Mature Workers: Hire for the Attitude, Train for the Skill

 A mature worker hanging clothesAn interview with Crystal Odom-McKinney, National Director of Senior Community Service Employment Programs (SCSEP), and Max Zielinski, Assistant National Director of  SCSEP at Easterseals discussing the importance of SCSEP services at Easterseals. Through this transitional employment program, Easterseals partners with community-based non-profit organizations and government agencies (host agencies) to provide participants with training opportunities to update their skills. During time in SCSEP, job seekers work with Easterseals staff to target and achieve personal employment goals. 

What is the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at Easterseals?  

Crystal: The Senior Community Services Employment Program (SCSEP) is a federally funded program through the United States Department of Labor that assists low-income mature job-seekers, 55-year-old or older, in building their skills to becoming employed in the workforce. This government funded program has been around since 1965. Easterseals has been a part of SCSEP for the past 18 years.  

What are some of the best things about hiring older workers? Why should companies consider this untapped market?  

Crystal: Mature workers are reliable, they are dependable, experienced, and trustworthy. They add so much value to any company or organization. That diversity in the workforce is crucial. A lot of times mature job-seekers are cross-trained over the younger generation with the soft skills that are especially important in the workforce such as being extremely punctual, and having interpersonal people skills. That is an area that our mature job-seekers can ace their younger counterparts in.  

Max: Also, their life experiences, just bring a different perspective. Mature job-seekers have been through many different life events, and they just have a different view on things. A company or organization can tap in on that and come at any issue with this different point of view. 

A lot of our folks are very punctual; they will show up maybe 15 minutes to a half hour before they are supposed to be at a meeting. That’s awesome! They bring a zest for being involved. That is a fantastic asset to bring to a company – wanting to be there, wanting to learn.  

Crystal: Hire for the attitude and train for the skill.  

Max: Our folks have great attitudes, and they are very trainable. They love to learn new stuff. They know the importance of learning because that’s how you keep going in life. I look at it this way – they may think they are old, but, from the perspective of the universe, we are all super young.  

Crystal: Mature job seekers want to be active and vibrant; they want to be involved in community engagement. And they want to fulfill that purpose. A lot of careers that our SCSEP participants are closely connected to, during this season in their life, are around community service, non-profit, and social services—because they want to give back. It’s a sense of belonging that they never knew they had. Because they love to give back and they love to help. They really do well in those environments. 

What is your advice to a mature job-seeker who is concerned that their age might work against them while on the job hunt? 

Max: We tell job seekers that you have a lot to offer an employer. Highlight what you bring to the table– years of experience, being on time, dedication to getting the job done. We always tell mature seekers to know that they are an asset, rather than an “older worker.” I always tell job-seekers that it’s a numbers game. The more places you apply to, the closer you get to your launching point. The next job could be a stepping stone to another career! If there is one thing the SCSEP program does, it really works to improve people’s confidence and let them know that they have a lot of self-worth to bring back to the workforce. That confidence is what we work to instill in everybody.  

Crystal: The job market is amazing right now. There are jobs out there. Think about everything that you bring to the table. Your wisdom, your experience and your patience highlight valued assets in the workforce. We hold up a mirror to our job-seekers and tell them this is how valuable you are, and this is what you bring to the plate. 

How has the pandemic affected the employment status of the aging community in the SCSEP programs?  

Crystal: During the pandemic, our Easterseals staff had to pivot to working virtually. What’s more amazing is that our job seekers also pivoted to virtual as well. Many of our mature job seekers learned Teams, and Zoom. Easterseals Oregon has a weekly town hall where over 100 mature job seekers are on Zoom, in the chat box, and actively participating. Our mature job seekers have bounced into a state of resiliency. That was really a testament to how they learned and how they continue to learn. 

Moving forward with the job market, it’s been interesting. Depending on how open your state is, job-seekers are pivoting to a virtual experience. We are working more to make sure their toolboxes are equipped with the skills necessary to become employable, that relates to virtual employment. We have training and workshops on how to show up to virtual meetings, and have a Zoom background. We also have mature trainers who can speak side by side about their experiences in navigating through the pandemic. We have had a lot of successes, but we still have quite a way to go. 

Has the pandemic shown that there is a technology disparity among mature job-seekers? 

Max: Yes. The pandemic highlighted that our population definitely needs more access to technology because, for some of them, getting on to the internet might be an issue. Going forward, we need to make sure we can find funding or find opportunities for folks to get computers. 

In New Jersey, we were really fortunate. We found an organization that was started by high school student – he refurbishes computers, and we were able to get 50 of our participants computers so that they could get on the internet. We are looking to see if we can expand that into our New York program.  

As far as employment, we did have a streak going prior to the pandemic – we were getting a participant a job a day for 5 straight years! When the pandemic hit, we were getting a job every other day. In 2021, we are getting back on track with getting a job a day for our participants, which is exciting. We are keeping our fingers crossed that continues.  

Is there a link between any SCSEP programs and the push for Congress to pass the infrastructure bill that would fully fund Home and Community-based services? Would any of the SCSEP programs be enhanced if this bill were to be passed? 

Max: Improving the internet and cyber infrastructure would open that up to more communities and give our folks more opportunities to get involved, to look for employment, and to be able to be more a part of their communities. In the Build Back Better Agenda, there is funding for the SCSEP programs in there and hopefully it will get through appropriations – keeping our fingers crossed. Moving forward, hopefully there is more funding coming down the pipeline for employment-based programs that SCSEP does benefit from. 

Crystal: Additionally, when infrastructure of our roads is improved, that will enable our job-seekers to be more accessible to opportunities in their communities. 

What SCSEP programs at Easterseals are you most proud of and why? 

Max: All of them. I am proud of all our programs. Since we are a national organization, I look at all of our programs like a family. They all bring different things to the table, but the part that really keeps me motivated and going is getting to share in their triumphs. Meeting with the participants that we serve, and listening to their stories, getting to talk to them, and let them know that we are here at the national level to help. 

What do you hope to see next for the SCSEP programs? 

Max: We are always looking at ways to increase the reach of SCSEP because, with the funding that we get, we are serving probably less than 1% of the population that would be eligible for SCSEP. So, there are a lot of people out there who probably don’t know about the program, or we can’t serve them because we don’t have the funding to do that. It’s kind of a shame because we are the only program that serves older Americans and mature workers.  

The population does seem to be getting older every day. More people are realizing that retiring at 65 is just not the reality anymore. People are living a lot longer now, so you can be engaged and continue on and have a fruitful life.  

What do you want mature job-seekers to know about SCSEP services at Easterseals? 

Crystal: Easterseals is here, and here to stay. We are here to help break barriers as it relates to mature job seekers and get them what they need by whatever means necessary — access to technology, increased access to training, and employment opportunities. We are here to dispel myths and work directly with employers to educate them around the value of mature workers and workers with disabilities, while celebrating our continued victories of employment and training opportunities.


 

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