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President gives answers to U.S. Senate about workforce shortage and 'Age Boom'

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Portland Community College District President Preston Pulliams talked to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging last February about the variety of initiatives his college has developed to serve the “Age Boom,” and the impending workforce shortage as a result.

In his testimony, Pulliams stated that community colleges are uniquely qualified to address these issues because they can have an impact in three key areas – preparing students for emerging careers that work with older adults, supporting older workers who want to remain the workforce, and helping businesses retain an older workforce while helping businesses develop succession plans to mitigate the impact of boomers retiring. As a result, PCC has taken the lead.

“Because of the demographic shift expected by the retirement of the baby boom generation, many employers are planning now to retain a competitive advantage as the labor market tightens,” Pulliams told the committee. “Community colleges like PCC are in an ideal position to help with the transition.”

Age Boom reports highlight need

PCC and AARP of Oregon recently released three studies that suggest keeping Oregon’s baby boomers employed beyond traditional retirement age may be the salvation for the state’s projected workforce shortage within the next decade.

The PCC Taskforce on Aging commissioned a report, “Oregon Gray Matters,” which reveals that Oregon’s current older workers can fill the state’s future workforce needs, by staying in, or returning to, the workforce. The survey, “AARP Oregon Poll of Employers in the State on Age 50+ Employees,” found that approximately two-thirds of Oregon businesses have not taken measures for the projected labor shortages. And PCC’s “Boomers Go to College” is a qualitative analysis of the needs and aspirations of Baby Boomers, who are enrolling in college and other life-long learning programs across the country in record numbers. The study reveals that four out of five students are taking classes not simply for personal enrichment, but to upgrade their skills to re-enter the workforce. Approximately half of students who are older than 40 years of age have minimal levels of education, putting them at economic risk.

“By focusing on retaining older workers, we have a real opportunity to help businesses find and retain higher numbers of skilled workers and provide graduates who are able to contribute more effectively to society,” Pulliams said. “More should be done to help older students attain their educational goals, including more financial aid and retraining dollars for older students.”

Life by Design Northwest program in development

The Life by Design Northwest program assists retirees in discovering their passion and purpose in their later life. It is a collaborative effort by several organizations to provide resources and opportunities for those considering life beyond retirement. Partners include PCC, Morrison Child and Family Services, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland State University, Hands On Portland, AARP, Multnomah County Library, NW Natural and the Jubitz Foundation.

By developing plans for the future, the retirees are able to enhance their contributions to the community. It includes both physical and virtual sites that provide resources for life planning, lifelong learning, civic engagement and self-help for people at mid-life. The goals of Life by Design are to help people older than 50 in transition to “returnment” rather than retirement, as people leave their primary careers and re-engage in activities that return value to communities. It will increase participation in high-impact paid or volunteer opportunities at certified nonprofits to help utilize the growing older workforce.

“Life by Design Northwest is a major initiative in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area designed to provide a communitywide resource for people in midlife,” Pulliams told the Senate committee. “Life by Design Northwest is an attempt to simultaneously improve individual lives and strengthen the broader community by changing how older adults function in society.

“The program can help employers keep older, skilled workers and provide them opportunities to mentor and train younger workers for eventually moving into those jobs,” Pulliams said.

College expands gerontology program

Careers in gerontology are among the next big things in the 21st century workplace, and the college’s gerontology program is on the cutting edge of this opportunity. This program is designed for individuals who wish to develop careers in the field of aging. Exponential growth is expected in all service-providing industries related to aging, particularly in the health care services continuum, financial and legal services, leisure, life-long learning, hospitality, fitness and wellness areas.

About 80 students currently are earning certificates and degrees to “re-skill or re-career” to provide a wide range of services to the aging population. With support from the Northwest Health Foundation, the gerontology program partnered with other Oregon community colleges to deliver courses online throughout the state. With support from the Oregon Department of Community College and Workforce Development, the program also has developed an Activity Professional Career Pathway comprised of three short-term certificates to prepare students for direct activity programs in community and long-term care settings.

The program also has launched a peer mentor program to support students 50 and older (who make up 35 percent of gerontology students) in navigating the college system, working in an online environment, and preparing for employment. Through a $25,000 grant from the Community College Caregiver Training Initiative, the MetLife Foundation and the Oregon Home Care Commission, the program is initiating a pilot peer mentor and professional development program for homecare workers.

Grant to help train direct care workers

Last December, PCC was awarded a three-year, $436,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a three-year, $62,000 grant from the Hitachi Foundation. These grants – made under the foundations’ collaborative program, “Jobs to Careers: Promoting Work-Based Learning for Quality Care” – will provide skill- and career-development opportunities for 120 unlicensed, non-certified direct care workers in assisted living facilities. PCC was one of only eight awardees out of 190 applicants across the country.

Major goals of the project include the creation of industry recognized credentials for direct care workers, plus implementation of improved work-based training and career coaching to help front-line workers access training and career advancement services. In addition, several new certificates of completion will be developed by the gerontology program, allowing direct care workers to explore expanded career opportunities within the assisted living field.

The college’s Customized & Workplace Training Department (CWT) is collaborating with district businesses to develop performance management and succession planning strategies that allows businesses to surmount the challenges posed by boomer retirement. Through a combination of building internal bench strength, developing strategic incumbent worker training programs, and turning boomers into workplace mentors, CWT is helping savvy businesses turn the age boom challenge into an opportunity.

Senior Studies Institute and Senior Service Corps

For older adults wanting to spread their wisdom to peers or help out at the college, there are two programs for them, too. Senior Studies Institute offers a program of classes for dynamic older adults who want to expand their horizons and connect with others. The program is special because its members plan, conduct and run the institute’s programs and classes. The Senior Service Corps is a volunteer program that provides seniors with volunteer opportunities in meaningful college projects. It helps them become part of the campus community and learn about programs and classes within the college.

Surveys and the plan for the future

It doesn’t end there at PCC. Currently, the college is working with community partners to plan a national conference in Portland on the “Impact of the Aging Society.” The audience will be community leaders who will have an opportunity to learn how to plan for the age boom and utilize the aging workforce. PCC’s Center for Business and Industry is sponsoring a one-day conference in November to follow up on the February Age Boom Conference. Keynote speakers will include Rick Moody, director of AARP Academic Affairs, and Judy Goggin, vice president of Civic Ventures. The conference, “Real Tools for Meeting the Age Boom Challenge,” will focus on developing PCC’s capacity to meet the needs of today’s older students and older workers.

“AARP research shows that nearly 80 percent of boomers will work past ‘traditional’ retirement years,” Pulliams said. “Portland Community College is developing a cutting edge approach to help the older worker stay engaged in the economy.”

Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon, serving approximately 88,200 full- and part-time students. For more PCC news, please visit us on the Web at PCC has three comprehensive campuses, five workforce training and education centers, and 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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