CATALYST V22N2 - Community College Training for Older Adults for Child Care Employment

Volume XXII, Number 2
Spring 1992

Community College Training for Older Adults for Child Care Employment

Christopher R. Ward
Administrative Officer, Generations Together
University of Pittsburgh

Thomas Smith
Program Coordinator, Generations Together
University of Pittsburgh

This article discusses the development, replication, and outcomes of a community college-based program that trains and places older adults in child care employment. In addition to analyzing the factors that contributed to the model's successful replication in a national, foundation- funded project in 1990, the article describes the collaboration between community colleges and Generations Together (GT), an intergenerational program at the University of Pittsburgh.

As more and more women have entered the work force in the last decade, Americans have increasingly demanded quality child care. Paralleling this expanding need for child care has been a growing shortage of child care workers due, in part, to the shrinking pool of younger workers who have traditionally filled most entry-level child care jobs.

A potential source for child care workers is the growing number of Americans over 55, a group now numbering over 30 million and increasing rapidly (Collins, 1987) . However, early childhood education professionals believe that to properly prepare these older adults for child care employment requires standardized training programs that teach uniform, transferable skills (Newman, VanderVen, & Ward, 1991) . This view is compatible with educators' increasing recognition that many older adults are returning to higher education specifically interested in gaining new job skills (Apps, 1988) .

Community colleges are well suited for conducting standardized child care training programs for older adults. They offer not only high quality teaching, but also recruitment, placement, and follow-up capabilities that lead to older worker job satisfaction and retention. Community colleges recognize that training programs have to be adjusted for diversity and for a variety of educational levels, points made in a recent Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching study on education for adult workers (Eurich, 1990) . As an added benefit, community colleges frequently offer child development programs to which training program graduates can return to take additional courses as they advance in their child care careers.

Community colleges' flexibility and openness to both younger and older students make them well suited for nationwide replication of older worker child care training. They have been closely involved with human resource and local economic development during the 1980s and have extensive experience in partnerships with outside firms and agencies (Long, 1989) . They are accustomed to operating in an environment where a wide range of for-profit and nonprofit groups offer training, and where collaboration works to the benefit of both collegiate and noncollegiate partners (Hodgkinson, 1983) .

Development of the Model

Generations Together's work in intergenerational child care began in 1982 with a foundation grant to develop models for involving older volunteers in child care. Subsequent efforts included developing statewide collaboration between Pennsylvania's aging and child care networks and creating a child care program staffed entirely by older adults. In the mid-1980s, Generations Together began training low-income older adults for child care employment under the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and placing them into child care centers in the Pittsburgh area. This JTPA-funded training has continued, with current projects focusing on neighborhood-based child care training and on helping small communities develop their own JTPA training.

These programs showed that child care providers, children, and parents valued older adults' experiences and skills, and that child care agencies willingly hired older workers. At the same time, the older learners had special characteristics that trainers needed to take into account. In response, Generations Together developed its own older worker child care training curriculum. However, the JTPA experience also showed that effective training programs included not only classroom instruction and a practicum experience, but well-designed recruitment, screening, placement, and follow-up procedures. Therefore, Generations Together built the curriculum into a comprehensive training and placement model.

With the growing shortage of trained child care workers and an increasing number of older adults requesting job training, Generations Together expanded its training to include those middle income persons not eligible for JTPA. To begin this expansion, Generations Together, with funding from the Sears-Roebuck Foundation, initiated a year-long replication project in January, 1990. It first collaborated with the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pittsburgh to adapt the Generations Together JTPA model to community colleges. In this initial cycle, a joint GT/CCAC project staff (a) contacted child care and aging leadership and local Sears-Roebuck management to form a leadership team; (b) convened a community awareness meeting; (c) recruited, screened, and trained (including practicum) 15 older adults; (d) placed and followed up with the graduates; (e) convened a mini-conference for graduates and the local child care community; and (f) planned, with community college administrators, the project's continuation.

Staff from institutions in Detroit, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle followed the same steps. Generations Together provided them with the model, including the curriculum and other materials; made site visits for initial meetings and for graduations or mini- conferences; conducted a mid-year meeting and workshop in Pittsburgh for community college staff; and evaluated the project.

The project's national scope and foundation funding shaped its direction. The colleges were in communities selected from among those where Sears had a strong presence and could aid in recruitment. Generations Together asked officials from the American Association of Junior and Community Colleges, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the National Council on the Aging to help identify partners in these communities.

Because the colleges and their partnering community agencies (child care centers and aging organizations such as Area Agencies on Aging) were from different states, organizational procedures and regulations governing child care workers varied. For example, while the colleges used Generations Together's older worker curriculum, they adapted it when necessary to include locally-mandated materials.

Moreover, a high degree of site autonomy helped create a variety of leadership styles, schedules, and approaches. In one site, for example, the community college did not directly manage the program, but made its facilities available to a local child care organization that did the training. Each site also determined how the program was to be administered and made all its own staffing decisions.

Trainees and the Training

The older adults who enrolled learned about the training from newspapers, religious organizations, and Sears stores. They had these characteristics:

46% were 50 to 59 years old, 41% were 60 to 69, and 13% were over 70 94% were female 43% were Afro-American, 37% were Caucasian, 10% were Asian, and 8% were Hispanic 57% were divorced, separated, or widowed; 37% were married; and 7% had never married 37% were college graduates, only 6% had not finished high school Over one third (35%) were not native speakers of English 15% reported an annual pre-tax household income of $6,000 or less and another 52% reported less than $15,000; however, 8% reported household income of over $36,000 annually

The trainees developed strong group bonds; most colleges held course reunions several months after the training ended. The training overwhelmingly met the trainees' expectations and they felt well prepared to work in child care. A majority of the trainees indicated that the training increased their feelings of being valued, opened them to new ideas, heightened their interest in caring for children, and made them more flexible.

Trainee Employment

Placing graduates into paid child care employment was an important project objective. To determine how many persons found jobs, Generations Together surveyed the graduates from the six sites in November 1990, reaching 66 of the 74 graduates. Forty-four percent of those contacted were working in a paid child care job. Among those who reported that they were not working, but indicated that they were still seeking child care work (41% of the 66), illness and family obligations such as caring for grandchildren or ill spouses were the primary reasons for not being employed.

Among those reporting working in child care, most were employed as aides. Approximately a half dozen graduates were working as teachers or administrators and several others were working outside centers as nannies. They averaged 24 hours of work per week (25% working full time) at an average hourly wage of $5.84.

Expansion Project Success

Generations Together and their collaborating community college partners judged the 1990 project efforts to be a success. All sites replicated the training/placement model and their graduates found the training rewarding and enjoyable. Individual community college efforts produced strong bonding among trainees, faculty attachment to the trainees, linkages among the cooperating systems, and interest by child care agencies in employing the graduates. Generations Together learned that the training model was replicable, flexible, and adaptable to a variety of settings.

The following conditions, which applied in most sites, contributed to successful expansion:

  1. A local community college or child care network was committed to the project.
  2. A consistent leader was responsible for coordinating the project.
  3. A community team, including both college staff and persons from community agencies, invested from the project's beginning.
  4. One person was responsible for actively supporting the individual trainees throughout the project during the screening, training, placement, and follow-up activities.
  5. A systematic placement and follow-up procedure was integrated into the training program.
  6. A systematic communication procedure was in place among the teachers if the training was team-taught.

Successful Sites

Though the expansion project was successful, the sites varied considerable in the numbers of older adults they trained and placed. A spring 1991 Generations Together follow-up survey showed that two sites had taken a special interest in continuing the older adult training: City College of San Francisco and North Seattle Community College. These two sites exhibited (a) high placement rates, (b) good wages for placed workers, (c) excellent retention of placed trainees in the first year following training, and (d) local initiative for continuation of the program for a second year. For example:

  1. Both sites placed more than 60% of their graduates.
  2. The wages received at initial placement in San Francisco ($6.58) and Seattle ($7.20) were much higher than the minimum wage paid to entry-level child care workers in many communities.
  3. In the spring of 1991, eight months following training, all of the trainees from Seattle who were initially placed were still employed in child care; the figure for San Francisco was 73%.
  4. Both colleges continued the training in the summer of 1991.

Achievement Factors

In addition to the conditions for successful expansion, a number of external and internal factors contributed to the special achievements of these two older adult training efforts. The external conditions included:

Economic Conditions

Compared to Detroit and Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco had healthy economies in 1990. Seattle, in particular, was booming. The higher wages paid in these cities probably reflect economic conditions in which child care employers had to compete for workers with other industries; the high placement rates may be due to the general availability of child care jobs.


Unlike the Northeastern cities with harsh winters and the semi-rural site near Orlando that lacked good public transportation, Seattle and San Francisco are relatively compact, with good public transportation and climates where older workers generally did not find getting to work a problem.

Internal factors that contributed to program success included:

Administrative Location

In San Francisco, the Parent Education Program ran the older adult training under the supervision of that program's director. Regular staff did the teaching. In Seattle, the Child and Family Education Department offered the training with the chairperson playing a major role and department faculty hired to teach during the summer. In both cases, those running the program had immediate access to support staff and clerical help.

In contrast, several other sites subcontracted the training or hired a part-time faculty member to run the program. Although the quality of the training appears to have been equally good in all systems, Seattle and San Francisco were better posed for follow-up efforts for the second year. The involvement of the program director and chairperson also provided continuity and leadership when the programs sought second-year funding.

Course Timing

Both Seattle and San Francisco completed their training in August just before the start of the school year, when many child care facilities, including Head Start, hire new workers. Sites that finished later in the fall had more difficulty in placing their graduates. Timing a training course to end several weeks before employers are to do major hiring seems to be one key to high placement rates.

Community Linkages

In San Francisco, the Parent Education Program linked for the first time with the Area Agency on Aging. The AAA contributed help with recruitment, screening, some training stipends, and job search training and assistance. In both sites, close work with practicum sites produced job offers for graduates.


The older worker child care training program proved to be of great interest to the media. Television news shows in both Seattle and San Francisco aired segments on the Training. The New York Times ran a story and picture on the San Francisco program. Media coverage helped in fund- raising: When San Francisco's second year was featured in the local newspaper, a local law firm contributed an unsolicited gift to help fund a third training cycle.

While no single factor appears to have been critical, together a series of internal and external conditions combined with conditions found in all the replication programs to produce excellent placement, wage, retention, and continuation outcomes for several sites.


To further refine the training and placement model, Generations Together collaborated with five Pennsylvania community colleges (and one private university) to run similar training programs in 1991. Waking Up Vanessa, a video describing the training; a set of guidelines for replication; and further evaluation are products of this second project. The curriculum will be published late in 1992. Generations Together has also obtained a research grant to follow those trained in 1990 and 1991 for two years to determine their child care employment experiences and their impact on the child care centers where they work.

To help increase the number of older adults trained to work in child care during the 1990s, Generations Together plans to disseminate its community college-based older worker training program model across the United States. Generations Together hopes to create a national network of community colleges interested in offering older worker child care training programs.


Apps, J.W. (1988). Higher education in a learning society. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Collins, G. (1987). Wanted: Child care workers age 55 and up. (December 15). New York Times, 1, 8.

Eurich, N. (1990). The learning industry. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Hodgkinson, H. (1983). Establishing alliances with business and industry. In G. Vaughan and Associates (Eds.), Issues for community college leaders in a new era (pp. 222-231). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Long, J. (1989) . The college/private sector connection. In T. O'Banion (Ed.), Innovation in the community college (pp. 159-176). New York: American Council on Education and MacMillan.

Newman, S., VanderVen, K., & Ward, C. (Eds.) . (1991). Guidelines for the productive employment of older adults in child care. Pittsburgh: Generations Together.