FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Patricia Curry, 66, of Harlan, decided to enter the workforce after being a housewife for most of her life. Lacking work experience and skills, but possessing a willingness to try something new, she enrolled in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), where she acquired new job skills and experience in a program-subsidized position at the senior citizens center in Cumberland.
Curry received training in nutrition and food service skills and worked preparing meals for delivery to home-bound clients of the center. After completing her training, she was hired by the local Subway restaurant in Sept. 2004 and currently looks forward to every day’s challenges on the job.
Carol Pace, 61, of Harlan Ky, served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and then dedicated another 20-odd years to caring for her family. Not the type to sit idle, she, too, entered the SCSEP program in Dec. 2000 and received food service training and experience working at the Harlan Senior Center.
Pace completed her training program and was later hired at the Long John Silver’s restaurant in Harlan were she enjoys the fast pace and interaction with the public.
Americans age 65 and older have the highest workforce participation rates in the nation and in most of the developed world. In Kentucky, 12.5 percent of the total state population are age 65 and over. The national average is 12.4 percent.
As workforce growth slows down, employers will rely more and more on older workers. In Kentucky the U.S. Department of Labor’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is working to address the training and job placement needs of mature people with limited incomes.
SCSEP is administered in Kentucky by the Division of Aging Services of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. A component of the Older Americans Act, SCSEP programs in Kentucky provide training and subsidized part-time temporary job training assistance to low income persons age 55 and older. The program aims to help older people meet their needs for additional income and to help them regain a sense of community involvement and participation in the mainstream of life.
The national program goal is to achieve job placement on behalf of 20 percent of program participants. In Kentucky, the SCSEP placement rate was 28 percent for 2003.
Program eligibility is based on age, residency and income guidelines established by the USDOL. SCSEP provides a variety of job training and readiness assistance including skills assessments; personalized employment plans which identify barriers to employment and recommended training to overcome those barriers; resume preparation and interviewing skills; employment referrals; and follow-up meetings and evaluations to identify further assistance that may be needed.
Participants are initially placed in program-subsidized positions with non-profit organizations where they may receive training before moving into unsubsidized jobs in the public or private sector.
“Older Kentuckians represent a dedicated, experienced positive feature of our workforce,” said VivEllen Chesser, state Senior Employment Coordinator for the Division of Aging Services. “Their contributions to the Commonwealth are immeasurable.”
The state received a $1.6 million federal grant and contributes a 10 percent match to fund 10 training and job placement programs across the state. Eight Area Agencies on Aging, administered through the 15 area development districts, and two Community Action Committees are serving 233 eligible seniors in local SCSEP programs. National sponsors, including the AARP, USDA Forest Service, the National Coalition on Aging, Easter Seals and Experience Works also participate and, together with state sub-grantees, provide programs and services in 118 counties and will serve a total of 1,140 participants this fiscal year.
Chesser said training needs of job-seeking older Kentuckians is perhaps the least of the challenges she encounters in her position. Recruiting employers to hire older workers, also, has often proven difficult.
“Myths persist about older workers which we’re working hard to debunk,” she said. “The truth is, older workers score high on job skills, loyalty, reliability, absenteeism, job turnover and they demonstrate amazing flexibility and adaptability to changes on the job.”
Chesser said studies show that older employees work smarter and are more safety conscious, experiencing fewer work-related injuries than their younger counterparts. In addition, older workers pass workplace drug screenings at a rate higher than their younger counterparts.
Still, it’s not easy for older workers to find employment in spite of legislation prohibiting age discrimination.
Many of SCSEP applicants are discouraged workers who have given up hope of finding a job. Others, for various reasons, have been out of the job market for years and some, primarily women, have never worked outside the home before.
Chesser said the SCSEP works to identify skills and talents people may not even realize they possess, but, which are considered workplace assets.
“The ability to balance a household budget and keep a busy family organized and healthy are valuable skills that translate well on the job in many positions,” Chesser said. Having developed such basic life skills also helps trainees develop new proficiencies, including technology-based skills which are so vital in most modern workplaces.
Prospective SCSEP program participants and employers are urged to call (502) 564-6930 for more information.