UNIQUE TRAINING REQUIREMENTS
OF LOW-INCOME, OLDER WORKERS
A Resource Guide for SCSEP Practitioners
1.0 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE 55+, LOW-INCOME
2.0 HOW AGE AND INCOME LEVEL AFFECT TRAINING NEEDS
3.0 TRAINING IMPLICATIONS
4.0 LOGISTICS FOR TRAINING OLDER WORKERS
5.0 THE TRAINER AND THE TRAINING PROCESS
6.0 FLEXIBILITY AND LOW-INCOME, OLDER WORKERS
7.0 A STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS TO TRAIN AN OLDER WORKER
FOR A SCSEP COMMUNITY SERVICE WORK ASSIGNMENT
8.0 AN EXAMPLE OF A SUCCESSFUL OLDER WORKER
A. ATTRIBUTES OF SCSEP OLDER WORKERS COMPARED WITH YOUNGER ADULT WORKERS
B. TECHNIQUES SCSEP PRACTITIONERS HAVE FOUND SUCCESSFUL WHEN WORKING WITH OLDER WORKERS
It is not easy for older workers to find employment. Older American workers have been faced with such blatant age discrimination that special legislation, "Age Discrimination in Employment," was enacted to counteract it. We know that older workers take longer to find jobs than younger workers and that they usually have to accept lower pay when they do find a job. We also know that they tend to get discouraged and stop looking for work much sooner than younger adults. Many older workers find that their skills are obsolete or non-transferrable. Older workers on the lower end of the economic scale have additional problems that have to do with the burden of financial problems and with the lack of self-confidence that comes with not being financially successful in our society.
Older Workers Require Training Geared to Their Specific Needs.
There are only two federally-sponsored workforce development programs specifically for low-income older workers, the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) and the 5% set-aside in the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). Dual enrollment in these programs offers workforce development entities the opportunity to coordinate activities in a way that is beneficial to all concerned. Written agreements between program, allow those eligible for SCSEP services to be automatically eligible for JTPA services.
The JTPA set-aside recognizes that older workers have special, age-related needs. Unfortunately, the legislation governing federal training programs is expected to be changed in the near future, leaving the SCSEP as the only federal program that specifically addresses the training needs of older workers. The SCSEP, as currently funded, can service less than one percent of the mature Americans who meet its eligibility standards. And when the baby boom generation begins to reach 55 in 2005, far fewer than one percent will be served if the funding levels do not change.
The older, low-income people who enroll in the SCSEP have different attributes and a different set of needs from younger adults and from more affluent, older adults. Some older people take part in the JTPA IIA training that is open to all adults, but only a small percentage of those eligible do so. This is partly because such training programs do not target older people or because they fear failure or competition with younger individuals (Plett and Lester 1991). Generally, older, low-income adults do better when they are not lumped with the younger population in training situations.
At present there is a lack of sympathy for targeting special groups in public programs. This would be justifiable on an even playing field, but today the field is not even. The ever-growing emphasis on performance standards pushes public training programs toward directing their attention to those most likely to be hired and younger trainees are more likely to be hired faster and in better paying jobs than the older SCSEP trainees.
SCSEP Enrollees Need Training to Qualify for Unsubsidized Jobs.
Many of the 55 and older, low-income applicants to the Senior Community Service Employment Program are discouraged workers who have given up hope of finding a job in the private sector. Others, for various reasons, have been out of the job market for years. These are people who need to work to supply their basic needs. What can they do to change their situations? For some it may be a matter of changing their attitudes and the way they present themselves to employers. In most cases, however, what they need is training. This training could start with techniques to rebuild self-confidence and could include learning new or updated skills pertinent to the local job market with the interviewing and other techniques that will prepare them for a successful job search.
There is a high correlation between training and employment. Training is now of prime importance, particularly since so many job openings require technical skills that were not used or taught to those whose training and education preceded the age of computers. A training approach that ignores the special learning requirements of older people is not good enough if our goal is to help older Americans be self-supporting.
Jobs that pay more than the minimum wage require training. For the training to be successful, it must be designed around the needs of the people to be trained. The older workers among us who want and need to work should have access to the types of training that will help them compete and be successful in a technological society.
This Is a Problem That Is Not Going Away.
People 55 years old and older are constituting an increasingly large proportion of the population, increasing much more rapidly than any other age group. The 52 million in this category in 1995 is projected to rise to 62 million in 2005. The economically disadvantaged population will also age over the next decade. In 2005 there will be an increase of about 1.2 million disadvantaged adults over age 55. (Poulos and Nightingale 1997).
Today one out of five elderly Americans is in poverty status or near it. Without attention to the special problems of the ever-growing numbers of older workers we will be increasing that number.
What to Expect in This Guide
The following eight sections and two appendices are intended to provide a concise review of the special characteristics and training needs of low-income older participants in the Senior Community Service Employment Program.
1.0 Characteristics of the 55+, Low-Income SCSEP Population
2.0 How Age and Income Level Affect Training Needs
3.0 Training Implications
4.0 Logistics for Training Older Workers
5.0 The Trainer and the Training Process
6.0 Flexibility and Older, Low-Income workers
7.0 A Step-by-Step Process to Train an Older Worker for a SCSEP Community Service Work Assignment
8.0 An Example of a Successful Older Worker Training Program
The appendices were developed from SCSEP practitioners' responses to the following questions posed at an annual National Senior Citizens Education & Research Center (SSAI) training conference:
1. How do you think working with SCSEP enrollees differs from working with younger adult populations?
2. What techniques have you found most useful in working with SCSEP enrollees?
Appendix A, Attributes of SCSEP Older Workers Compared to Younger Adult Workers, presents the information collected in response to the first question. Appendix B, Techniques SCSEP Practitioners Have Found Successful in Working With Older Workers, presents the responses to question two.
1.0 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE 55+/ LOW-INCOME SCSEP POPULATION
The participants in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) provide a snapshot of the U.S. low-income, older worker population. All SCSEP enrollees are 55 years old or older with incomes that are not more than 125% of the federal poverty level. Priority is given to eligible program applicants with the greatest economic need - those with incomes at or below the federal poverty line and those who are 60 years old and older. With all enrollment priorities, preference is given to applicants with poor employment prospects (those without a substantial employment history, basic skills and English language proficiency; displaced homemakers, school dropouts, disabled veterans and the homeless).
Who Are the SCSEP Older Workers?
The older workers who enter the SCSEP come from all walks of life. Many are widowed, divorced or single women who have spent their lives as homemakers and now find it necessary to make money to supply their food, shelter and clothing needs. Others may be men who were laid off from downsizing industries who find themselves with obsolete skills and the need to reinvent themselves. A number of enrollees are discouraged workers who have been unemployed for so long they had given up the search for employment. In certain parts of the country there are large numbers of enrollees who lack basic skills and are not English-speaking.
SCSEP enrollees may have graduate degrees, but be down on their luck as a result of illness or other traumatic experiences, or they may be men and women with little or no education who have been living on the fringe for most or all of their adult lives. This is a program where the only adjectives that are descriptive of all enrollees are "older" and "poor or near poor."
2.0 HOW AGE AND INCOME LEVEL AFFECT TRAINING NEEDS
Being older and poor makes it twice as hard for older workers to find good jobs at decent wages. People in this country have accepted myths about the abilities of older workers which are not true.
Common stereotypes portray older workers as:
Myths about older workers are pervasive - not only among potential employers - but unfortunately they are also accepted as true by many older workers themselves. Older workers on all socioeconomic levels have more difficulty finding jobs than younger workers. Older workers who are also at or near the poverty level have the additional baggage of damaged self-confidence from many years of not achieving the financial success so valued in our society. These dual barriers of age and low income cannot be ignored when planning training for low-income, older workers.
How Age Affects Training
There is a measurable correlation between age and training needs. Instructional methods differ in kindergarten, elementary school, junior high and high schools to relate to the developmental stages of children and teenagers. Colleges and universities use different teaching methods from high schools. Adult education and vocational courses use techniques specific to their students' requirements. Training programs need to consider the physical, mental and social needs of the recipients of their training. These needs change as people age.
Functions such as vision, hearing, reaction time and memory have a strong dependence on the body and its level of functioning and are likely to change with age. With aging, the prevalence of arthritis increases and the connective tissue in joints stiffens which may affect the ability to move. At low to moderate levels of physical work, however, age does not affect the ability to perform work, but does result in a somewhat longer time to recover from work (Manheimer, 1995).
The mature brain is neither better or worse than the brain in earlier years of development. It is just different (Restak 1997). Aging is generally a time of slowing, not only of gait and motor performance and metabolic processes, but also of certain intellectual and recall functions (Henig 1985). The ability to store information does not seem to be affected by aging. It is the retrieval process that slows down. It is generally agreed that all age levels can learn. Older persons can usually learn anything younger people can, but they need to be given more time. Extra time is needed both to learn the information or skill and to demonstrate that the learning has occurred (Manheimer 1995).
Abilities that require quick thinking, such as timed matching tests, decline steadily after about age forty. This is no doubt a result of the changes in response speed that are age-related (Manheimer 1995).
Some gerontologists today are issuing optimistic reports about the life of the mind. Among their findings:
Most old people remain throughout life as intelligent as they ever were.
When intelligence scores do decline with age, speed of performance is usually the cause.
On self-paced tests, even those involving the incorporation of new types of abstract information, older people perform better than they do on timed tests.
Scores on intelligence tests decline less over time for people with a higher educational level and higher initial scores than for less educated or less intelligent peers, either because the education itself provides some protective effect or because it is associated with a lifestyle in which the mind is better used.
Many people seem to become more forgetful with age, but this may be due primarily to a slowdown in the retrieval of information, rather than to a total obliteration of the memory trace.
If taught to store new information more efficiently, the ability to retrieve it improves significantly (Henig 1985).
The physical and mental changes that do occur can be compensated for by effective training designs. Training programs need to be responsive to the changes in the body and mind that are normal and natural to the aging process.
Income Levels Affect Training
Income determines social class. Social class in turn affects aging by influencing the attitudes, beliefs and values people use to make life course choices and by limiting opportunities, particularly in terms of education and jobs. Higher income usually brings greater resources - knowledge, better health, greater retirement income. Many of the problem aspects of aging are concentrated among the working class and the poor. Age disqualification happens mainly to those who are already relatively disadvantaged, not to the rich and powerful or those people with exceptional skills. It has been said, for example, that people like Picasso never had a day's worry about age discrimination.
The older, low-income men and women in the SCSEP need practical training that recognizes the special needs of mature adults based on income-related conditions. Training needs to deal with the fact that many of the participants are people who have no recent or pertinent work experience or have unsuccessful or intermittent employment histories. People without a background of occupational competence and success have significant self- esteem and self-confidence problems that must be dealt with if training is to work.
Older, low-income SCSEP enrollees need special training to help them to:
Uncover the positive aspects of their backgrounds and how these aspects can be valuable to employers.
Determine the kind of work they want to do and the nature of the training that will help them get this work.
Examine what they perceive as barriers to obtaining their employment and training goals and what is needed to overcome these barriers.
Become skilled in the new workplace technologies.
The Individual Development Plan (IDP) will obviously be extremely helpful here in the identification process. The time spent with enrollees developing IDPs is invaluable in determining training needs and in their personal barriers to seeking training and employment. The IDP process will also help uncover any needs for social services. Urgent needs for such things as food and housing must be met before addressing training possibilities.
People with histories of economic failure need individual and/or group sessions to work on their self-esteem issues. These sessions could include: role playing and rehearsal, assertiveness training, videotaping of interviews, modeling of effective behavior by program staff, offering consistent encouragement, teaching realistic self-evaluation methods and providing information on how to deal with depression and anger (Plett/Lester 1991).
SCSEP participants are expected to use the program to get experience and training so that they can transition to an unsubsidized job. They require the kind of practical, skills training that will help them compete in an age-conscious job market, but they first need to be convinced that they are capable and worthy to compete.
Trainers of low-income older workers must also recognize that although SCSEP participants may have suffered some significant setbacks in their lives, they bring to the training lifetimes of experiences and, usually, highly developed survival techniques. Older workers need to be taken seriously and treated with respect.
Special Training Needs of Low-Income Older Women
More than 72% of SCSEP enrollees are women - the great majority without work histories or with intermittent work histories. These are women who may have taken time off to raise children, care for aging parents or both. Many may still be giving time and support to grandchildren, children and parents.
Women in their sixties today were born in the thirties and grew up in the turbulent years of the depression and World War II. This generation was unlikely to go to college or to pursue professional careers. They were expected to be homemakers and mothers while their husbands went into the work place and "brought home the bacon." The poorest women in the society worked in other people's homes, on farms or in factories in jobs that provided little or no training and no pensions or potential for savings.
Why do more older women need to work? The Administration on Aging's "Profile of Older Americans: 1997" reports the median income of older persons in 1995 was $16,684 for males and $9,626 for females. Older women's poverty rates have consistently been higher than those of older men. Retirement incomes for older women are only 55% as high as for men. For nearly one-third of divorced or widowed elderly women, Social Security represents 90% of their income, and many older women have little or no social security income. The major sources of income reported by older persons are Social Security, income from property (assets), public and private pensions, earnings and public assistance, in that order. This income is mostly the result of how much you earned and saved as a worker. Usually the more money you earn in your working years, the more affluent your elder years are.
Older women workers need to develop basic, occupational and job search skills. Those women who did work outside the home were often in low-paying jobs in the service sector which require few skills and offer few opportunities for training. Also, many women worked in part-time jobs which did not offer training opportunities.
Many of these women have had few educational opportunities and may require training in basic language and math education as well as in occupational and job search skills.
Training Should Help Women Realize Their Strengths. Today's older women who have never worked outside the home or who have spent most of their lives as homemakers tend to down play the skills that have helped them survive the economic and personal crises in their lives. These women are survivors and they have many practical skills which they may discount as unimportant. They have gained management and interpersonal skills through raising children, managing homes and volunteering in their communities. Effective training will help women recognize and build on their functional, transferrable skills.
The women who enroll in the SCSEP have taken a step toward helping themselves become financially independent. They need to believe that they can learn skills that will make it possible to leave the publicly-funded program and get a good job in the private sector. Older, low-income women with limited or no work histories need intensive training in skills that are marketable in their local communities. Thousands of women in the SCSEP today are being trained to use computers and other advanced equipment. This training is ensuring that they can compete for the jobs that will enhance their present and future incomes.
3.0 TRAINING IMPLICATIONS
SCSEP practitioners have pointed out distinct differences in working with younger and older adult workers (see Appendix A). Some of the differences are generational. There have been dramatic changes in attitudes and customs between people born in the 1920s and thirties and later generations. The great depression left an indelible impression on these older workers. Cultural biases against women working outside of the home, the lack of emphasis on the importance of education, the dominance of the manufacturing sector which characterized the society of today's older workers are long gone. Today's older workers have lived through a series of wars and societal changes that younger people have never experienced and those who have not been economically successful have had years of frustration and failure that must be addressed.
Older, Low-Income Workers Have Generational and Social Attributes That Influence the Effectiveness of Training.
Many differences in working with older adults simply have to do with the changes that take place in the aging process. Why, for instance, would most older people want long-term training? Younger adults can look forward to decades of employment, while older workers' time is limited. Older, low-income workers have expenses and commitments that need immediate addressing. Most are interested in training that will put them in jobs quickly.
In general, however, older persons need more time in the learning process than younger adults. Older adults can take up to two times as long to learn a new task or skill. In "America's Work Force Is Coming of Age," Catherine Fyock states that like the general population, not all adults learn at the same rates of speed. For many older adults it may take up to two times as long to learn new information because of the way the brain changes as aging occurs. This training investment is easily recouped when the longer length of service of most older workers in a single job is considered. In addition, once older workers have learned new tasks they tend to perform them with fewer mistakes than younger workers.
As would be expected, SCSEP practitioners have noted major differences in attributes that had to do with self-confidence. Some older low-income workers have had many years of failure or just plain bad luck that has worn away their self-esteem. Others, primarily women, never before had to compete in the marketplace and they are insecure and lacking in self- confidence.
Under-educated older adults may have some or all of the following characteristics:
Lack of confidence
Lack of basic skills
Fear of school (because of past failures)
Inadequate economic resources
Varied academic aptitudes
Different values, goals, attitudes
Lack of experience in goal setting
Feelings of helplessness (Moore n.d.)
Effective training must recognize that techniques to build self-esteem and self-confidence must be an integral part of any job skills or job search training activity.
Today's Employers Want Flexible Employees
Today, businesses need to be more and more competitive. There is more downsizing, an increased use of technology and greater use of team work structures. Employers are looking for workers who can respond to the rapid changes in today's workplace.
Probably the most dramatic difference between younger and older workers is in the way they view work. Older workers tend to have steady work habits, are responsible, reliable and satisfied, require less supervision once a task is mastered and demonstrate minimal turnover, tardiness and absenteeism. This so-called "old fashioned" work ethic is no longer the norm in the work place. Younger adults do not believe that loyalty, punctuality and commitment are all that important. It is also true that these traits are less highly valued by employers. In a technological society employers are more interested in creativity, technical expertise and flexibility than in loyalty and commitment (AARP 1995, 1989, 1985).
Some Employers Value Receptivity to Change Over "Old- Fashioned" Work Ethics
A recent American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) study, "Valuing Older Workers, A Study of Costs and Productivity," (AARP 1995) reports on 12 case studies of companies spanning a diversity of sizes, industries and geographical locations. Managers in these companies present their impressions of older employees performances in regard to specific skills and traits. These managers rated older workers highly on:
Commitment to quality
They rated older employees weaker on:
Acceptance of new technology
Ability to learn new skills
Physical ability to perform strenuous jobs
The performance traits cited by managers as most desirable for today's changing workplace and those critical to the company's success in the future are those not always attributed to today's older workers. These traits are:
Receptivity to change
Acceptance of new technology
Willingness to seize opportunities to demonstrate initiative
and exercise independent judgement.
Two earlier AARP studies, "Workers Over 50: Old Myths, New Realities," (AARP 1985) and "Business and Older Workers similarly reported that employers perceived older workers very positively for their experience, knowledge, work habits and attitudes. Their negative perceptions of older workers centered around questions about older workers' flexibility, adaptability to technology and aggressive spirit. AARP's more recent study seems to confirm these findings.
The responses of the group of SCSEP practitioners reported in Appendix A also seem to confirm the findings in the AARP studies. These practitioners have reported many attributes of SCSEP enrollees that indicate low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. Problems in these two personality areas would, of course, have profound effects on workers flexibility and receptivity to change.
Training programs need to be ready to help to develop behaviors that are valued in America's competitive, technological society. With proper training (see Sections 4.0 - 8.0), older people can learn to be more flexible and comfortable with new technologies. Fostering these traits should be an essential element of any training for older workers. The SCSEP, which provides older workers with an opportunity for gaining work experience and training in areas of their choice without the fear of being fired or laid off, is an example of a program which can help foster the self-esteem and self- confidence which promotes flexibility in workers.
Conventional Traits Are Still Valued By Employers
There still are, and there will continue to be, many jobs where conventional traits of older workers are highly valued. Unfortunately, many of these jobs are in industries that pay low wages, provide little or no benefits and offer few chances for advancement.
Any effective training program must acknowledge both the positive and negative attributes of its customers and design the instruction around these attributes, around the employment needs and goals of its customers and around the local job market.
4.0 LOGISTICS FOR TRAINING OLDER
People's senses tend to dim with age. Training environments must provide for the changes in eyesight and hearing that affect older people. No training can take place if trainees can not see the visuals that will be used and cannot hear the trainer.
Physical factors have to be considered when designing the training setting in terms of lighting, noise, temperature, seating arrangements and number and length of rest periods. Adequate lighting and good acoustics are particularly important when training older people.
Vision Changes Require Attention
Increasing age decreases the ability of the eye to change shape and focus on very near objects. Older people need more light than younger people, making night driving more difficult. The lens of older people's eyes yellows and filters out violet, blue and green colors (Manheimer 1995)
Visual aids should have large, easy-to-read print with a high contrast, not with a glossy finish, particularly laminated pages or posters. Avoid posting training material above eye level. Many older people wear bifocals and have difficulty looking up to read training materials. Do not use low contrast colors like blues, greens or pastels; they're hard to see (Fyock 1990).
Most Older People Have Some Hearing Loss
Age-related changes in the ability to discriminate among sounds make speech more difficult to hear, especially when people talk fast, when there is background noise or when there is distortion or reverberation. Twenty-five percent of women and thirty percent of men have difficulty hearing faint speech and five percent can't hear amplified speech (Manheimer 1995). The trainer needs to check at the beginning of a session to be sure everyone can hear. If the room is very large, or if the acoustics are not good, the trainer should use a microphone.
Older Workers Prefer Less Formal Seating Arrangements
Seating arrangements may vary with the types of training. In most cases older workers prefer sitting in groups around a table. This provides a place to put the books, papers or other training materials plus a writing surface. The group arrangement also promotes socialization among trainees and provides a more supportive learning atmosphere than conventional classroom seating by rows.
Training Proceeds Better in Comfortable Classroom Environments
In some classrooms the temperature control mechanism may cause the room to be too hot or too cold. The trainer needs to be especially alert to how this can affect the learning process. Many older people have arthritis which tends to increase sensitivity to cold temperatures. In cases where there is no way of adjusting the temperature, trainers may discuss the problem with the class and have them, where possible, adjust their clothing.
Shorter Sessions Are More Effective
Sitting for long periods in classrooms is uncomfortable for people of all ages, but it is particularly uncomfortable to older persons. Training sessions should provide frequent breaks for using the rest rooms or just moving around the room. Trainers should prepare their presentations in shorter modules and provide a variety of learning activities. It is too much to expect a group of older people to maintain their interest, for example, during an hour and one-half uninterrupted lecture.
The Training Class is Best When Kept Small
If possible, keep the training group size small. The smaller the class size, the more individual attention the trainer can provide. This is important, especially when teaching technical skills.
An average sixty-year-old's eye admits only one-third as much light as the eye of a twenty-year-old. Greater levels of illumination are required by older people.
With age, the lens of the eye gradually yellows affecting the perception of colors. It is much easier for older people to see yellow, orange and red than darker colors. (Manheimer 1995)
When both words and pictures are used, older persons can retain six times more information than with just words (Lester 1984).
5.0 THE TRAINER AND THE TRAINING PROCESS
Trainers for older worker training sessions need to be aware of the attributes and needs of SCSEP enrollees. When possible, older trainers should be used to teach older workers. Many times older trainers are more knowledgeable about learning differences and can structure the learning environment to the older workers' needs. They make excellent role models for the trainees, and older workers have reported that they feel more comfortable when the instructor is an older adult.
EFFECTIVE OLDER WORKER TRAINERS:
Understand the physical, mental and social needs of low-income, older workers.
Use techniques to improve worker's confidence and self-esteem.
Treat participants with respect.
Draw on the practical experiences of participants.
Provide structured and definable experiences.
Make learning an active process.
Keep the training process simple.
Speak clearly and distinctly.
Eliminate jargon and acronyms -- at least at first.
Acknowledge growth and learning of participants.
THE TRAINING PROCESS
The training process should focus on the gains of aging - not the losses. Older workers are rich in experience. They have had lifetimes in problem solving. Older workers do not lose their learning capabilities, adaptability and inclination to high productivity. If they were not serious about wanting to improve the quality of their lives, they would not have enrolled in the SCSEP. Unlike school children, they are in a learning situation because they choose to be.
Older Workers Learn What They Think They Need to Learn
Training should provide practical experience that will lead to unsubsidized employment or the alleviation of barriers that affect employment. The more clear the relationship of the training to actual jobs in the community, the more effective the training. Trainers need to be familiar with the local job market and provide trainees with job availability information. The training needs to be practical, not theoretical, and trainees must understand why they are learning and how the information can be applied. It is important to advise people entering training what they are to learn and what their performance requirements will be. Training must be designed to teach specific skills at an identified performance level.
Trainees Need Help with Self-Confidence\Self-Esteem Issues
The trainer needs to help trainees live with their doubts and fears while developing the skills necessary to perform at a personally satisfying and socially successful level.
Group or individual activities that can be used to build up confidence include role playing and rehearsal, assertiveness training, self evaluations, and using videos for practice interviews. The techniques in Appendix B that were developed by SCSEP practitioners have proven successful in working with older workers.
When older workers are directed in methods to inventory their present skills and relate them to jobs, they usually find that they have much more to offer employers than they thought. Many older workers have never taken the time to really look at all of the things they have done in their lives that are useful in the job market.
Older Trainees Value Non-Verbal Training More than Verbal Training
Older trainees have been found to learn through activating the senses. Basically, 75 percent of this learning is through the sense of sight, 13 percent through the sense of hearing, six percent through the sense of touch, three percent through the sense of smell and three percent through the sense of taste (Lester 1984). Classrooms should be set up, as discussed in Section 4.0, to compensate for the sensory changes that are normal for older people.
Adults Learn By Doing
Nerves from the eye to the brain are 25% denser than those from the ears. For that reason and probably because of television and movies, most people are visual rather than auditory learners. Andrea Nevins, director of the National Eldercare Institute on Human Resources, presented the following information on adult learning at a meeting of the American Society on Aging:
Method Average Rate of Retention
Audio Visual 20%
Practice Doing (Experiential) 75%
The Teaching Process Should Be Slowed Down
Studies have shown that when things move too quickly, people's performance and, just as important, their motivation drops steeply. All people learn at different rates. The training process should be kept slow and simple. All instructions should be repeated and learners should repeat their actions.
Nothing is more frustrating to trainees who already feel a lack of confidence in their abilities than not being able to keep up with a fast-paced instructor.
Some trainers may find it easier to do things for the slower-paced trainees. In computer training, for example, some trainers are tempted to press keys for the trainees to speed up the process. This is a bad idea. Trainers need to be patient and allow trainees to do things for themselves at their own pace, no matter how slow.
Keep the training process slow and simple.
Self-Paced Learning Allows Trainees to Set Their Own Pace
Mature adults, like all people, are different and learn at different rates. Self-paced learning has been very effective for those who are less confident in their ability to compete with classmates.
It is an especially effective technique when training people to use computers. Computer-based training (CBT), for example, gives the users more control over the speed with which the material comes at them. It doesn't overload the users' senses (Filipczak, B.).
The Training Should Supply Ample Opportunities for Practice
Trainees need to practice what they are learning while they are learning. Creative trainers find ways to help trainees gain confidence in the skills they are learning. Techniques such as role play, question and answer games, class discussions and skill testing are often used to reinforce the learning process. The testing process should be used sparingly. Many older adults fear tests and do not perform well on them. Adults with low self-esteem need positive feedback and testing is usually not a very effective way of practicing what they have learned. Wherever possible trainees should have access to the types of machines and equipment they will be using in the jobs for which they are being trained. People learning to use computers need to spend many hours at the keyboard. Training will be useless unless the trainee has access to a computer in out-of-class time. Trainers can direct trainees to libraries and other places where computers are available for practice.
Relating Training to Skills Older Workers May Already Possess Increases the Effectiveness of Training
Where possible, it is best to relate training to what the trainee already knows. Training programs for women with limited or no employment histories, for instance, may build on experiences they had as mothers and homemakers. Many women discount these skills and must be convinced of their value. The training program discussed in Section 7.0 is an example of a successful program which expands what the trainees already know to new skills. A word processing class can build on the trainee's previous knowledge of the typewriter keyboard. All SCSEP enrollees bring knowledge and experience into training programs. The trick is in discovering how to access the knowledge and relate it to the new task being learned.
6.0 FLEXIBILITY AND LOW-INCOME, OLDER WORKERS
Anyone who has ever observed small children at play has noticed the differences in risk taking and flexibility even at very early ages. It seems clear that flexibility is more of a personality trait than an attribute that is part of the aging process. There is, however, a strong, enduring myth accepted by young and old alike that older people are "stuck in their ways," are rigidly conservative, resistant to change and antagonistic toward new ideas. This self perpetuating myth is deeply embedded into our consciousness and colors our expectations and interactions with older workers.
Dr. Butler, a prominent gerontologist, is not ascribing to the notion attributed to Pope Alexander VI or Sigmund Freud that character is laid down in final form by the time a person is five years old. He believes that people change and remain open to change until they die. And he says that the idea that older people become less responsive to change because of age is not supported by scientific studies of healthy older people or by everyday observations and clinical psychiatric experience (Butler 1975).
If age alone were the determinant of inflexibility, why would we have so many older people today packing up and moving from their lifelong homes to faraway, unfamiliar retirement places - so many traveling to distant countries where they must adjust to totally foreign cultures and customs - and so many attending colleges, universities and training institutions of all kinds taking courses in technological, business and cultural subjects. Far from resisting change many older people, even those in advanced old age, are actively seeking it out.
It may be that the inflexibility reported by some employers is more a factor of their acceptance of deep-seated stereotypical myths, and inflexible employment practices and working conditions than age. There is little evidence that employers value older workers in hiring and retention practices and older workers may be influenced in their reactions to job-related changes by their fears of what will happen if they do not successfully master the new skills required in the new jobs. Today's unsettled workplace has not shown itself to be very forgiving and older workers, after all, have much more to lose than younger ones when companies downsize or reorganize.
Unfortunately, some older worker program operators subconsciously believe that enrollees are inflexible and unwilling or unable to learn new technologies. These beliefs are sometimes transferred to enrollees, further damaging their self-confidence.
Many Low-Income, Older Workers Need Help to Become More Flexible
It is true that there are older people who are resistant to change. Many of the economically disadvantaged older workers who are candidates for federal workforce development programs fall into this category. Being ready to take a chance on new jobs and training requires a self-confidence and self-esteem that come from past successes. Most of these men and women who enter the SCSEP have not experienced these successes. Their past experiences may have left them fearful of losing what they have in exchange for the unknown. They may have had experiences in their school days which left them with little or no desire for further training. And they may be the staunchest believers in the myth that older people are inflexible and too old to learn anything new.
But even older workers who are resistant to change are capable of adjusting their attitudes. Most older, low-income workers have had to roll with the punches and adapt to the vicissitudes of their lives. And they have survived. It is important that they are made conscious of all the different things they have done in their lives, the different places they've lived and the amount of change they've already survived.
The SCSEP Provides an Opportunity for Older Persons to Experience Change in a Forgiving Environment
Older, low-income adults who enter the Senior Community Service Employment Program have the opportunity to try various work and training assignments without the fear that they will fail or be fired. Furthermore, if they take an unsubsidized job and it doesn't work out, they can re-enroll in the program as soon as an opening exists. The SCSEP is set up to provide enrollees with a chance to take on new experiences in a protected setting. Enrollees can take chances without threatening their security.
The Initial Assessment and Individual Development Plan (IDP) Process Help SCSEP Enrollees Discover the Skills They Need to Perform Community Service Assignments and to Find Unsubsidized Jobs
The SCSEP assessment process is designed to provide program enrollees with the opportunity to take a hard look at where they are now, where they want to go in the future and what they need to do to go there. If done slowly and carefully, the assessments should help enrollees see the importance of training in obtaining their goals. Many enrollees have never thought in terms of goals; they were too busy surviving. They need to know what their options are. They also need to know about the local job market and be convinced that any training they take will make them more competitive in the job market.
The SCSEP Encourages Enrollees to Take Advantage of Training Opportunities
The SCSEP regulations allow training of up to 500 hours per grant year when training is consistent with the enrollees's IDP. Under the experimental private sector training [502 (e)] section of the regulations, there is no limit on the number of hours an enrollee can spend in training. Section 502 (e) specifically mandates that the training projects should emphasize second career opportunities and training for placement in growth industries or jobs needing new technological skills. These funds may also be used for training for jobs that experiment with new types of work modes such as flex time, job sharing, including jobs with reduced physical exertion.
SCSEP regulations encourage program directors to take advantage of the training opportunities available in their communities or to develop their own training activities. SCSEP directors are expected to build relationships with one-stop centers, Private Industry Councils, JTPA, community colleges, adult education institutions and other training facilities and to arrange for or directly provide skills training, including literacy training. SCSEP regulations encourage co-enrollment between the SCSEP and other government training programs.
Enrollees can engage in this training comfortably, knowing that even if they do poorly in the training they will not be terminated from the program. They have the option of trying different training where they may be more successful.
Experiential Training Is Provided Through Host Agency Assignments
All SCSEP enrollees are placed in 20-hour per week community service assignments based on the training and employment goals expressed in their assessments. The governmental or nonprofit (host) agencies where the enrollees are placed agree to provide adequate orientation, supervision, instruction and on-the-job training to each enrollee. Subsidized community service placements provide enrollees with:
An opportunity to return to a work environment
Current work experience
A chance to prove their value as workers and possibly be hired by their host agencies
The opportunity to try a variety of placements without losing anything
Host Agency Placements Give Enrollees a Chance to Work in Many Different Environments
SCSEP enrollees may be placed in any governmental or nonprofit, non-partisan organization certified under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Every community has a large number of these organizations and enrollees are presented with opportunities to have different experiences in the different agencies. Host agencies must agree to provide adequate orientation, supervision, instruction and training on the job to each enrollee. They must also make a commitment to hire each enrollee when an appropriate vacancy exists. A possible list of host agencies would include:
Adult Education Centers
Area Agencies on Aging
Art Galleries and Institutes
Commissions or Councils on Aging
Community Action Agencies
Community Development Agencies
Day Care Centers (Adult or
Domestic Abuse Shelters
Drug Abuse Treatment Centers
Education (Public Schools)
Employment Centers (Public or
Environmental Protection Services
Government Offices (Town, City, County, Federal)
Health Departments and Centers
Home Health Care Agencies
Hospices (Public or Nonprofit)
Hospitals (Public or Nonprofit)
Legal Aid Societies
Medical Clinics (Public or Nonprofit)
Mental Health Agencies
Museums (Public or Nonprofit)
Outreach and Information Referral Programs
Organizations Assisting People with Disabilities
Public Information Offices
Red Cross Centers
Retarded Persons Centers
Retired Senior Volunteer Services
Senior Corps of Retired Executives
Senior Citizens Centers
Shelters for Homeless Persons
Social Services Departments
United Way Agencies
Vocational Education Centers
Voluntary Agency Centers
YMCAs and YWCAs
The SCSEP Provides Opportunities for Out-of-the Ordinary Work Assignments
A group of SCSEP practitioners in a focus group at a recent SSAI training conference contributed the following examples of unusual host agency placements:
Internet assistant in library
Community theater aide
Host of radio show for kids
Artist at state university
Aide in wild life center
Conductor of oral/written driver exams
Play writer for cultural theater
Buffalo caretaker in park
Art gallery docent
Small theater director
Public access TV aide
Artist at state university
"Talking Books" reader
Animal care giver
Meeting, trip planner for center
Monitor- juvenile public service
Technical writer of welfare to work tracts
Ceramics instructor in senior center
Victims assistance aide
Interpreter for deaf persons
ESOL and GED trainer
Runs virtual rural one-stop
City jail librarian
Crisis intervention counselor
Male child care aide
TV camera crew member
Microfilmer - court records
Work assignments in host agencies are expected to improve or expand existing community services or originate services that would not exist without the SCSEP. Enrollees most commonly work as teachers aides, receptionists, office workers, computer operators, custodians, librarians, child care workers, bookkeepers, drivers and nutrition site managers. In one SCSEP run by a national aging organization, more than 10,000 enrollees have nearly 1,000 different job classifications.
The SCSEP Encourages Enrollees to Try New Occupations and Learn New Skills
In one SCSEP project in Michigan, the project director took a group of women who had minimal education and had spent their entire lives working on farms. She provided training for them in general office skills and word processing and placed them in local agencies. They relished their new work and within a relatively short time were hired in good paying jobs as secretaries. The SCSEP provided these people - all in their 60s and 70s - with the opportunity to engage in careers that would not have been possible without the program.
The SCSEP is a program designed to meet the needs of the enrollee, not the host agency. When the host agency has provided as much training as possible to the enrollee, the enrollee should be rotated to another agency for more training or to another training position within the same agency.
Older Workers Become More Flexible as They Gain Self-Confidence
One of the synonyms for self-confident is "unafraid." It is fear which makes people afraid to take chances, be more flexible, more adaptable and more accepting of new technology. The fear of failure, of being fired, of losing what you have in hand are powerful reasons to resist change.
Older people just by living longer have already suffered many losses of family, friends and sometimes jobs, homes and valued possessions. It does not get easier to take on more losses.
SCSEP enrollees can lose their fear of failure by being successful in their host agency work assignments and in the training provided to them through the program. Success breeds success. Enrollees who do a good job in their work assignments know they have something of value to offer employers. Those who go through training successfully and come out with valid saleable skills are more comfortable with new ventures.
Providing training and work opportunities for low-income, older adults in situations free from the threat of failure increases their ability to meet the demands of a highly competitive, technological society and adds to the nation's productive workforce. The SCSEP provides experiences that encourage flexibility and adaptability by exposing enrollees to a variety of work and training environments which are designed to build the self-confidence required for them to be open to new challenges.
7.0 A STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS TO TRAIN OLDER WORKERS FOR SCSEP COMMUNITY SERVICE WORK ASSIGNMENTS
A Four-Step Method That Works
Dorothy Thomas, who for more than 20 years trained Senior AIDES Program directors for SSAI's Senior Community Service Employment Program, used the following method for teaching practical skills to older, low-income adults. It is an adaptation of the Training Within Industry Program developed by the War Manpower Commission in World War II and has been used successfully ever since. The four-step method teaches older adults how to accomplish such diverse tasks as operating a machine, filing papers or any of the various duties SCSEP enrollees perform at work sites. The method can be used to train individuals or groups. It is especially effective in training older workers for community service assignments and can be done by a trainer or by the host agency supervisor.
THE FOUR STEPS
1. Get people to want to learn the task.
2. Instruct them on how to do it correctly.
3. Give them an opportunity to practice.
4. Follow-up on job performance.
It is not enough to TELL someone how to do something, or to SHOW someone how to do something; but
a combination of TELLING and SHOWING and providing opportunity for PRACTICE with consistent performance FEEDBACK will produce results.
The Instructor's Pre-training Preparation
Before any training takes place, the instructor should:
Studies on adult learning show that older adults like to master one task and get a feeling of accomplishment before moving on to the next step. Even a small success can help older adults believe they can learn.
4. Have everything ready: all papers, forms, machines, tools, instruction books and supplies needed for the instruction.
5. Arrange the teaching/learning space to provide the best learning conditions: cleared table or desk, chairs, few distractions. Check to be sure the trainee is comfortable and can hear and see adequately.
STEP 1: PREPARE THE TRAINEES