The Senior Community Service Employment Program Pivots During COVID-19
The Centralina Area Agency on Aging (AAA) Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) helps older adults bridge the gap to retirement by providing paid job training for adults 55 and older. Although training for individuals in this age group is not common, there are several reasons why it is necessary. Adults in this age group may be too young for social security, need a second job in addition to social security or simply not be ready to retire. Centralina staff help participants develop employment plans to find jobs that match their interests, abilities and goals. Through coaching and case management, the SCSEP places participants with agencies that train in employable skills and prepare them to enter or re-enter the workforce. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, in-person operations were derailed so Centralina AAA had to get creative with training methods.
To help SCSEP participants obtain unsubsidized employment and position them for success, Centralina staff refocused the curriculum and refined training methods. Due to canceled in-person trainings, Centralina began weekly group zoom meetings starting in March 2020 and provided emergency paid sick leave to participants through May 2021. When emergency sick leave ended, the SCSEP expanded to offer virtual training through GetSetUp, a suite of online resources for older adults, and weekly group therapy sessions. Because the SCSEP offered emergency sick pay and virtual trainings, participants were given the unique opportunity to take on new skills that further positioned them for employment.
A Participant’s Success Story
Despite the new training methods, the fear of technology combined with the fact that COVID-19 forced participants out of in-person training and into remote learning caused participation numbers to drop. Many participants were unfamiliar with the internet and felt they had no chance in continuing training via the virtual world. However, there were exceptions like Mr. Tager Kelly, a great program champion who embraced change and welcomed new approaches to training.
Before COVID-19 occurred, Mr. Kelly trained with Mecklenburg County’s Senior Nutrition Program and had very little experience using technology. In fact, Mr. Kelly was one of the many participants who expressed his dislike for computers saying, “I don’t do all that stuff.” Thanks to Zoom trainings and weekly SCSEP meetings, Mr. Kelly quickly learned basic technology skills and began sharing knowledge with other participants. He also took advantage of GetSetUp where he took a variety of course offering ranging from Tai Chi to Microsoft Outlook.
Now Mr. Kelly is speaking basic Spanish, staying active at home and has even ordered a green screen to improve his meeting backgrounds. The skills that he learned enhanced his resume and positioned him for new employment opportunities in technology, an area that he was not interested in prior to working with Centralina AAA. With the help of the SCSEP, Mr. Kelly discovered that learning never has to end and that when we apply ourselves and go in with an open mind, we can gain skills and discover new interests. Congratulations Mr. Kelly and good luck in your future endeavors. We have no doubt you will be successful.