By Glenn Ruffenach
Finding it difficult to understand or keep up with technology? A national nonprofit organization is expanding a program to help older adults across the country improve their technology skills and, ideally, their chances to find a job.
The Oasis Institute, based in St. Louis, works to promote “successful aging” through education, health programs and volunteer activities. Among the group’s most prominent efforts is “Connections,” an educational program that helps older Americans who might not be familiar or comfortable with current technology find their bearings with computers, software and the Internet.
Now, Oasis is expanding Connections to 18 cities across the U.S., thanks to a $625,000 contribution from AT&T. As such, the organization will be able to reach an additional 11,000 adults, says Marcia Kerz, Oasis president.
Of course, finding work in today’s economy is difficult at best; the task is even more daunting for older adults and those lacking technology skills. Oasis notes that about 4.2 million Americans age 55 and are unemployed, the highest rate for this particular age group in six decades. One mark against many of these individuals: a lack of basic technology skills. For instance, only about four in 10 adults age 65-plus use the Internet, compared with 77% for all age groups combined.
With that in mind, Oasis’ Connections program is a collection of 34 courses that tackle, among other topics, basic computer skills; email and the Internet, workplace applications such as Excel, PowerPoint and Word; online applications and resumes; and social networking. (Some of the specific classes: “Computer Survival Skills,” “Gone Blogging” and “The Job Search Online.”)
Oasis offers the courses through partnerships with local organizations, including libraries, retirement communities, YMCAs, senior centers and related agencies.
While Connections can help older adults with technology in their personal lives (some courses, for instance, focus on genealogy and health), a big part of the program’s growth is linked to efforts to help older adults re-enter the workforce. As such, Oasis is also refining its “Connections at Work” courses. One change: a wide-ranging Job Search course “to support people who are actively seeking work while they are building workforce skills.”