Encore Talent Works for Local Government

ARTICLE | Dec 17, 2015

Capitalizing on the "Experience Dividend"

“I know firsthand the benefits of engaging experienced boomers. They’re a valuable and much-needed community resource.”

- Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton

Budget cuts. Retirements. Hiring freezes. How do local and state governments get the important work done at all, much less expand critical services?

Good news: older adults offer a new talent source for local governments, working pro bono, for modest stipends or in full-time paid roles. Longer, healthier lives offer an “encore” stage for people in their 60s and beyond who bring skills honed over decades of work, a desire to stay engaged, the time to tackle new projects – and the experience and energy to improve their communities. At Encore.org, we’re building a movement to tap the talents of midlife and older adults and supporting organizations that supply encore talent to organizations, cities and other governmental agencies.   

Innovative state and local government leaders across the U.S. have successfully dipped into this talent pool to get solid results and build community engagement and their stories provide helpful insights on the impact these individuals can have.

Launching your encore program: DIY or partner

Pinellas County, FL, provides a road map for leveraging encore talent. It has sponsored a volunteer program for almost 30 years; in 2008, in the midst of property tax drops, county leadership revitalized the program to more fully engage citizens and better utilize their talents. While continuing to recruit for traditional volunteer roles, the county added skilled, long-term roles for experienced encore talent.

Now, the Volunteer Services team helps departments define needed skills, write job descriptions that motivate volunteers, and provides an online orientation. Long-term volunteers are integrated into their departments by attending staff meetings and being assigned workspace, e-mail accounts and loaner laptops.

Laura Berkowitz, Manager of Volunteer Services during the transition, stressed the importance of motivators such as learning opportunities and the desire to make an impact on the community. Volunteer Services built those ideas into their outreach and tagline, “Expect to Make a Difference.”

Pinellas County’s encore effort started with volunteers helping one division of the Clerk of the Court eliminate a 6-year backlog. Other departments took notice and the demand for skilled volunteer support grew. Among the departments was Pinellas’ Emergency Management Department who recruited retired executives to work with local CEOs on preparedness. Berkowitz noted that “CEOs respond to their peers much more positively than to a government employee.” Additionally, a local Water Reclamation Facility benefitted from a retired surveyor’s 45 years’ experience; other departments recruited their first communications professionals to showcase their work more effectively. The value of volunteers’ work has more than tripled, to $6.4MM annually; 3,000 long-term volunteers currently work at least twice a month.  

Former County Manager Bob LaSala commented on the larger benefits of engaging encore talent: “volunteers become narrators throughout the community about their local government and tell the story of local government service delivery to their families and friends. It further enhances trust between citizens and the local government.”

In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder views the encore opportunity as a natural extension of his commitment to public/private collaboration. Benefits of engaging encore talent are clear: important projects gain the perspective and best-practice insights of seasoned executives, government-private sector bonds are strengthened, and this volunteer service does not add to the State’s costs.

Working with encore-stage lawyer Beverly Burns, several nonprofits and the state Office of Good Government, Michigan launched a 2015 pilot Encore Executives-in-Residence program. The pilot recruited six pro bono hires for six- to 12-month projects  ranging from facilities review and a customer service survey to succession planning and a management training curriculum. A State Police project involves design, support, and creation of a model “town” where public safety personnel can train in environments that closely resemble the real world.

The first class of Encore Executives brings deep expertise. Lisanne Schloss, leading the State Police Simulated City project, headed Herman Miller’s worldwide facilities and real estate portfolio; Rhoda Henderson Fields, lead for the customer service survey, has decades of corporate customer-facing experience (Ford Credit, TRW) and nonprofit leadership experience; Randy Paschke, the management training project lead, was a CPA for three decades at Arthur Anderson and served as chair of Wayne State University’s Accounting Department.

Mike Zimmer, Director of Michigan’s Office of Good Government and the State’s Executive-in-Residence Program lead, said, “Our Encore program has engaged talented executives from the private sector with backgrounds in curriculum development, adult learning and project management. These talented individuals are implementing a diverse set of training programs that address the unique responsibilities of state employees. The Encore Executives-in-Residence program will ultimately improve how the state delivers its services to Michigan consumers and job providers.”

In many other locations, governments are partnering with national and local organizations to engage encore talent and meet critical needs.

ReServe, a division of Fedcap operating in five U.S. regions, supplies nearly 1,000 part-time encore workers, who earn a modest stipend. ReServe matches “ReServists” with 15 New York City public agencies and nonprofits that need part-time or project support.   

In New York City, the Department for the Aging (DFTA) employs over a dozen ReServists in its Bureau of Community Services senior outreach. ReServists serve as “Health Education Workshop Leaders” and have been trained to educate older adults at senior centers and in naturally occurring retirement communities on two evidence-based health programs: Movement for Better Balance, and Healthy Living – The Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management Program. Engaging ReServists for this program allowed the agency to create a dedicated pool of peer trainers able to work at senior centers throughout the city.

Another collaborative program partners with LiveOn New York (formerly, Council of Senior Centers and Services), engaging 24 ReServists in helping older adults apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Through their efforts, 5,000 people have received over $5MM in benefits.  

In Maricopa County, AZ, Experience Matters connects encore talent with community needs by placing individuals in paid and unpaid government and nonprofit service positions. Roles range from short-term pro bono projects to one-year, half-time commitments through the Encore Fellowships program, building capacity in HR, finance, technology, communications and operations. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, an encore enthusiast, hired Encore Fellow Chris Harris, a Phoenix newcomer who worked for three Presidents as well as businesses and nonprofits. Chris brought his skills to a special projects role, notably a pro bono communications campaign to increase school tax credit contributions. Thanks to the campaign and coordination with stakeholders, contributions increased 25 percent from 2012 to 2013 for the 10 targeted districts.

In northwest Connecticut, the University of Connecticut’s Encore!Hartford program offers training and pro bono internships to help unemployed older adults transition into social sector jobs. Edwin Wolff, a 2014 program graduate, now handles investigations and corrective actions for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, leveraging decades of private-sector labor relations experience and an MS in Industrial Relations.

Encores in education

Many older adults add capacity to low-performing schools as tutors, mentors, troubleshooters and college advisors. The largest national program is AARP Experience Corps, with a 20-year history of recruiting encore talent for K to 3rd grade literacy programs. Today, the group engages over 2,000 older adults annually in 22 cities. Multiple studies confirm the program’s positive impact on students and Experience Corps volunteers.

In Broward County, FL, 18 ReServists work to reduce middle-school truancy through mentoring and outreach to families, supporting five to ten students each in Title I schools. Broward County Director of Student Services Dr. Laurel Thompson commented, “The ReServists are high-caliber retirees who really had an impact on the students. The life experience and nurturing they bring is invaluable in making the students want to come to school.”  

In New York City, more than 40 ReServists served as Success Mentors, helping reduce chronic absenteeism at 18 middle and high schools, in part by building relationships between students and caring adults. Working part-time during the school year, they provided “cost-effective, high-impact” support for students and families. This included a morning ‘meet and greet,’ lunch-time study sessions, and outreach to parents with “good news” communications.

Government staffers can’t control the demands of their environment – but they can add the knowledge, experience and energy of encore talent to tackle those demands, improving performance and forging valuable community connections along the way.


Getting started: Tips from successful programs

Given the powerful potential of encore talent, how can municipalities find recruits? Start with this list of Encore Network organizations,  which gives detailed information on programs around the country.  If there’s no local encore program, reach out to local volunteer recruiting organizations, business leadership programs, professional organizations and the United Way. There’s plenty of encore talent and interest in your community; you just need to get the word out.

It’s OK to start small. Find an innovative department, identify a few value-added projects, recruit enthusiastic people, and showcase your successes. Your program will grow from there.

Craft a well-thought-out job description that articulates the project’s impact, learning opportunities, timetable and ideal encore executive “profile.” Outlining department support in advance is critical – “we didn’t want the program to be a ‘helicopter drop’ of a business executive into a department to work in isolation on a project and then be helicoptered out,” said Beverly Burns, Michigan Encore Executives-in-Residence lead.

Choosing the right candidates is more art than science. Look for adaptable team players and good listeners with strong interpersonal, communication, and strategic thinking capabilities who have an open-minded willingness to learn and want to contribute to the public good.

Encore workers are most effective if they are provided an orientation, regular staff contact and logistical support, even when resources are shared.

Don’t assume that encore workers don’t have tech skills. Plenty of older adults are technologically adept and bring valuable technology skills to their encore government work. They’ve mastered new technologies before and they’ll master what they need to work for your organization.

To fine-tune plans and react to changing circumstances, build in regular communication between the department and encore workers.

Get buy-in from government leaders and paid employees up front to address potential labor or job displacement concerns. Encore roles need to be clearly defined, complement public employee roles, and be consistent with any applicable volunteer and labor policies. New York City government ReServe roles, for example, are capped at 15 hours per week.

About the Author: Betsy Werley is Encore.org’s Director of Network Expansion. After 26 years of for-profit work as a lawyer and banker, she started her nonprofit career 10 years ago. Betsy believes deeply that older adults are an underused resource for solving social problems, and that the encore stage of life offers many opportunities. Contact her at Bwerley@encore.org.


Information about the encore movement: www.Encore.org

National and local organizations providing encore talent: http://encore.org/encore-network

Building an Encore Community: Lessons Learned from Maricopa County: http://www.encore.org/files/MaricopaReport.pdf

Michigan Encore Executives in Residence – contact program lead Beverly Burns, burns@millercanfield.com

Pinellas County Volunteer Program: http://pinellascounty.org/volserve

Toolkit to address NYC Interagency Task Force Report on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement: http://www.attendanceworks.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/NYC-Chronic-Absenteeism-Impact-Report-Nov-2013.pdf

The Big Shift – Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, Marc Freedman

The Encore Career Handbook, Marci Alboher

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