In 2010, Morgan Community College in Ft. Morgan Colorado launched the MCC Encore Career Project to prepare older adults for encore careers in health care, a sector identified by the Eastern Colorado Workforce Center as having current and projected workforce shortages.
These labor force needs complement local boomer interests, says Suzanna Spears in the college’s President’s Office. “The percentage of older adults in our area is greater than in the state as a whole. Older adults are looking for a way to be more engaged with the community and want health care services that will improve the quality of life for all.”
The pilot program focused on residents of Morgan County, a rural area that encompasses approximately 2,000 square miles and has about 28,000 residents.
At the close of the 12-month pilot:
- Five of the 10 encore students who completed training were employed as Emergency Medical Technicians in their local communities.
- The remaining five were preparing to take state board exams.
- Thirty-three other encore learners enrolled in the program were continuing their educations - working on a variety of certificates and degrees in areas such as medical office assistant, phlebotomist, nurses’ aide and registered nurse.
Tom Blickham, an encore nursing student at MCC, says the program helped him change careers. “The Encore Program provided an essential resource for me – the ‘maturing adult’ – to gain the skills I needed to change my course in the work force. It helped me tackle obstacles I encountered when returning to school at this stage in my life.”
Nationally, many encore students struggle with the costs of additional training, but Morgan Community College took that stumbling block off the table early on. College staff made sure that all the encore health care programs received approval from the State Workforce Board so that eligible encore students could apply for financial assistance.
It made a big difference, as one student earning a phlebotomy certificate attests. “I received assistance with text books, ID badge, insurance, working scrubs and one-on-one advising. Without this help I probably would not have pursued another career.”
MCC addressed a second common barrier – navigating the college system – by employing an individual as a “student navigator” to recruit older adults, then introduce them to short-term health care training packages with projected job opportunities and financial assistance. Once the students were enrolled, the navigator became a mentor and a person who could recommend available resources to students. Once students completed the program, the navigator helped them develop job search strategies and find jobs.
MCC developed a multi-faceted marketing strategy to get the word out to its widely dispersed, rural population.
- Community partnerships with the Workforce Center and the Older Adult Resource Council helped with recruitment by educating member agencies, staff and clients about MCC’s encore program.
- Social service agencies gave out information on the program to interested individuals.
- The college sent letters to currently enrolled older adults who had not declared a career interest and hosted four orientation sessions.
As a result, more encore students enrolled than expected.
One administrator suggested that other colleges reach out to people in their thirties and forties who have parents who may be interested in encore programs. “Many younger people encouraged their parents to go back to school. I think they understand the value of school training, value their parents’ wishes for encore careers and want their parents to achieve dreams that were put on hold to raise a family.”
MCC staff remarked on two more surprises:
- While the college expected encore students would be interested in the compressed, short-term certificate programs, many of them expressed interest in one- and two-year training programs.
- The sense of community that grew among encore students surprised many, fostering friendships and creating networking connections that continue beyond the program.
Read a story about Hank Smith, a retired postal worker who retrained at Morgan Community College to be a caregiver.