Federal Program to Upgrade Skills and Find Jobs for Older Workers in Kentucky Part of Global Trend

Dec 4, 2019

Jana Sullivan is regional program manager for the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program, based in Owensboro.
Credit Rhonda J. Miller

Some global workforce experts say the idea of relaxing into the “golden years” is no longer the norm. In the second of a two-part series, WKU Public Radio looks at a federally-funded program in western Kentucky that offers low-income adults, age 55 and over, paid training and assistance in finding employment.

As of now, 26 people over the age of 55 who live in the Owensboro region are enrolled in the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).

That's in addition to 52 people who participated in the program over the past two years, with about one-third of them finding jobs.


During the two years that Jana Sullivan has been regional manager for SCSEP covering Daviess, Henderson, Hopkins and McLean counties, she said she’s found that many businesses don’t know about the program. And when they do find out, some are hesitant.

Retirement is taking on a negative connotation in some cultures.

“I do find the issue is some of the employers are under the assumption that participants at a certain age can’t learn technical skills, and that is not true,” said Sullivan.

The Owensboro region SCSEP offers a training wage of $7.25 an hour while participants upgrade their skills at nonprofit or government organizations, called “host agencies.”

“There are several participants who may not have had skills and they gained them while they’re in the program," said Sullivan. "You know, they can find Facebook and any other social media platforms just as well as somebody who’s 20 years old. Just give them the opportunity and don’t assume.”

Another advantage of SCSEP is that it will pay the wages for the worker for four weeks of on-the-job experience. While not required, the program's goal is to help participants land a permanent job at the employer.

Sullivan said a variety of businesses have hired SCSEP participants.

“Places that provide caretaking and companionship jobs, places that provide housekeeping services, clerical services, hotels," said Sullivan. "But it’s mainly a lot of places that provide clerical or custodial type of service, or food preparation.”

SCSEP was created in 1965, funded through U.S. Department of Labor with grants to nonprofits to operate the program. The Owensboro regional program is operated by Goodwill Industries of Evansville, Indiana, through a grant to Goodwill International of Rockville, Maryland. 

We are living in a time of transition from old concepts about work and retirement to new formations of what it means to be active, to participate in the community and to work during an older age.

Many workforce experts outside the U.S. know about the SCSEP program. One of them is Philip Taylor, associate dean for research and a professor of human resource management at Federation University in Australia.

“I am familiar with SCSEP, and I think it's a very powerful model, particularly for quite disadvantaged, vulnerable older workers to give them a foothold in meaningful, productive activities,” said Taylor, who was a presenter at the annual scientific meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in Austin, Texas in November. He said a SCSEP-type program could work well in other countries.

"I would love to see that model applied in Australia, where we're seeing increasing numbers of people, older workers looking for work when there aren't jobs to be had," said Taylor. 

He said a program modeled on SCSEP could help balance a perspective developing in Australia about people who want to retire.

“They’re not doing the heavy lifting, which is a very Australian way of putting it. And so retirement is, I think, increasingly being characterized as a kind of unemployment. You really ought to be contributing at older ages and you’re not contributing," said Taylor. "And so retirement is taking on a negative connotation.”

He said many governments are concerned about the cost of social programs for the aging populaton.

“Governments want old people to be getting income through work, not through welfare," said Taylor. "Governments want us to be productive. They don't want us to retire.”

People who want to work into their later years could be encouraged by "age friendly workplaces,” a topic addressed by Raphael Eppler-Hattab at the Gerontological Society conference.

Eppler-Hattab is an organizational consultant and researcher at the University of Haifa in Israel. He said it's easier for some people, such as doctors or electrical engineers, to keep working longer in Israel because their skills are in high demand.

"So it depends on the labor market," said Eppler-Hattab.

"I think that we are living in a time of transition from old concepts about work and retirement to new formations of what does it mean to be active, to participate in the community and to work in your older age," said Eppler-Hattabl. "I think it’s changing.”

Older workers who don't want to, or can't afford to retire, are part of a transition taking place in countries around the world. In Owensboro, SCSEP is helping older adults work into their later years, inviting area businesses to become more involved in this global transition.

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This story was produced with the support of a journalism fellowship from the Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations and the Silver Century Foundation.