, to demonstrate and share how you support older workers.  Please share your ideas with deborah.edmonds@goodwill.org.

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