Posted 03/03/2011 - 12:15:19pm by Cal Halvorsen
Workers 50 and older interested in encore careers that combine personal meaning, social impact and continued income are increasingly looking to community colleges to develop new skills or build on existing ones. Many aim to transition to such fields as education, health care, social services or the green economy.
Past recipients of Encore College Initiative grants have created many educational pathways to encore careers with the understanding that boomers typically learn differently from younger students and have unique needs.
See below for tips on how to design or adapt a program for encore career seekers, which include tips from three Encore College Initiative grantees: GateWay Community College in Phoenix, which trains caregivers; Portland Community College in Oregon, which trains students in gerontology using peer mentors; and the EducateVA program of the Virginia Community College System, which offers fast-track teaching certification.
1. Learn more about encore students’ and local employers’ needs.
What sets encore programs apart from other community college programs geared toward those 50-plus? Encore students, in general, want paid work that makes a difference in their communities. They want to be teachers or teachers’ aides, nurses or certified caregivers. Employers, too, appreciate the skills and experience of encore career seekers and may require specific skills or certifications from an encore program’s graduates. To meet the needs of students and employers, colleges should assess the needs of both groups. This assessment can be formal or informal, a written survey, phone interviews or face-to-face conversations.
The American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Plus 50 Initiative Needs Assessment Toolkit provides a step-by-step guide for assessing the needs of both local employers and potential plus-50 students. AACC’s Business Community Outreach Toolkit helps you to develop solid relationships with businesses in your community.
Ask potential encore students broad questions such as, “What are your long-term career goals?” and “What do you hope to get out of this program?” Then get more specific. “What is the best time of day to offer class?” “How condensed would you prefer the class to be?” “What services could we offer that would ensure your success?” For example, Portland Community College conducted a survey of students 40 and older and released its report, Boomers Go to College, to the college’s faculty and staff, as well as to business and community partners, to explore how the college could most effectively respond to the needs of an aging student body. Rebecca Waters, former director of the EducateVA Career Switchers Program at the Virginia Community College System, found that potential encore students interested in becoming teachers didn’t want a traditional program. Students needed evening and weekend courses to prevent conflicts with their current jobs. So EducateVA combines online and in-class course work.
For potential employers, be sure to ask questions like, “Do you require or prefer any certifications?” “What specific skills are you looking for in your job applicants?” and “Do you allow field placements at your place of employment?” As an example of another successful option for gathering employer input, Jan Davie, director of career and employment services at GateWay Community College, created advisory boards of employers in the social services and caregiving sectors to help shape the content of her curriculum and offer their worksite(s) as field placements. Many of those employers have since hired GateWay’s encore program graduates.
2. Adapt your encore program to accommodate identified needs.
Encore Colleges have found that encore career seekers:
- Appreciate help to map out their career and life goals. Portland Community College has a peer mentor program that matches encore students with encore graduates, and GateWay Community College works with students to create a legacy statement and administers career assessments to ensure a proper fit.
- Want the option of night and weekend courses.
- Prefer compressed programs. EducateVA offers a fast track to teaching licensure for adults with a bachelor’s degree. Many colleges offer compressed or accelerated programs to reduce the time encore students have to prepare for their new careers.
- Are open to and sometimes prefer online or hybrid courses.
- Often require specialized technology training to upgrade skills for learning, job search or the workplace. Many 50-plus and encore programs offer computer skills “boot camps” as part of course introduction.
- Often need to update math skills.
- Need help with job search skills such as resume writing and preparation for interviews. Understanding that many encore students haven’t applied for a job in years, even decades, Portland Community College’s peer mentors and advising staff counsel students through the process.
- Require financial assistance. Many encore programs have attracted people who’ve found themselves unemployed or near retirement age. The community college has proved to be a good route to shift into a different career. However, without some type of financial assistance many encore learners cannot afford to enroll. Jan Abushakrah at Portland Community College says, “A really critical lesson that other encore programs is to make sure that whatever certificate or credential you are providing is recognized as an eligible training provider by the state offices of employment for any of the federal or state programs. And that becomes a great marketing tool as well, because the employment offices and dislocated worker programs are likely to send students your way.” GateWay Community College uses community partners to help pay for tuition costs. The state office of the AARP Foundation may pay tuition and training costs and will pay for an internship or field experience for a student 55+ years old who qualifies for the federally subsidized Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).
Employers want a workforce that:
- Is trained for jobs where shortages exist. Educate VA, for example, worked with the state Department of Education to identify critical teacher shortage areas before meeting with local school administrators to validate those needs. GateWay developed an employer advisory committee that provided input on topics from curriculum development to internships and placement.
- Is a good fit for the job and field and committed to the organization’s mission. GateWay Community College requires an individual assessment of all encore students before accepting them into their caregiving and human services programs.
- Has requisite certificates or degrees in specific areas. Some colleges offer certificates for employment readiness and others use certificates as potential pathways into degree programs for more in-depth career development.
- Brings hands-on experience such as internships, practicum and field experience. These experiences give employers first-hand knowledge of encore learners and reinforce the fit between encore job-seekers and the specific position(s) for which they are training.
Early steps like these help create programs that align with job market needs and increase the chances of program completers finding employment. Continue to listen to what employers say about their workforce needs as you implement your program or expand its scope. As Rebecca Waters notes about the EducateVA fast-track teacher certification program, “We listened to what they had to stay and still work very closely with them whenever we think about expanding into other areas.”
3. Determine your overall program approach
Will it be credit or non-credit?
Will your program take a workforce development approach, or will it be based on a traditional academic model? GateWay and Portland community colleges have successful encore programs that use different methods.
Davie says GateWay’s program “starts with the end in mind – where the jobs are.” Davie works with employers to determine what jobs are open and what skills encore students need. Students complete 40 hours of class work along with 80 hours of field experience. Before the program accepts a student, Davie and her team ensures the student is a good match for their career choices. Davie uses the AARP WorkSearch and the John Holland Self-Directed Search assessments.
As on-the-job experience is an effective learning tool, Davie works with employers to offer field experience. She made the field experience non-credit to keep the process as streamlined as possible for employers. Students must choose a field placement four to five weeks ahead of time to allow for background checks and orientation. Employers are allowed five minutes to give overviews of their mission and the population they serve in a “speed dating” type event for students, who then interview for those field placements the same day.
Taking a different approach, Portland Community College uses a more traditional academic model in its gerontology program, says Jan Abushakrah, program director. Students are connected to an adviser to complete assessments similar to those used by GateWay as well as to review students’ backgrounds, skills and interests. Encore students get help in mapping career pathways that determine what certifications and skills they need. Program staff review students’ previous school and life experience as it applies to the gerontology program. Peer mentors are available to help with course selection.
Portland Community College’s gerontology program offers a variety of online courses, in-person seminars and work skills workshops. Students can earn various certificates, which usually take less than one year to complete. Students can also use these credits toward an associate’s degree in gerontology. On the job front, the college recruits potential employers to offer credit-based internships and to attend job fairs and other networking opportunities.
Decide: Will you create a separate offering for plus-50 encore learners or integrate them into an existing programs with younger students?
Either approach can result in a successful encore program if needs unique to encore learners are addressed. If you offer an age-integrated program, make sure to build in sufficient support services (see section 2 of this tip sheet). Make sure that faculty members for your encore program are trained in the learning styles and needs of plus-50 learners, regardless of which approach you take.
4. Understand that students of all ages value these encore program adaptations.
Flexible schedules, online content and opportunities to work directly with employers can benefit students of all ages. So you can market such offerings to the broader student body.
To view a resource list on program adaptations for 50-plus encore learners, click here.
To view information on sustaining and expanding an encore program, click here.
To view additional resources and publications for college administrators, click here.
To learn more about the Encore College Initiative, click here.