Helping an underserved population

A program to help unemployed and underemployed women age 50 and older find full-time, living-wage jobs is starting to yield promising practices among participating community colleges.

An interim report on the BACK TO WORK 50+: Women’s Economic Stability Initiative (BTW50+:WESI) — a collaboration between the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and AARP Foundation — shows that, for example, providing services in a cohort is particularly effective with this population. Also, partnerships between the participating colleges and workforce systems are crucial in engaging employers.

The report finds that strong existing relationships with the local economic and workforce development systems appear to strengthen access to current labor market information and the ability to identify in-demand occupations that match job candidates’ interest and skills.

Enrolling all job candidates at the community colleges affords access to additional resources, the report adds. In addition to leveraging campus supports, colleges have relationships with local organizations that provide job candidates with additional coaching and assistance, it says.

The preliminary report also notes that a call center for customer service, customizable program materials, free guides, peer exchange and technical assistance, and a data-tracking tool have been valuable in serving participants. All of these are assets of BACK TO WORK 50+.

Drawing attention

The research is the first of its kind to examine how best to support this population returning to the workforce after periods of unemployment or underemployment. Although the final report is not due until fall 2020, the initial findings show the program’s efforts seem to be working: Approximately 850 participants have been hired out of the WESI program to date.

“Higher education has long been a resource for older adult women and we believe that collaborating with colleges will allow us to collectively build a model to be even more effective in helping this often ignored population secure work and reach financial security,” according to the foundation.

Helping this population has garnered interest among congressional lawmakers. The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a field hearing Friday on helping older workers return to work. Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama — among the colleges participating in BTW50+:WESI — will host the hearing, which will include representatives from the AARP program and other organizations.

AACC is providing project management and technical assistance to the five participating community colleges in the initiative, which are serving as “anchor” organizations for the initiative. The other colleges are Austin Community College (Texas), Eastern Florida State College/CareerSource Brevard, Miami Dade College (Florida) and Santa Fe College (Florida).

AARP Foundation will provide further details on the program and its benefits during a pre-conference workshop at the AACC Workforce Development Institute January 30 to February 2 in San Diego.

BTW50+:WESI is supported by a $3 million federal grant to AARP Foundation from the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund. AARP Foundation also has provided a $3 million match.

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