Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) in Largo, Maryland, is helping local residents 50 years of age and older determine what’s next for them in their careers. In 2010 the college created the Envision 50+ course to help the unemployed, retirees, and career changers explore their options and determine next steps. Combining both in-person and online work, the course builds a warm, welcoming environment for students to examine their skills, experience, fears and aspirations – and determine how to venture into their encore careers. A total of 89 adults, ranging in age from 51 to 77, enrolled in the first four ten week courses.
Yvette Snowden, Director of Community Education in the Department of Workforce Development and Continuing Education, sees this program as a win-win for both the college and students. Encore students explore career goals, assess skill sets, update resumes, and learn new job hunting and application strategies in a course designed for plus-50 adults in a similar stage of life. The college, which waives tuition for those 60 and older, sees this as a pipeline to PGCC’s numerous career and technical education courses. Says Snowden: “Envision 50+ has made the college aware of the need to market our programs and services directly to this unique population.”
An attractive feature of Envision 50+ for encore learners is its hybrid online and in-person approach. Each student is given lifetime access to an online career exploration program called the Kuder Journey Career Planning System. The program, which assesses students on their career interests and skills, points them toward potential occupations and includes job descriptions, average salaries, and required training and education. After taking the online assessment and discussing their personal interests in class, a full 60 percent of students indicated their desire to work in the health care, education, and social services fields. Kuder Journey also helped students brush up on their computer and online job hunting skills. Through this program, Snowden states that older students were able to learn and apply “state of the art technologies needed for conducting successful searches for encore careers in the 21st century.”
Mattie Ruffin, a 62 year old retiree of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who joined Envision50+ to explore her career options, appreciated how the software increased interaction between students and staff, saying that it is “very good at keeping us up-to-date” with class activities and job openings.
The Kuder Journey online program was combined with weekly in-person classes facilitated by two instructors trained in adult learning. Students were also given access to personalized assistance from a career counselor. The counselor, who transitioned to working solely with plus-50 learners helps students update their resumes, conduct mock interviews, and keep informed of area job openings. “Securing buy-in of the Career Services Center was critical to the success of the program” says Snowden of building such a strong partnership at the college.
Creating partnerships with external stakeholders is also an important aspect of Envision 50+’s success. Snowden and her colleagues developed a working relationship with the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which in turn helped to recruit several students through its Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). SCSEP, part of the Older Americans Act, is a federal workforce program that trains low-income older workers for paid community service jobs. The AAA also sponsored the Partners in Employment (PIE) luncheons at the end of each course, enabling encore students to meet plus-50-friendly local employers in the health care, education, and social services fields with job openings.
As a result of the Envision 50+ course’s multi-faceted approach that combines online learning, classroom discussion, career counseling, and employer networking, many encore students have been successful in their job search. Participants have found employment ranging from preparing meals for an adult assisted living facility, caregiving for the elderly, driving a bus for adults and children with developmental disabilities, to teaching a course on midlife transitions as an adjunct instructor at PGCC. Another student decided to pursue her interest to become a nutritionist for low-income expectant and new mothers and infant children, actively working with the career counselor along the way.
The college, which started the program with funding from the Encore College Initiative, plans to continue Envision 50+. Snowden describes the impact of the Envision 50+ program as a win-win: “The course changed both the college and the community for the better. Older students became aware of valuable college resources that they did not know were available to them, and the college has increased its capacity to address the needs of this burgeoning population.”