THRIVE! Initiative

Full Report 

Executive Summary

Helping Older Adults Get Good Jobs Using a Sector Approach

In partnership with the National Council on Aging and the San Diego THRIVE! Advisory Board, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development is piloting a healthcare sector-focused workforce development initiative to help older adults in San Diego acquire occupation-specific training and good jobs in growing sectors of the economy, while also pursuing improvements to the aging and workforce development systems.  We are currently seeking funding to expand this demonstration to other sites across the country and other industries.

Our Goals

  • Help 500 low-income older adults across the country reach economic stability by providing them the occupation-specific training, employer connections, and intensive support services necessary to qualify for, get, and keep good jobs in growing industry sectors in a given region
  • Improve and better connect the aging, human services, and workforce development systems
  • Build the capacity of aging services and workforce development agencies to implement regional, industry-specific workforce development partnerships, known as "sector initiatives"
  • Promote and sustain this innovative model over time through policy and administrative advocacy

Why Help Older Adults Get Jobs?

Older workers around the country are struggling.  Older job-seekers are less likely to find work, more likely to work involuntarily part-time or drop out of the labor force, and more likely to experience unemployment of a year or more.  Those not yet eligible for Medicare and Social Security need employment income and health insurance now; and even those 65 and older who receive income supports and health coverage often fall short of being able to meet their basic needs. The bottom line: fewer and fewer older adults are able to make ends meet, and the consequences for their economic security are severe.  Older job-seekers nationwide report adjusting plans for retirement and taking pay cuts.  Both employed and unemployed older workers report forgoing medical care, accumulating credit card debt, and depleting savings just to make ends meet.(1)

Why Use a Sector-Focused Approach?

Rigorous research has demonstrated that regional, industry-focused workforce partnerships, or "sector initiatives", are highly effective at increasing the earnings of low-income people.  A multi-year, random-assignment study conducted by Public/Private Ventures showed that participants in sector-focused programs earned significantly more than randomly-selected control group members with similar characteristics, and they were significantly more likely to work in jobs with higher wages that offered benefits.(2)  However, until now, this approach has not been widely used to specifically help older workers.

What's In It for Employers?  What's In It for Mature Workers?

Older workers are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, a trend that will only accelerate as the overall population ages.  Moreover, even during times of high unemployment, employers need skilled, qualified workers to help their businesses thrive.  By inquiring deeply into employer needs and designing a program that provides participants the specific skills required, the project offers employers what they most value:  highly-qualified employees.  At the same time, by providing occupation-specific training, coupled with holistic case management services and supports, the project will enable mature workers to find and keep jobs that lead to economic security.

What Has Been Done So Far?

The Insight Center has conducted research to inform a San Diego mature worker pilot program, including:

  • Analysis of the San Diego regional economy and labor market, which identified healthcare as a growing sector with a wide range of accessible and self-sufficiency wage-paying occupations
  • Focus groups with older job-seekers, which identified broad interest in healthcare occupations and flagged potential support needs that must be addressed for any successful program
  • Employer interviews, which highlighted strong interest in hiring mature workers and identified home care provider and patient access representative as target occupations
  • A scan of support services available to older adults in San Diego, including financial services, legal services, housing services, healthcare, and transportation and nutrition assistance
  • A national scan of mature workforce initiatives, which identified best practices in supporting employment of older workers as well as highlighting a dearth of sector-focused training partnerships tailored to meet older workers' particular needs

The research builds on the work of an engaged group of aging services and workforce development providers - including the local area aging agency on aging and workforce investment board - dedicated to helping older San Diegans reenter the workforce.  This group, as well as other local and national experts on aging services and sector-focused workforce development, forms the project's Advisory Board.

Download the report or its Executive Summary.

What Comes Next?

In San Diego, the Insight Center is working with local partners to implement a comprehensive healthcare sector initiative pilot project, informed by the research and Advisory Board.

Nationally, the Insight Center is seeking partners to expand this demonstration to other parts of the country.  If proven effective in different settings, we will work in coalition to advocate that policymakers sustain this strategy over time and make necessary systemic changes to better serve mature workers in the future.

For more information about THRIVE!, contact Susie Smith at

(1)Sloan Center on Aging and Work, "The New Unemployables: Older Job-Seekers Struggle to Find Work During the Great Recession"
(2)Public/Private Ventures, "Tuning in to Local Labor Markets: Findings from the Sectoral Employment Impact Study"