The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a polarizing growth pattern within the labor force between 2020 and 2030. Workers ages 16-54 are projected to surpass those ages 55 and older within the next decade, and the 75-and-older group alone is expected to increase by 96.5%. Simultaneously, the 16-24 age group is likely to see a 7.5% decline. Many seniors are choosing to continue working or return from retirement. According to the Council on Aging, 73% of seniors don’t work because they need to; they work because they want to.
With these projected numbers, it’s important for older adults to use resources like the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) to find a job that will work for them. The SCSEP is “the nation’s oldest program to help low-income, unemployed individuals aged 55+ find employment.” The program focuses on matching older adults with proper training and job opportunities, often leading to permanent employment. This guide provides tips for reentering the workforce and what seniors need to know about SCSEP.
How to Use the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)
The SCSEP provides paid training for low-income seniors who want to find permanent employment. This federally funded program is the perfect stepping stone for older adults who need extra career support. But not all adults over 55 are eligible to enroll, and the program is not meant to take the place of a job. Below we’ll cover what the SCSEP is, how it’s funded, how to apply, and what kind of training and pay you can expect.
What is the SCSEP?
For more than 50 years, the SCSEP has helped low-income individuals over 55 find work. Eligible adults accepted into the program will be matched with part-time training positions with nonprofit or public organizations such as hospitals, schools, or senior centers. During their assignment, participants earn a modest income while building relevant skills and learning to be confident in a professional environment, working an average of 20 hours per week. Most participants who do well during the training period go on to secure a permanent position within their field of interest.
How is the SCSEP funded?
The SCSEP receives funding from the government through the U.S. Department of Labor. Every year the program is awarded millions of dollars in grants to go toward the mission of training and employing seniors. Organizations such as the AARP and the National Council on Aging hold SCSEP offices around the nation that do the footwork to match eligible adults over 55 with local agencies. These offices receive approximately 90% of their funding from the Department of Labor and the remaining 10% from fundraising done by the organization itself or other nonfederal dollars.
How do I apply for the SCSEP?
Individuals interested in applying for the SCSEP should first determine if they are eligible for the program. To qualify, individuals must be unemployed, 55 years or older, and receive an annual household income that does not exceed the limits listed here. Eligible individuals can apply for the SCSEP by visiting a local office to fill out an application.
Depending on availability, there may be a waitlist for certain training categories. Otherwise, applicants will be enrolled to receive their training at a local nonprofit. It’s important to note the SCSEP gives enrollment priority to the following:
1. Veterans and their eligible spouses
2. Individuals over 65 who:
- Live in a rural area
- Are homeless or at risk of homelessness
- Have a disability, low literacy skills, limited English proficiency, low employment prospects, or failed to find employment through the American Job Center system
What kind of training can I get through the SCSEP?
Although each participant will receive job-specific training for their desired position, every participant learns how to conduct a job search and establish a work history, as well as the opportunity to cross-train for other positions. After enrollment, the training program will be tailored specifically to the applicant’s needs. During training, they will learn all there is to know about the position they’re working toward. Here are a few examples of the types of jobs an applicant could be trained and hired for:
- Teacher’s aide
- Data entry clerk
- Child care provider
- Health care worker
- Computer technician
- Maintenance worker
- Food service worker
What are the hours and pay in the SCSEP?
Applicants who are eligible and successfully enrolled will work 20 hours per week and receive on-the-job training for approximately six months. This part-time assignment will only be temporary as they work with their directors to search for full-time or part-time permanent employment after the training period. The SCSEP is not the end of the line for its participants — the goal is to empower each individual with the training they need and send them into the workforce equipped with skills and self-confidence.
One great feature of the SCSEP is the paid training. Each applicant will be paid for their training time, making at least the federal, state, or local minimum wage. Providing a paycheck relieves some of the burden of being unemployed while they are trained for their prospective jobs. Pay after training will be dependent on the role and company they work for.
Resources for Older Veterans
Although the SCSEP does prioritize enrolling veterans and their spouses into training programs, there are more resources available. The Center for Workforce Inclusion recognizes the majority of unemployed veterans are ages 45 and older and have little transition support. Veterans need an opportunity to retrain and receive educational help to translate their unique skills into something relevant to today’s workforce.
The AARP offers its members a free online class called the Veterans Career Advantage. This four-hour course is designed to help veterans transition from their military career to civilian employment. Veterans will learn practical information on interview skills, resume writing, career planning, and skill development. Hear from real veterans throughout the course as they share their own experiences with the class. Although this is a self-paced class, the “Ask the Expert” tool allows students to submit questions about the course and receive a response from an expert within 24 hours.
Tips for Seniors Reentering the Workforce
1. Refine your resume
If you’ve been out of the workforce for any amount of time, you’ll need to make a few updates to your resume. The further you move away from graduation dates, the easier it is for employers to discriminate or consider your skills outdated. To combat these potential gaps in experience and education, push your most recent and relevant work to the top of your resume. If any of your experience was over 15 years ago or is irrelevant to the job you want, there’s no need to include it. Focus on the job you’re applying for and what the employer is looking for right now. Use keywords from the job listing to push your resume to the front of the line.
2. Refresh your skills
Think about the job you want to apply for and consider whether the skills you have will be sufficient. Talk to others in the field to better understand what knowledge is essential and what’s unnecessary. If you have a large gap in education and proficiency, look to your community for classes. Go online and sign up for an e-course. Contact the local library to ask about any upcoming workshops. Programs like the SCSEP are a great resource for skill-building and job searching.
3. Highlight mentorship
Presenting yourself as a mentor is one way to market your age as an advantage. Especially for those with long-term career experience, showcasing your ability to mentor will make you stand out among other applicants. Be sure to include any formal mentorships you’ve done in as much detail as possible. Provide real-world examples of how your mentorship influenced and guided the mentees under your care. Using terms such as “coached”, “guided”, “led”, “trained”, and “supported” can also demonstrate mentorship and leadership. This kind of experience brings a different perspective to the workforce. Employers and co-workers alike stand to benefit greatly when workplace demographics are diverse.
4. Value all experience
You can use the experience you have even if you didn’t get paid for it. Unpaid volunteer work is just as important and valid as work at a paying job. If the experience is relevant to the job you’re applying for, use it. Add it to your resume along with any paid experience you’ve had. You should highlight that the work was unpaid, and you can include it in reverse chronological order wherever it fits in with the rest of your experience.
For those who have potentially outdated experience, consider using a functional resume instead of a chronological one. This type of resume lists experience in order of relevance rather than when it took place, highlighting the actual work you’ve accomplished without emphasizing dates.
5. Update your network
On your way back into the workforce, assess your current network. Do you already know someone in your desired industry? Could you approach someone who used to be in this field for professional advice and insight? Make an effort to get back in touch with people you know are still working and are around your age. They will likely have relevant advice for working as an older adult.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and expand your network. Sometimes you need a fresh perspective. Put yourself in places where you can engage in conversation with potential employers and co-workers. Make a point to approach younger professionals and build new relationships.
6. Evaluate your style
For people returning to work after a long time away, styles and appearances may have changed drastically. It’s still important to dress for the job you want, so a style evaluation is necessary to make sure you look the part. Investing in some new wardrobe pieces to update your look will help to avoid discrimination you may encounter as an older adult attending face-to-face interviews.
According to the AARP, seniors who do face-to-face interviews are being offered jobs at a rate 40% lower than younger applicants with similar skills. Although the way you look shouldn’t matter as much as your ability, this is an issue older adults are facing as they apply and interview for jobs. Know your rights and educate yourself on how to combat ageism.
7. Practice for the interview
No matter how much experience you have, interviews are still an intimidating process. Think about how the interview would be conducted for your desired job. Before you meet with any prospective employer, you should prepare your answers for the most common interview questions, such as:
- How has your experience prepared you for this role?
- What are your biggest strengths?
- What are your biggest weaknesses?
- Could you tell us about a time you faced a challenge at work and how you dealt with it?
- Why do you want this job?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your salary expectations?
You should prepare for any industry-specific topics that you think may be brought up in your interview as well. Consider asking a friend or family member to act as the interviewer and conduct a mock interview to ease your nerves and practice speaking.
The more you practice speaking your answers out loud, the easier it will be during the actual interview. Although you won’t know everything that will be asked or discussed, putting to memory what you know about yourself and your experience will empower you to give thoughtful answers. It’s also worth mentioning that, even if the job is in-person, many companies conduct their interviews virtually — you should download any teleconferencing software you need in advance and practice using it well before your interview.
Advice from a Career Counselor
1. What advice would you give a senior interested in reentering the workforce?
Many retirees don’t have a plan for how they will spend their time once they stop working, and they initially feel like they’re on vacation. However, once that feeling passes, retirees often struggle without having structure to their time. That’s one of the main reasons many retirees seek employment once again — this can change your perspective on work and feel quite empowering, as you’ll be working because you want to rather than because you need to.
Think about why you want to return and in what capacity and what environment. Consider which skills you wish to leverage and learn. For example, if you ran a nonprofit you may want to return to work at a lower level, so how might you market your knowledge and experience to support a new leader in a similar role in your industry?
For any job seeker looking to reenter the workforce, networking and having up-to-date skills are key components. Target organizations that need the skills and knowledge you possess. Some companies have reentry programs (think “The Intern” with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathway), so check out fellowships at Encore.org. Think about where maturity and experience are a competitive edge, like with teaching, counseling, or health care.
Perhaps this is a time to pursue your passion and hidden talents? Entrepreneurship and gig work are also options, where seniors provide services to others — think personal shopping, tutoring, child care, graphic design, organizing, bookkeeping, writing content, or blogging. Call centers and answering services, as well as virtual personal or executive assistants, might also be good options since they are remote and likely tap into skills you already have: communication, time management, organization, interpersonal skills, and being detail-oriented.
Focus on employers who are welcoming to older employees. For example, look for those listed on the AARP website or on company websites under reentry programs. Some states have SCSEP offices, so check with your local Department of Labor to find out about training and job opportunities. Or join a community on LinkedIn geared toward older workers and your job function and industry to stay connected.
2. What is the biggest challenge facing seniors looking for employment?
There are a few big challenges for older workers seeking employment: the assumption that you are not going to stick around very long; that you are overqualified; and that your technology skills are rusty and outdated. Unfortunately, the onus is on the job seeker to dispel these myths. So, make sure your technology skills are up to date, from Zoom to MS Teams, Excel, and PowerPoint, to name a few commonly used programs. Be clear in your cover letter, interview, and other conversations about how long you see yourself working and why you want to contribute.
3. What should a senior looking to change careers consider?
A senior looking to change careers should consider multiple things — what type of training, education, or credentials might be needed for this pivot? Am I seeking a new role, a new industry, or both? What problems do I wish to solve? What environment would be a good fit for me? Assess what you enjoyed most in your former employment or volunteer activities to identify the type of work, and possibly organizations, you want to work for.
As with any job seeker looking to change careers, do your homework first. Research your career of interest: What are the qualifications? Work environments? Is it in demand? Where are the jobs? Who are the employers? Besides looking at job function, employers should also be a key component in your search. Identify employers who have an older or multigenerational workforce, statements on diversity, pictures of older employees on their website, and things of that nature.
4. Should older workers be concerned about age bias?
Unfortunately, older workers should be concerned about age bias. But there are ways to work around this. Make sure your resume has a modern look, removing certain dates or experience that goes back more than 15 years, and list updated technology skills. For example, include Excel, not Lotus; Word, not WordPerfect; and Java, not COBOL. Be prepared to answer questions about how you’d feel reporting to someone who is younger or less experienced than you, how you feel about being overqualified for a role, or the assumption that they can’t afford you.
Senior Job Boards & Employment Resources by State
Additional Senior Employment Resources
AARP Work channel. The AARP makes it easy for seniors to find jobs and feel supported. Visitors can use the job board search engine designed specifically for seniors to find listings relevant to their experience. The Work channel landing page is full of resources on returning to work and being a senior in the workforce. Members have access to career webinars, and visitors will find a long list of articles about age discrimination that teach older adults how to recognize it and what to do about it.
Workforce50.com. This is a website for job seekers over 50. With a home page dedicated to finding jobs around the country, Workforce50 provides a place not only for prospective employees but employers, too. Companies looking to hire an older and experienced adult can create and post job listings directly to the website. Check out the Workforce50 and Career Research libraries for resources covering a variety of job-related topics, and sign up for email alerts to stay up to date on the latest job listings.
Seniors4Hire.org. In operation for nearly 20 years, Seniors4Hire is an online career center that advocates for adults over 50 who are seeking jobs and ways to make a living. Not only can businesses post job listings on the site, but job seekers can also post their resumes. You must be registered to use the search and post features on the website, but it’s free to join Seniors4Hire. This organization also has a job alert email option for those looking to stay on top of the latest listings.
BACK TO WORK 50+. The AARP created a space for members to access free resources, coaching, and workshops, including the Smart Strategies Workshop provided at various locations around the country and online. The AARP has partnered with local workforce services to connect job candidates to positions within their own communities. Currently, there are eight locations in the U.S. throughout the Midwest and the South. These offices work to connect adults 50+ with local opportunities.
Retired Brains. This is another website with nearly 20 years of experience helping seniors find work after retirement. Get information on how to work from home as an older adult, secure seasonal and part-time supplemental positions, or start your own business. Retired Brains is full of resources and advice on how to approach working as a senior. Visitors will also find information about senior discounts, continuing education, volunteering, and travel. The website even hosts its own job search engine, allowing users to search by job title and location.