About the Study
In 2021, the Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) partnered with the Employment Training Administration and funded the Urban Institute and its partner Capital Research Corporation to conduct the Older Workers Study. This study will build evidence about the implementation of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), and other DOL workforce programs serving older workers (defined as age 55+), to inform the continuous improvement of SCSEP.
The SCSEP is a community service and work-based job training program for older Americans. The program provides training for low-income, unemployed seniors and provides participants access to employment-based assistance through American Job Centers. Participants must be at least 55, unemployed, and have a family income of no more than 125% of the federal poverty level. SCSEP grantees include state agencies and 19 national nonprofit organizations.
This Department of Labor-funded study was a result of the annual process to determine the Department’s research priorities for the upcoming year. It contributes to the labor evidence-base to inform employment and training programs and policies and addresses Departmental strategic goals and priorities.
- From Crisis to Opportunity: A Snapshot of Strategies Adopted during the Pandemic by Senior Community Service Employment Program National Grantees (Research Report, January 2023)
- Workforce Programs Serving Older Workers and Other Populations with Employment Barriers: Older workers implementation and descriptive study (Research Report, September 2022)
- What strategies and partnerships are promising in SCSEP and other DOL programs serving older workers?
- How might programs serving population with similar barriers inform SCSEP?
- How did SCSEP grantees adapt activities during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- What features will programs retain going forward and why? How are grantees adapting their programs to better and more equitably serve older workers?
- What is the impact of training strategies/interventions for older workers’ employment outcomes (primarily placement outcomes)?
- Conduct knowledge development activities that identify the evidence base and inform the project about promising approaches for serving and measuring outcomes for older workers or other target populations that share characteristics with this group.
- Conduct an implementation evaluation of SCSEP grant programs to identify promising strategies and partnerships to bring to scale and to more equitably serve older workers or target populations with similar barriers. An Early Implementation component of the study will focus in particular on grantees’ experiences during and post-pandemic.
- Identify training strategies/interventions for a pilot intervention and rigorously evaluate the impact of the intervention on older workers’ employment outcomes (primarily placement outcomes).
- Identify options for potential future research studies that would address important gaps in the evidence base related to employment services for older workers. This will include conducting feasibility assessments of different ways to evaluate and learn from the SCSEP program.
The nine national Senior Community Service Employment Program grantees interviewed for this study described several challenges beginning in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the following:
- Many participants could not return to their Community Service Assignments (CSAs) because supervisors worked remotely, host-agency sites limited in-person capacity because of social distancing, or host agencies permanently closed. The return to in-person CSA training varied by service area because of local business closures and local and state health requirements.
- Grantees had limited engagement with partners, such as host agencies, employers, and American Job Centers, because of the closure of businesses and other local organizations.
- It was difficult to provide remote services to participants who lacked the technology or skills to take advantage of these services. SCSEP grantees had to find new ways to provide services to older adults looking for work that lacked digital access and skills.
Despite the multiple ongoing challenges, grantees interviewed for this study also indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic created opportunities to build capacity, adapt services, and adopt new strategies to meet the needs of program participants. Examples of new or adapted strategies described by grantees interviewed are included below:
- Adopting new recruitment outreach, intake, and engagement activities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, grantees adopted new strategies for marketing the program to participants, often leveraging social media platforms and technology to target participants who might be a match for the program.
- Promoting digital access and technology loaner programs. Grantees interviewed for this study shared that by providing digital access to participants, they felt they were helping participants compete with younger workers by giving them the opportunity to build and practice their digital skills.
- Providing training remotely. Several grantee staff interviewed shared the perspective that digital skills and job-readiness trainings developed during the COVID-19 pandemic can complement a return to in-person training by providing flexibility to participants who can take advantage of remote training options.
- Adopting new host agency and employer strategies. Grantees reported they could not rely on existing partners for CSA placements and subsidized employment. To attract new partners, they instead relied on new strategies, and expanded existing engagement strategies, to get prospective community-based organizations and employer partners interested in the program.
- Implementing staffing strategies to support SCSEP participants’ needs. The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to make changes to infrastructure and staffing to start remote delivery. SCSEP grantees interviewed developed strategies for supporting staff experiencing stress and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring that the organization met demands and responded to participant needs.
Workforce Programs Serving Older Workers and Other Populations with Employment Barriers
- Older workers face unique challenges in the labor market. Studies have found that some employers discriminate against older workers in hiring, promotion, and retention. For example, just over half of workers in their early fifties experienced an employer-initiated involuntary job separation at some point before age 65.
- The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for older workers. During the pandemic, unemployment rates increased more for older than for younger workers. Additionally, the pandemic highlighted the importance of online service delivery but the difficulty that older SCSEP participants experienced due to the technology concerns, including lacking smartphones or tablets, uncomfortability with using video conferencing platforms, or missing internet access.
- Some program strategies are shown to increase older workers’ employment and earnings, including training for skills that are unlikely to become obsolete; training for jobs that are in high demand and cannot easily be automated; providing individually tailored employment supports; and developing stronger employer connections.
Briggs, A., Spaulding, S., and Adu-Gyamfi, A. (2022). Urban Institute. From Crisis to Opportunity: A Snapshot of Strategies Adopted during the Pandemic by Senior Community Service Employment Program National Grantees. Chief Evaluation Office, U.S. Department of Labor.
Butrica, B. A. (2022). Urban Institute. Workforce Programs Serving Older Workers and Other Populations with Employment Barriers: Older workers implementation and descriptive study. Chief Evaluation Office, U.S. Department of Labor.
The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) sponsors independent evaluations and research, primarily conducted by external, third-party contractors in accordance with the Department of Labor Evaluation Policy. CEO’s research development process includes extensive technical review at the design, data collection and analysis stage, including: external contractor review and OMB review and approval of data collection methods and instruments per the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), Institutional Review Board (IRB) review to ensure studies adhere to the highest ethical standards, review by academic peers (e.g., Technical Working Groups), and inputs from relevant DOL agency and program officials and CEO technical staff. Final reports undergo an additional independent expert technical review and a review for Section 508 compliance prior to publication. The resulting reports represent findings from this independent research and do not represent DOL positions or policies.