Providing Job Search Support for Women Over 50

This blog post was written by Hannah Betesh and Anne Paprocki of Social Policy Research Associates.

Over the last decade, older workers have steadily become a larger share of the U.S. workforce, a trend that is expected to continue. At the same time, older workers are more likely than other workers to have difficulty getting re-employed after they lose a job. Compared to men, women are increasing as a percentage of the aging workforce, and they face particular challenges in achieving stable employment, earnings sufficient to support basic needs, and a strategy to achieve economic security in retirement.

AARP Foundation awarded Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) a contract to evaluate the overall effectiveness of WESI and to identify lessons from its implementation that might inform future programming. The Corporation for National and Community Service just published SPR’s interim implementation report on its Evidence Exchange. The report describes implementation findings from site visits conducted during the first two years of program implementation and telephone surveys completed with WESI participants three months after program enrollment. It describes and assesses the program’s fidelity to the prescribed model, implementation challenges, and best practices.
To address this growing need, AARP Foundation created the Back to Work 50+: Women’s Economic Stability Initiative (WESI). Funded by a three-year grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund (SIF) in 2014, the initiative strives to build the capacity of local education and training institutions to prepare women between 50 and 64 years of age who are seeking full-time work for employment.  The program is being implemented at community colleges across the country. WESI provides participants with individual coaching and a set series of complementary components shown below:

Key findings from the interim implementation report include the following:

  • The colleges have fully or partially implemented most elements of the program model. Implementation of the career coaching, computer skills training, and job search skills training elements—on which AARP Foundation provided updated guidance and technical assistance between the first and second implementation study visits—show the highest fidelity to the intended model. The colleges are still working towards implementation of the prescribed model on aspects of occupational skills training, supportive services, and employer involvement.
  • While survey results indicate satisfaction with the content of most program components, focus group feedback suggests areas for improvement in format and guidance. Survey responses show moderately high levels of satisfaction on the survey with core components of the program, though feedback from focus groups indicates more interactive and personalized delivery would be appreciated.
  • Job search skills training is a strong component of the program that is valued by participants, but actual connection to employment is still in development. Survey results indicate that participants enroll in WESI to improve their employment prospects and are satisfied with the job search skills training they receive. However, three months after enrollment, just under half of respondents reported being employed full or part time. Similarly, fidelity assessment indicates that while colleges have made notable progress towards full implementation of the job search skills component, they have also consistently struggled to engage local employers.

Next steps for the evaluation will include a final implementation evaluation report and a quasi-experimental impact analysis which will use propensity score matching to compare employment and earnings outcomes for WESI participants with similar women who did not enroll in the program.