For Gloria Jackson, becoming a certified nursing assistant was about more than taking home a paycheck.
It was a chance to re-engage with a passion she’s held for a long time.
Her story is part of a growing change in the way senior facilities find people to care for an elderly population that is rapidly growing.
It’s also an example of how some people over the age of 55 are finding new careers across Greater New Haven, whether in healthcare or in other fields.
Jackson said some people in that demographic might be discouraged because of their age but she said they shouldn’t let it hold them back.
“I encourage everyone at any age to go out there,” Jackson said. “Whatever your dreams are, go for them. You should never let anything stop you.”
Jackson has worked at Whitney Center for about eight months. The senior living community on Leeder Hill Drive is home to about 300 people in various life stages; some live independently, some with assistance and others with the help of skilled nursing care.
Each day, Jackson and her co-workers help some of the center’s residents go about their daily routine: They help them wake up and get dressed, get nutritious meals, go to hair, spa and medical appointments and participate in activities with others, such as sing-a-longs and bingo games.
Jackson has lived in Hamden off and on for the last 10 years; she previously worked as a patient care associate at Yale New Haven Hospital. But after returning from a two-year stint living in Texas, she needed to refresh her skills to get back into the field.
On the advice of a friend, she turned to Associates for Training and Development, a private nonprofit with an office in New Haven. The group uses state and federal grants to help connect older workers with jobs in both Connecticut and Vermont.
Jackson first worked in a customer service position at Strive-New Haven, a different nonprofit that helps people find jobs when they get out of prison. She then underwent 10 weeks of CNA training at Eli Whitney Technical School.
Jackson said she was very excited when she found out she could get back into a care provider role.
“I jumped at it because this is what I’ve always loved to do,” she said.
A4TD helped her along, paying for equipment and supplies such as her shoes, scrubs, stethoscope and a watch with a hand showing the seconds. They also paid her training time in the class and fees such as those required to get her license.
Sean Joyce, the nonprofit’s Connecticut program manager, said the group also teaches participants skills they’ll need to get jobs, such as filling out online job applications and putting together portfolios to showcase skills for potential employers.
The training the program provides does translate into paychecks. Since July 2015, 82 percent of people who have gone through training with AT4D have left with jobs, either at their training sites or elsewhere in Greater New Haven.
“The expectation is that people will end up employed,” Joyce said.
The program is also growing quickly. Over the last four months, it’s provided training to 67 Greater New Haven residents, which is almost as many people as it trained in the previous year.
Rick Bugbee, the group’s director of training and program operations, said that for people who go through the program, “Improving their skills also means they’re able to give back to their communities more.”
AT4D sets people up with training opportunities at hospitals, day-care centers, senior centers, schools, town clerks offices, museums and other places. It also connects them with many fields other than healthcare.
But growth of the program also comes at a particularly important time for places like Whitney Center as more adults live longer.
Mike Rambarose, president and CEO of Whitney Center, said A4TD’s work dovetails with Whitney Center’s mission of helping seniors. But it also helps them get workers at a time when there aren’t enough young people entering the field.
“We just don’t have the number of workers in long-term care to support those numbers that we’re seeing coming down the pike so we need to think about strategies for developing (a) workforce,” he said.
Whitney Center isn’t running short on workers but nationally, places that help seniors realize there might not be enough staff to keep up with aging Baby Boomers.
“I think it could actually be a way to help aging services throughout the state or the country to find more people to help as the Baby Boomers come into this generation and we need to care for more and more people,” said Karyn Fryer, chief human resources officer for The Whitney Center.
Ramabrose and Fryer said the empathy and life experiences of older workers also make them a good fit for The Whitney Center, where the average resident age is 83.
The Whitney Center hires some people who go through A4TD training. But some of those people also train there and go on to get jobs elsewhere in the region.
Fryer said that makes an important difference from other job-training programs, which sometimes pressure employers to hire their workers. The Whitney Center has low turnover and while the center is sad to see talented workers leave, they’re happy to see them advancing in their own lives.
“To help somebody who’s been out of the workforce for a while, to give them some new skills — really, the tools that they may need to move on — that’s what spoke to us as an organization, especially for me,” she said.