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Helping the Unemployed Recover After the End of the Space Shuttle Program

This is a guest post by Dan Kulpinski. Kulpinski is a web writer and producer for the AARP Foundation.

Space Shuttle Discovery piggybacked a ride over Washington, D.C., April 17, drawing many oohs and ahhs and prompting many folks here at AARP headquarters to go up to the roof or down to the National Mall to see the spectacle.

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Discovery Gets a Ride

The event reminded us that the shuttle era is over, but in Brevard County, Florida – home to the Kennedy Space Center – they’ve been living with the impending death of the space shuttle program for two years now. The 12,000 space program layoffs began in 2010, with most happening after the final shuttle launch in July 2011. The cuts reverberated through the local economy, forcing restaurants and small businesses to lay off workers or shut down. The newly unemployed engineers and other high-tech workers have mostly left the area to seek work, but thousands of locals are now on the streets, looking for jobs. The AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) has been helping these low-income, unemployed workers update their resumes and find new positions.

“What we are working with is the ripple effect, the dishwasher at the restaurant that’s had to close, or the waitress or the cashier,” said Carolyn Brown, SCSEP Project Director in Melbourne, Fla.

Her team first points job seekers to the WorkSearch assessment tool, to identify their transferrable job skills. Then, “our goal is to assign them to a community service position for 18-25 hours a week at minimum wage. While they’re doing the community service job, we’re working with them on resumes and building job skills, to transition them to unsubsidized employment,” explained Brown.

SCSEP helps everyone who comes in. “We get people who are homeless. We have one guy who’s living in a tent right now,” said Brown. “We had one guy who was in mortgage banking and lending.”

Her team talks to people about barriers keeping them from getting a job, and then helps them overcome those hurdles. “If they don’t have e-mail, we help them set up an e-mail account, let them use the computers.”

Brown has helped unemployed workers get trained as security guards, certified nursing assistants, physician’s assistants and home assistants. She said it’s just like the old adage, “If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he can eat for a lifetime.”

“If we can get them training, we’re giving them the pole where they can fish for themselves,” she said.

AARP Foundation is working to win back opportunity for struggling Americans age 50 and over, by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today – including paving the way to a stable income. You can follow the AARP Foundation on Twitter at @AARPCares and like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AARPFoundation.

Photo credit by: this page, Renee Cobb; previous page, NASA