SER Jobs for Progress National helps job seekers in the 55-plus age category. As baby boomers retire and lifespans increase, the need to train this segment of the labor market "is only going to continue to grow," according to president and CEO Ignacio Salazar.
In 2003, SER National won a grant from the Labor Department for $26 million, or 98 percent of the organization's expenditures last year. The grant pays for a massive program that SER National administers through 26 affiliate and partner organizations in 16 states. The program covers on-the-job training for seniors, who are expected to develop marketable skills during a period of subsidized employment that may last up to six months. Nearly two thirds of the program's participants are Hispanic.
"We have a constraint in the employment sector – a huge [senior] population and employers looking for people with specific skills," says Mr. Salazar. "Many of these seniors aren't ready to retire for financial or personal reasons."
Among the skills that employers seek, bilingual English-Spanish ability ranks high. Training ranges from accounting and clerical to sales and technical positions, depending on the participant's prior experience and interest.
"Healthcare needs continue to grow, and with them healthcare careers. The need for bilingual professionals at all levels is acute, especially in hospital and clinical settings," according to information from SER National in its Top 25 Nonprofit directory application. The organization ranks number 5 on the list.
Many seniors in the program work for financial reasons, a trend likely to grow in the coming years.
According to a 2003 report by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, only 50 percent of Hispanics have saved for retirement. "Overall, Hispanic-American workers tend to report the lowest levels of confidence about various financial aspects of retirement," the report concludes.
SER National's enormous grant illustrates another trend in the job-development industry: a consolidation of funding streams. "Before you had a huge number of government entities providing training programs," says Mr. Salazar. "These have consolidated to create huge revenue streams for a few organizations. We've gone after that market."
Also, to reduce fragmentation and duplicity of services, federal agencies now prefer to fund One-Stop Career Centers. Previously, one nonprofit might have handled program counseling, another training, and another job referrals. Different organizations would each specialize in youth, adult, or senior programs. One-Stop Career Centers combine all constituencies and functions at one location. SER National's 43 affiliate organizations currently operate 60 such centers across the country.
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