Learn the Top 10 Ideas From the 2009 Winners

The multigenerational workforce at Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida is due, in part, to the CEO's call for more encore workers.

Even in today’s challenging economic times, nonprofits and government agencies are engaging people over 50 in creative ways to accomplish pressing missions. Spread across the country, the eight 2009 Encore Opportunity Award winners protect public safety, build low-income housing, teach job skills, preserve the environment and fill other vital needs.

Though diverse, the winners have at least one thing in common: They have tapped encore talent to serve the common good. Six of the winners are employers who are hiring and retaining people in encore careers as part of their workforce. Two operate programs that help employers find encore career seekers – serving as an intermediary by connecting the supply of encore talent with social purpose work that needs to be done.

Encore.org, with support from MetLife Foundation, is proud to announce the winners of the 2009 Encore Opportunity Awards. Their experience points to important insights and practical strategies of great value to other organizations:

  1. Encore talent helps develop new services to meet unmet needs.
    Recognizing the loss of native language and culture led the Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals to develop a program in which Native American elders teach young children the Dakota and Ojibwe languages and heritage. And to help seniors and people with disabilities live independently, Umbrella of the Capital District created a service to connect homeowners with encore workers providing maintenance services, such as light carpentry and plumbing.
  2. An encore workforce meets expanding program demands.
    A growing roster of disabled clients needing services meant that the small nonprofit Civitan Foundation, Inc. needed to grow, too. It found a new source of direct care staff in the increasing numbers of boomers looking for encore career opportunities and created the Caring Connections project to recruit, hire and train them. For the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, an eight-fold workforce expansion included recruiting encore workers for both civilian and sworn positions at all levels of the agency.
  3. Moving valued staff members into encore roles is a strategy to retain them.
    The National Center for Appropriate Technology created an “adjunct” employee option, through which former employees may return when needed, keeping invaluable expertise available to the organization. Rather than wind down by entering a “phased retirement” track, the nonprofit’s adjunct employees are transitioning to a new stage of meaningful work.
  4. Leadership is key for starting a successful encore hiring program.
    The CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida, Inc., who is in an encore career himself, appealed to retirees to enhance his organization’s workforce and almost tripled the staff in seven years. And the head of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department has pushed the recruitment of 50-plus individuals.
  5. A multigenerational staff enhances the work environment.
    Tapping encore talent creates a multigenerational workforce in which experienced staff members serve as mentors, role models and even surrogate family for younger staff and clients alike. At the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department, encore workers coach younger staff and often become parental figures to inmates. The Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals’ language program pairs elders with younger apprentices in the classroom.
  6. To meet their mission, employers can place encore talent in specific programs, in jobs throughout the organization, or both.
    The National Center for Appropriate Technology recruits and hires 50-plus energy specialists for a team that assesses energy efficiency in commercial, industrial and government buildings. The nonprofit also employs encore workers across the organization in diverse roles such as telephone hotline staff and horticulturists.
  7. Employers are willing to pay for help finding and training encore workers.
    The Executive Service Corps of Chicago’s interim executive director program provides encore opportunities and training for former nonprofit executives to help nonprofits during difficult management transitions. Foundation funding helped start the program, but it now receives support from fees that come from the nonprofits that hire interim directors. Similarly, Umbrella of the Capital District receives fees from homeowners who hire Umbrella-trained workers for home maintenance and other services.
  8. Employers think beyond classified ads and online postings to recruit encore workers.
    Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter sees recruiting older adults to become AmeriCorps members as a way to develop future staff. Civitan Foundation has approached the local AARP chapter and the area community college for job candidates. Other award winners recruit through local groups of all kinds, including professional associations and community organizations.
  9. Training eases encore transitions and engages encore staff.
    Before going into the classroom, recruits from the building trades receive extensive teacher training by Orleans Technical Institute, a program of JEVS Human Services. New teachers learn how to communicate their real-world skills to an at-risk population. Civitan Foundation pays new caregivers for the time they spend training to serve the developmentally disabled.
  10. Encore workers can thrive when they have opportunities to support each other.
    Executive Service Corps of Chicago creates a learning community for the encore career workforce to share experiences. For the interim directors who find positions through the corps, meeting together fosters support and success in their new stage of work.

Phyllis N. Segal is a vice president at Encore.org. Diane Piktialis is an expert on boomers and workplace issues.