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Working Beyond Retirement:
For Money, Identity, and Purpose
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Who knew my father was a pioneer? He was one of those lucky folks who was able to retire early from the Bell System with a full pension. And instead of just retiring to his garden or the golf course, he reinvented himself as a part-time professor, consultant, and speaker. And from what career experts are now saying, this new form of retirement will become more of the norm, especially as the baby boomers move into retirement age and reshape the image of retired workers, just as they reshaped many other aspects of life and work.
In fact, Marc Freedman, author of Prime Time, describes how the baby boomers will transform how society views retirement -- bringing about a new image of aging, retirement, and the role of older Americans in our society. He cites statistics that show that in just a few years the number of folks over age 50 will surpass a quarter of the U.S. population. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that baby boomers are reaching the age of 60 at the rate of one every seven seconds. Many of these folks will be searching for something beyond a leisurely retirement.
For many, retirement will indeed no longer signal the end of working, but more so a career and lifestyle transition, where the retiree has multiple options -- such as continuing to work (though perhaps at a different pace), returning to school for additional training or education, changing careers, venturing into entrepreneurship, becoming more involved in volunteer work, or simply enjoying leisure and travel possibilities -- a mix of working, learning, relaxing, and trying new things.
Dr. Ken Dychtwald, author of Age Power, describes the transition between working and retiring as middlescence, which he says occurs to people sometime in their 50's to 70's. Middlescence can be a time of confusion and frustration for many workers, especially those whose identity is tied directly to their jobs. But it is also a time of growth and reinvention.
For some older workers, of course, retirement of any sort is not an option because of financial necessity. Whether stuck in low-paying jobs with little or no retirement plans or through poor planning or other financial hardships, these folks need jobs just to survive. According to a U.S. News report, only half the workforce has an employer pension plan -- and many of those have one have not contributed enough to it.
So, how can older workers facing retirement find a new job or career?
One of the keys, of course, is finding an employer that both respects older workers and offers job flexibility options. And there are already a handful of employers gaining a strong reputation for hiring and valuing older workers, such as Bonne Bell, CVS/pharmacy, Farmers Insurance Group, Hoffman-La Roche, John Deere, Radio Shack, Volkswagen of America, and Wal-Mart. Healthcare, security, retail, temporary agencies, and other service sectors seem to be the norm for older workers.
AARP, an organization dedicated to people aged 50 and older, suggests 10 positions suited for mature workers: bank teller, consultant, customer greater, English instructor, floral assistant, home-care assistant, mystery shopper, security screener, teacher assistant, and tour guide. Read more. AARP also publishes an annual list of the best employers for older workers.
A worker nearing retirement age might also look to his or her current employer for options, such as bridge positions, phased retirement, part-time employment, telecommuting, or freelancing. Learn more in these sections of Quintessential Careers: Telecommuting, Job Flexibility, and Work-at-Home Job and Career Resources and Jobs for Consultants, Freelancers, and Gurus.
Another option for older workers who want to work but also want variety and new challenges is to consider temping. Temporary agencies help place you with employers who need your particular skills. A wide range of temporary agencies is available, so find one that meets your criteria. You can learn more about temping in this section of Quintessential Careers: Temping Tools, Advice, Strategies, and Resources, which includes links to these articles, Temping in the Golden Years and Temping: An Option for Older Workers.
If you want to continue working -- but in a new career field -- consider taking the time for self-assessment and career exploration. If you are unsure of your next career field, examine your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and consider talking with a career professional. Get more direction in these sections of our site: Career Assessment Tools and Tests and Career Exploration Tools and Resources.
And for the really adventurous, another option is starting your own business after retirement. While many have been successful starting their own businesses, it is certainly riskier later in life. For some great tools and advice, check out this section of the Small Business Administration's Website: Small Business Startup Guide.
And for those who want to work, but are lucky enough not to need the income, volunteering is a wonderful option. Volunteering is a great way to stay active while also making a significant contribution to a worthy organization. Volunteering opportunities abound in every community. Senior Corps is one such organization, assisting local nonprofits, public agencies, and faith-based organizations in carrying out their missions by matching seniors with opportunities. For more information on volunteering, go to this section of Quintessential Careers: Volunteering and Nonprofit Career Resources.
But why should you work or volunteer if you don't have to? Experts suggest working helps older folks keep their minds and body active, provide social interaction and relationships, support their value system and work ethic, find meaning to life, and fight stereotypes that only the young are good workers.
Finally, what about those retired folks who want to get more education? Contact the colleges in your area and see if they offer specific programs for your educational interests. For those who want to learn, but do not want a formal program, consider taking courses designed for seniors, such with Elderhostel, the world's largest educational travel organization for adults 55 and over -- offering 10,000 programs a year in more than 90 countries.
How many boomers will keep working past traditional retirement age? Estimates range from anywhere from half to the vast majority, with many boomers saying they plan to work because that's what they want to do. And because many experts are predicting a talent shortage once these boomers retire -- as both the public and private sectors brace for a mass exodus of workers by the end of this decade -- there will certainly be a demand for experienced workers.
On a side note, while there ought to be plenty of work for all job-seekers, teens should be the most concerned about this shift. Many employers say they prefer seniors to teens because older workers are more experienced, more reliable, more polite, more motivated, and offer the most flexibility in working times.
If you are struggling with finding a job or new career, you might consider joining or starting a job club, building or expanding your network of contacts, conducting informational interviews, or investing in career counseling.
For more information and assistance related to careers and job-hunting for older job-seekers, go to this section of Quintessential Careers: Job and Career Resources for Mature and Older Job-Seekers -- Including the Baby Boomers. And if you are looking for a book to help older job-seekers, go to this section of our online bookstore, Job and Career Books for Mature Workers.
Final Thoughts on New Careers After RetirementRetirement used to signal the end of a productive life for workers, but more and more, retirement is seen as a transition point for beginning a new phase of your life. For those approaching retirement, it is now a time to develop a strategy to work fewer hours, try a new career or business, learn new skills and further your education, give back through volunteering, and enjoy life.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.
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