THRIVE! San Diego Pilot Project

Full Report

Executive Summary

In partnership with the San Diego THRIVE! Advisory Board and the National Council on Aging, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development is developing a healthcare sector-focused workforce development initiative for mature workers in San Diego, California.

Why Help Older Adults Get Jobs?

Nationwide, 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.  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)

The situation in San Diego is among the worst.  Since 2007, unemployment for workers 55 and over has risen faster than for any other age group, increasing by 70% between 2008 and 2009 alone.  Even before the full effects of the recession, 42% of all older adults (65+) in San Diego County were living on incomes below the Elder Economic Security Index (Elder Index).  That equates to 131,000 seniors in San Diego struggling to meet their most basic needs, the majority of whom are women and elders of color.  Of these, 107,000 fall into the "eligibility gap" with incomes above the official poverty line but below the Elder Index.  For many older adults, the only solution is being able to access appropriate jobs with decent wages.

Why Take 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.  However, until now, this approach has not been widely tested on a mature worker population.

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

In San Diego, as elsewhere, 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 occupational specific training, coupled with holistic case management services and supports, the project enables mature workers to find and keep jobs that lead to economic security.

What Has Been Done So Far?

So far, the Insight Center has conducted substantial research to inform the program, including:

  • Analysis of the regional economy and labor market, which identified healthcare as a growing sector with a 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 barriers to employment that must be addressed
  • Employer interviews, which highlighted strong interest in hiring mature workers and suggested home care provider and patient access representative as target occupations
  • Scan of support services available to older adults in San Diego, including financial services, legal services, housing services, 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 adults reenter the workforce.  This group, as well as other local and national experts on aging services and sector-focused workforce development, forms the core of 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 pilot sector initiative, informed by the research and local advisory board, which will connect older adults with careers in healthcare.  Pending resources, the program will include:

  • Outreach, assessment, benefits screening, and enrollment
  • Contextualized work readiness and job search skills training
  • Occupational skills training in home care or hospital patient access representative
  • Job placement and retention assistance

The Insight Center is also seeking partners to expand this demonstration to other parts of California and nationwide.  If a tailored, sector strategy is proven effective for mature workers in different settings, as we anticipate, we will work in coalition to advocate that policymakers sustain this strategy over time.

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"