Government Funded Nonprofits DO Help Older Americans, But More Innovation Is Needed
This is in response to “Government Funded Nonprofits Fail to Help Seniors (Part 2)” by Robert Stilson
After reading the article by Mr. Stilson I must admit that I both disagree and agree with him. On one hand the supposition that the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) program does not work is blatantly false. However his point on the need for innovation in workforce development for 50+ Americans is spot on.
When I took over as the President and CEO of Senior Service America, my first task was to meet with as many of our local SCSEP subgrantees and affiliates as possible. I knew their grassroots perspective on what was working and where the opportunities lie were valuable as I started to plot a future vision for Senior Service America. In addition to getting a whole new appreciation for their passion and drive for what they do, I saw firsthand and learned after speaking to SCSEP clients what impact the program had on them.
SCSEP clients such as U.S. Army veteran Rick. He has great skills to offer employers but was haunted by not having graduated high school. For Rick, the career-training program allowed him to earn his diploma, while training to get a good job.
Another SCSEP client was Elliana. She had been on more than 20 face to face interviews, but still could not secure a job despite her skills and experience. Within a few days of her SCSEP interview, we placed her into a temporary position. This stability enabled Elliana to find another opportunity that was almost an exact match for her skills and experience. For the first time in a very long time she’s working and feeling like a productive member of the world. Elliana said she would never have had access to this opportunity without the SCSEP program.
The SCSEP program fills an important role and is the only federal workforce program targeted specifically to unemployed people 55 and older whose earnings equal $15,613 annually or less. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that SCSEP is one of only three federal workforce development programs whose client population does not overlap with any other federal programs.
Further, SCSEP is cost-effective. SCSEP funding was $400 million in 2017, and those participants provided more than 30 million hours of community service at more than 20,000 public and nonprofit agencies. The return on investment (ROI) from the community-service component alone is approximately 2-to-1. Using the Independent Sector’s estimated value of a volunteer hour, last year SCSEP created over $742 million across the country in value for the approximately $400M of appropriated funds.
In the article Mr. Stilson talks about how efficiency and effectiveness are not always the priority; our vision at Senior Service America is focused on just that. He is correct in that “we are at one of the most dynamic employment environments” in our Nation’s history.
This means that we must innovate rapidly to meet the changing workforce development needs of emerging industries. You see, we believe that workforce development of 50+ Americans can be a tremendous driver in supporting economic growth. Right now we see emerging workforce needs in areas such as robotics, advanced manufacturing, security, technology, healthcare, and other work from home type of jobs that fit well with a 50+ workforce. In many cases the leading constraint on growth of companies is a supply of trained talent that workforce development can deliver.
The need for innovation in workforce development of older Americans also surrounds the specialization around these older adults themselves in their communities. This specialization is needed around a number of factors such as veterans, ex-offenders, rural, and urban communities. One size does not fit all in workforce development.
While there are a number of employment-training programs focused on post 9/11 veterans there’s a lack of programs dedicated to pre 9/11 veterans- those that served in Desert Storm, for example. With veteran programs we need to harness the intangible and tangible skills they bring with their military experience. Senior Service America’s workforce development programs have trained over 40,000 older veterans and done just that.
We would all like to see ex-offenders return to their community, get a job, and break the cycle of recidivism. However to do this, workforce development programs have to provide stability to that older ex offender and help them overcome barriers such as the stigma they face in the job market. When this happens we see tremendous success with older ex-offenders.
Bruce Katz says that cities have become the engine of the global economy. But that cannot continue unless there is a pipeline of trained workers. Workforce development for older Americans in these urban environments must be customized to the industries in each city. With this and other customization we can fuel productivity in those local labor markets.
In rural settings, older workers have unique employment challenges because of a lack of transportation, lack of access to broadband for training and applying to jobs, and an overall lack of employment options. In addition, rural employers require skills for rural industries such as steel, mining, and small business. Only 2% of the rural population are actually working on a farm.
To conclude, I could not allow Mr. Stilson’s indictment of the SCSEP program to go unchecked. But I harken to see a day where our organizations can work together to innovate workforce development and push the envelope to meet the changing needs of our Nation together.
About the author. Gary A. Officer is President and Chief Executive Officer of Senior Service America, Inc., the second largest administrator of the Department of Labor’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). Through its partnerships, SSAI has helped the SCSEP get over 1,000,000 older Americans, veterans included, into the workforce whether for the first time or back to work post-retirement.