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Instead of retiring, seniors are REWIRING

Resource type: News

Journal of Business-Spokane |

by Mike McLean

A job-skills program called Plus 50 that’s geared toward retirement-aged people wishing to remain in the work force is achieving early success at Community Colleges of Spokane and has been named as a model training program for other community colleges.

CCS’s Institute for Extended Learning is one of 15 schools in the country and one of three in Washington state to receive Plus 50 Initiative grants of $210,000 for the program from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and The Atlantic Philanthropies, a Bermuda-based nonprofit.

“We like to call it rewiring instead of refiring,” says Sharon Niblock, CCS Plus 50 program manager.

The grant funds Niblock’s part-time oversight of the program, some instruction, and curriculum development.

Niblock says the program has produced good early results.

The first group of Plus 50 students started in September with 14 participants. Most took courses for three months. Of those, 12 are working full or part time, one is looking for work, and one isn’t working because of health reasons.

Students in a second Plus 50 group have completed courses and started the job-interview process, Niblock says. A third, larger, group is taking courses now, she says.

The AACC has named CCS a “mentor school” for its Plus 50 program, which is serving as a model for starting up such work force programs at community colleges in Pennsylvania and Texas, Niblock says. Only five community colleges received the mentor designation.

“My interest is in the work force,” says Joanne Murcar, dean of instruction for Business and Community Training, who applied for the Plus 50 grant. It turns outwork force is one area people are focusing on now, because of the economy and the need for older workers to continue to work and upgrade skills. We hit the nail on the head, and we’re pretty excited about that.”

Murcar originally proposed the program to “welcome and engage” older workers returning to the work force, because she anticipated a future need for workers to fill positions left open as baby boomers retire.

With today’s economy, however, the program is serving a growing number of displaced older workers and also people who need to remain in the work force to supplement dwindling retirement savings, she says.

“The economy is a big piece of what’s happening,” Murcar says. “A lot of people delayed retiring because they thought the (stock) market wasn’t there yet It’s really not there now.”

The program opens each quarter to new participants who enroll for courses one month at a time. Classes start on the first work day of the month and end on the last work day.

Courses are being offered through the Business and Community Training division of CCS’s Institute for Extended Learning, at 3939 N. Freya.

Niblock says course work offered through the program includes computer skills, adapting to changes and challenges, communication styles by generation, business and personal finance, and other workplace skills.

“During the month, we have a full range of computer classes, ranging from basic typing to graphic presentations and spreadsheets,” she says, adding that it’s difficult to find a job today that doesn’t require at least general computer skills.

The Plus 50 program has prepared students to obtain jobs in medical, insurance, and other business fields, she says. It begins with an orientation and a test to help determine students’ interests and aptitudes.

“They might not be able to change to the career they want, but they might be able to get into the industry they are interested in,” Niblock says.

In addition to computer skills, courses are offered to introduce students to business math, medical terminology, and customer service.

“It’s self-based and individualized,” Niblock says of the program. “About three-fourths of the way through the month, they tell me if they are returning for another month.”

Some Plus 50 participants attend classes all day, depending on how many courses they feel they need. Others come in a few hours in the mornings or afternoons. Murcar says she expects the program will be set up to offer, evening courses late this year.

The cost for full-time participation is about $900 a month, although many students qualify for assistance via senior waivers through Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington and AARP, an association that promotes the welfare of Americans 50 and older.

Participants learn skills alongside students enrolled in other workforce training programs that are grouped under CCS’s Career Builder curriculum.

“We’re trying to leverage our resources,” Murcar says. “It’s a nice learning environment. Ifs representative of a work environment with multiple generations.

More than 50 students are enrolled in Career Builder courses, she says. Half of them are in the Plus 50 program, and interest in that program is growing.

“We’re trying to integrate as many students as come to us,” Murcar says. “We’re continually looking to identify needs and expand the curriculum.”

Students in the Plus 50 program have access to job-search information through AARP, Murcar says.

In addition, they work with WorkSource Spokane, a service that connects employment training services and job-finding resources.

The program also is starting to form partnerships with temporary-staffing services such as Spokane-based Humanix Corp., she says.

“Businesses are going to be feeling a greater need for this when the economy turns around,” she says. “There aren’t going to be enough folks to fill the work force,” she says.

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Global Impact:

United States


AARP, Institute for Extended Learning, senior citizens