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As technological advances continue to roil the global economy, with established jobs and industries lost and new jobs and industries sprouting up seemingly overnight, the need for workplace training and education is critical for almost all of us as we age.

With increasing enrollments and tighter budgets at local universities, community colleges, and specialized schools, support from grantmakers is needed more than ever to create innovative pathways to provide job training and retraining for older adults.

Even relatively modest investments in workforce training and education can turn into lasting and important contributions to a community. For example, small grants can help a college pilot new approaches for older learners that later become integrated into ongoing college offerings. Many “small bets” can turn the key to continued employability for a large number of adult students.

Here are some ideas for how grantmakers can help adults get the education and training they need to remain vital players in their community’s economic life.

Support technology training

The technology skills needed to thrive in today’s hi-tech world are constantly changing. Adult learners of all ages need varying degrees of tech training. Here are some examples of programs made possible by grantmakers that have helped older adults master the tech skills they need to navigate online

  • After they saw the difference that learning computer skills made in their grandparents’ lives, two teenage sisters in Canada developed a program called Cyber Seniors that pairs older adults hoping to become computer literate with high school and college-age students and others willing to teach them, one-on-one. Following a local showing of an acclaimed documentary on the program, students from a local school in Winter Park, FL, were so inspired that they started a pilot program matching their students with local seniors. It was such a success that Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) approved a $30,000 grant so Volunteers for Community Impact (VCI) could expand the program in the area.

The CTA Foundation, a public, national foundation affiliated with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), works to make computer and other technologies more accessible to older adults and people with disabilities. Among programs the foundation has supported that benefit older adults are:

  • Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), which created the Senior Planet online learning platform that provides free multimedia content to older adults on how to use consumer technologies, with more thematic content related to health and wellness.
  • Jewish Council for the Aging (JCA) of Greater Washington’s SeniorTech program, which offers technology training to older adults. The CTA Foundation grant supports increasing capacity at five of JCA’s tech training centers where computer and technology courses are taught to adults age 50 plus by expert, older adult volunteers.
  • The David Bohnett Foundation, with added support from OATS, funded The David Bohnett CyberCenter at SAGE Center Midtown. SAGE, dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults, opened the CyberCenter to provide LGBT older adults with a welcoming, comfortable space to learn basic skills, attend classes and workshops, learn how to better navigate the Internet, or simply use reliable computing tools.

Support job training

Older adults looking to return to the workforce or advance their careers often need assistance in navigating the rapidly changing employment landscape. Here are a couple of examples of programs that are helping to support and train older job seekers:

  • The AARP Foundation’s Back to Work 50+ program provides struggling Americans age 50 and older with the information, support, training, and employer access they need to regain employment, advance in the workforce, and build financial capability and resiliency to prevent them from slipping into poverty later in life. In addition to online resources such as “7 Smart Strategies for Jobseekers,” the AARP Foundation also partners with community colleges and Workforce Investment Boards at 20 sites across the country to help older adults seeking jobs.
  • Authorized under the federal Older Americans Act, the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) provides job training for low-income, unemployed people age 55 and older who meet specific income requirements. Participants in the program gain work experience in a variety of community service activities at non-profit and public facilities, including schools, hospitals, day-care centers, and senior centers. They work an average of 20 hours a week, and are paid the highest of federal, state, or local minimum wage. This training serves as a bridge to unsubsidized employment opportunities for participants. The program provides more than 40 million community service hours to public and non-profit agencies, allowing them to enhance and provide needed services.

SCSEP works with grantees to offer the program across the country, including state agencies and national nonprofit organizations. Easterseals SCSEP administers the program locally through Easterseals sub-grantees in the states of Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah. In each location, Easterseals partners with community-based nonprofit organizations and government agencies to provide participants with training opportunities to update their skills. Job seekers participating in the program work with Easterseals staff to set and achieve personal employment goals.

What to fund

Other strategies to consider include:

  • Programs that support internships, employer networking, and job placement
  • Small grants to work with employers, host career fairs and networking events, and to subsidize internship placements. These can help connect older people who want to work and employers who need their talent and skills.
  • A marketing campaign to reach older adults who may not be aware of new approaches that local colleges are taking to serve them. Radio spots, information sessions, and well-placed flyers in employment and aging services offices can be very effective.
  • Scholarships that cover the costs of fast-track, non-credit certification programs at local community colleges
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