The more than 1,000 one-stop career centers in the nation can be an effective tool to link older workers and employers—and most centers use multiple methods to do so, says a new government report.
This latest report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on one-stop centers looked at to what extent the centers serve older workers. Under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, the centers are not required to target workers age 55 and older or to provide specific services to them.
However, 23 percent (5.5 million) of people 65 to 74 were in the labor force in 2006, up from 20 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which projects that 10.1 million of them will be in the workforce by 2016.
Given the growing number of older workers, the likelihood that people will work beyond traditional retirement age, and the relatively smaller and younger available workforce, one-stop centers are an important resource for this population, says George A. Scott, GAO’s director of education, workforce and income security issues.
“Some businesses will need to retain existing older workers or attract additional older workers to meet their workforce needs,” he writes in an April 21, 2008, letter accompanying the GAO report.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has identified one-stop centers as a way to connect older workers with employers and has been encouraging the federally funded centers to:
- Educate businesses about alternative work arrangements that might appeal to older workers.
- Work with employers to refer older workers to appropriate job openings.
- Provide personalized post-placement services to make sure older workers retain and advance in their jobs.
In February 2008, the DOL was among federal agencies publishing recommendations to one-stop services on how to address key issues older workers face.
Among those recommendations: creating a tool to help center staff determine the number and characteristics of older workers in their area; raising public awareness of one-stops for older workers and employers; and coordinating federal agencies’ research on older workers, including the most effective ways to serve them.
A map with center locations can be found at http://www.doleta.gov/usworkforce/onestop/onestopmap.cfm; center locations also may be found by using http://www.servicelocator.org/
One center the GAO looked at held an annual job fair for older workers, registered participants and followed up with them, according to the report. A portion of that center’s space features computers and other resources set aside specifically for older workers.
Another center provided weekly classes on resume writing and interviewing skills, encouraged older workers to take computer classes, and used an assessment profile to match job applicants with available positions, according to the report
These are among the multifaceted approaches centers are using to connect older workers and employers, the GAO found. Other approaches include providing job search assistance, offering help with resume and interview skills, providing self-paced training courses to older workers, training center staff on how to assist older workers, and providing employers with information on how to retain older workers.
Centers face different challenges and opportunities in helping older workers depending on the local economy, according to the report.
There is a lot of interest in hiring older workers for employers in areas where there is low unemployment and in areas where there is growth in retail, service and other businesses. Officials at one-stops in these areas described various flexible and part-time opportunities for older workers.
In areas with high unemployment and a decline in major industries such as steel, there is a need to provide training, the report found. Centers in these areas faced difficulties finding jobs for older workers that provided the same level of wages as their former jobs.
The GAO report is based on online responses from 245 one-stop centers and 256 local Workforce Investment Boards; performance audits of centers from May 2007 to January 2008; interviews with officials at 11 one-stop centers located in 10 states; and interviews with DOL officials and people at other organizations who are knowledgeable about older workers and workforce programs.
While overall its report was positive, the GAO recommended the DOL look into what it sees as a disincentive for centers in assisting older workers—using the earnings individuals receive from jobs obtained through the centers as one of the measures for evaluating a center’s performance.
“Since older workers have a preference for part-time work, they may have lower earnings, and [this] could count against one-stops,” GAO Assistant Director Patrick DiBattista told SHRM Online.
While the DOL appeared to like the tone of the GAO report, it disagreed with the perception that the earnings-related performance measure is a disincentive for centers to help older workers. The centers might request a waiver to the earnings performance measure, DOL Deputy Assistant Secretary Douglas F. Small said in a letter to the GAO.
Also, the Employment and Training Administration under the DOL “has not found that older individuals participating in WIA have lower earnings levels,” Small wrote.
An analysis of the past two years “showed that the average earnings for those 55 years and older were actually higher than those workers under 55 years old,” he added.
The DOL has started examining the WIA and similar programs, including the impact on groups such as older workers, with results expected by December 2008; other evaluations are planned, according to Small’s letter.
“One-stops are taking a range of actions to address older workers, and Labor knows little about the results of these efforts,” the GAO’s Scott told SHRM Online. “They are starting to have some evaluations … that may provide some information on the impact of these services.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at email@example.com.