Retooling and retraining for work

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Staying current, staying employed

Civic Ventures

Civic Ventures

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More older adults are working beyond their traditional retirement years. For many, working longer is a necessity. In order to remain in the workforce, change jobs, or earn more, many older workers want/need to update or learn new skills.

Critical support is needed to create innovative pathways to provide job training and retraining for older adults at local universities, community colleges, and specialized schools.

With increased enrollments and tighter budgets, specialized courses for older adults are difficult to justify in today’s higher education environment. Colleges often turn to other forms of support to develop programs that help adult learners get a good start in a new direction.

  • 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 students.

Below are some ideas for how to support programs that help older learners gain new skills to remain in or reenter the workforce.

Support technology training

Most adult learners need at least minimal assistance to gain the technology skills needed to use today’s online tools and software—and that’s just to participate in and succeed in college classes. Support for instructor or tutor costs for short, specialized tech training can make the difference between college success and a frustrated reentry learner. 

  • A $5,000 grant from the Anschutz Family Foundation in Colorado helped fund a program to upgrade computer skills and job search skills for older adults in the Morgan Community College service area. The Foundation has a broad focus of improving the quality of life for individuals and communities, and promoting self-sufficiency and community development.
  • The Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties in Florida has helped older adults master digital technology. The AAA launched a pilot program that offered computer training tailored to the needs of older adults, taking into account different tech and literacy levels, limited English proficiency, and educational barriers. Costs related to the program were kept down by developing partnerships with other social service agencies, universities, and Internet service providers who donated equipment, services, and case management. AT&T and Comcast gave a year of free broadband service and tech support to the program.

Support career exploration and educational advising

Access to workshops and online assessment tools can help older learners assess their skills and interests and get a clear plan before diving into a time-consuming and costly retraining effort. 

  • Under its education priority area, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust in Phoenix, AZ, helped GateWay Community College develop the Center for Workforce Transition that works with both Boomer-aged workers and employers. Now the Center is part of the general career and advising services of the college.

Subsidize specialized short courses that help older adults quickly brush up skills

Refresher courses in math and other required subjects can be challenging for adult learners who have been away from their formal school days for many years. Support for instructor costs make it easier for colleges to create special courses that cater to the learning styles of older adults.

  • LaGuardia Community College in New York tapped state funds to make skills refresher courses available to older learners at no cost. In other locations, where state funds are not available, small grants can replicate this successful model.

Help older learners get experience that connects to real jobs

Placement assistance has become a reasonable expectation that adult learners (and younger students, too!) have for their college advisors and instructors. Programs that support internships, employer networking, and job placement are often outside college budgets. Small grants to work with employers, host career fairs and networking events, and to subsidize internship placements can help connect the dots between those who want to work and employers who need their talent and skills. 

Help get the word out

Small grants can reach thousands when they support production of an effective marketing campaign to reach older adults who may not be aware of new approaches local colleges are taking to serve them. Radio spots, information sessions, and well-placed flyers in employment and aging services offices don’t cost much, but they are often beyond the means of local colleges. And low-budget substitutes or ineffective target marketing often fail to attract enough of the right kind of students. 

  • Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, recruited highly qualified people with master’s degrees to enroll in their adjunct instructor-training program by purchasing a $5,000 ad in the Chicago Lyric Opera program. Four sessions later, dozens of older adults are teaching and tutoring in Chicago colleges in part-time paid positions. Originally funded by a national grant program, ongoing funder support could help other colleges replicate this model or sustain similar efforts.

Educate employers about the benefits of older workers

Many employers would benefit from the skills and expertise that older workers bring to the workplace. They often don’t know what they’re missing.

  • A $49,000 grant from The Grand Rapids Community Foundation made it possible for Grand Rapids Community College to establish the Older Learner Center that educates area employers about the benefits of employing and retaining older workers. It also provides tailored financial assistance, job training, career counseling, and job placement. 

On the student side, scholarships and other subsidies are needed to help older learners pay even small amounts for tuition, fees, and books

Many adult learners must continue to support families, pay for day care or college tuition, and support older parents while they learn. They often do this by cobbling together a combination of part-time work and part-time study that makes them ineligible for most government grants that usually require full-time enrollment.

What’s more, federal programs that support unemployed workers are extremely limited when it comes to retraining. Those who need to make a big shift to a new form of work often struggle to make ends meet if it takes more than a few months to train for new skills. 

  • Small scholarships from $1,000 to $5,000 can cover the costs of many fast track, non-credit certification programs at local community colleges. 


Help us pursue our mission and strengthen grantmaking to support the needs and potential of older people.