In a rapidly changing global economy, workers must update and refresh their skills often throughout their working lives to remain competitive. That need is particularly relevant for older workers as they stay in the workforce longer, either because they want to or because they must.
One significant barrier to obtaining needed education and training is the access to funds to pay for it. Older workers seeking financial assistance for nontraditional educational programs have few resources at their disposal. Pell Grants have been a major source of federal funding for low-income undergraduate students to pursue their first bachelor’s degree or credential. However, some requirements of Pell Grants, like minimum course loads, make it difficult for older workers to avail themselves of this program. While Pell Grants are an important source of grant money for adults who want education and training, only a tiny proportion of all recipients are over the age of 50. Because the program was designed to help low-income undergraduates, some provisions are not suitable for older workers. For example, eligibility criteria premised on the previous year’s income may exclude the newly unemployed who recently held jobs with a decent salary. In addition, eligibility criteria were designed to determine how much financial support parents are allowed to contribute.
Deciding on whether to pursue additional education and training and about what training to pursue depends on having useful, accurate information. People need to know whether programs offer value for money, whether they are likely to lead to sustainable jobs that pay good wages and benefits, and whether they have the qualifications to successfully complete training.
Government policies can help to ensure that education and training programs offer good value. Licensing requirements and on-going accountability measures can reduce the instances of fraudulent practices at educational institutions (see also Chapter 11, Financial Services and Consumer Products--Student Loans for Higher Education for more information about education-related debt).
JOB TRAINING AND EDUCATION: Policy
Education and training
The federal and state governments should develop integrated education and training models that ensure lifelong learning and employment-related skills development and hold training providers accountable for preparing students for success in the labor market.
Workforce development providers should facilitate the development of training and retraining programs that provide workers with skills leading to jobs in high-growth industries and occupations that pay well, provide employee benefits, and enable workers to continue to develop new skills while employed.
Workforce development providers should counsel older workers and job-seekers on the availability of effective training suited to their needs and interests. They should also provide information about the cost of training, the availability of financial assistance, the likelihood of successful completion of any training program, the value to employers of any credential earned, the probability of finding employment after training, and the likely wages, benefits, and opportunities in that occupation.
Priority for job training and placement services should be given to individuals with barriers to employment as specified in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA). Resources under the WIOA should be expanded to invest more into retraining, and in evaluating the efficacy of existing programs.
Education and training services
State policymakers should encourage public two-year institutions of higher education and other career and technical education institutions to help displaced workers complete programs in an efficient and flexible manner and help them return to work as quickly as possible.
The Department of Education should implement policies to eliminate fraud, deception, and abuse in institutions accredited to receive student financial assistance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. These policies should seek to ensure that low-income students have access to adequate educational opportunities that lead to employment and whose costs, including debt burdens, are commensurate with income outcomes.
States should establish strong criteria for the authorization and licensure of educational institutions and require accountability from institutions and programs providing education within the state.
The Pell Grant program should be amended to improve access for older and displaced workers by providing support to individuals, including people with bachelor’s degrees, seeking short-term occupational programs. Pell Grants should also be available to adult learners who are financially independent but who may have experienced disruption in income due to unemployment.
Recipients of job-training allowances and federal financial assistance should be able to enroll simultaneously in adult basic education and literacy and postsecondary occupational and academic programs.
Federal and state loans and loan forgiveness programs should be modified to recognize the needs and characteristics of older workers (see also Chapter 11, Financial Services and Consumer Products--Student Loans for Higher Education for more information about education-related debt).
States should dedicate resources and designate an intermediary organization to foster local- and regional-level collaboration of job-training efforts among employers, workforce development centers, libraries, and education and training providers based on particular industries or industry sectors.