In 1993, Denise Minter was a newlywed with a one-year-old son. Her career was flourishing and she soon became a producer at DreamWorks Animation.
But at 45, Minter was diagnosed with breast cancer. She eventually turned to martial arts as a new career to cope with the stress. Yet, years later, her job as a martial artist was uprooted and she was left unemployed for six months.
By this point, Minter was approaching older adulthood.
“A friend recommended I Google jobs for seniors, and I was a little offended,” she said. “There’s a stigma around the word senior.”
Minter recalled her journey during an online discussion hosted by the National Council on Aging, “Roundtable: Solutions to Support Older Workers and the ‘Un-Retired,’” held Oct. 27. Despite the stigma, she said, she took her friend’s advice and found the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a training program supported by NCOA to help teach older adults digital literacy skills and reorient them into the workforce.
Minter would go on to graduate from SCSEP and work there as a mentor for other seniors looking for a job. Part of her role included helping seniors learn and adopt new technology they would need to be successful in the workforce.
“In our office, [staff] required everyone to have a smartphone and an email address,” Minter explained.
Maura Porcelli, senior director of SCSEP, echoed the importance of technology for senior workers today.
“The digital divide has created a glass ceiling in employment,” she said.
She explained that five million older workers lost their jobs at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and now must adapt quickly to modern technology to get a job.
“This is not equitable recovery,” she said.
Catherine Spensley, senior division director at the Felton Institute, a nonprofit offering mental health and social services (and which runs SCSEP), said older adults often recover from unemployment more slowly than their younger counterparts, often because technology intimidates them.
“A lot of people don’t believe they can learn,” Spensley said. “COVID has brought to the forefront what the digital divide really means … You have to do things online.”
Organizations like SCSEP help seniors get comfortable using the online platforms necessary to succeed in today’s workforce.
One organization that follows this model is The Nashville Public Library, which runs digital literacy programs for seniors to get integrated with technology. The programs help seniors with income or health disparities by pairing them with younger counterparts who can teach them how to use different technologies. The devices seniors use for the program come from donations.
“We help our students access the telehealth portals used by doctors and major health care systems,” wrote Marium Christmon, who runs the program and attended the panel. “We understand what it is like learning to use digital technology as an adult.”