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How Older Workers Prepare for Their Second Act

4 minute read

Working longer is often seen as the simple answer to inadequate retirement savings. But the math only works if you find someone to hire you, and past age 50 that is far from easy. To gain an edge, some boomers are bolstering their bona fides through adult internships or embarking on a gap year for grownups.

Baby boomers will begin to turn 70 next year, and they want to put off–and come out of–retirement in droves. Already, 1 in 4 retirees returns to work within two years, according to the Rand Corp., a policy-research nonprofit. Many others would like to stay at work longer or return, but “unretiring” can be difficult.

For one thing, about half of all workers leave the labor force earlier than planned, largely due to health or caregiver issues, reports the Employee Benefit Research Institute. And though many employers pay lip service to hiring older workers, less than 5% have a formal strategy for keeping and attracting them, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. In November, long-term unemployment stood at 38% for those ages 65 to 69–a higher rate than for every younger cohort, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The most important things you can do to remain employable are keep up or retrain your job skills, network like crazy and demonstrate familiarity with modern tools via a Twitter account or LinkedIn profile, say experts. But those things aren’t always enough. “Older workers bring maturity, leadership, energy and wisdom to a company,” says Ashok Vaswani, CEO of personal and corporate banking at Barclays. “But sometimes they still don’t find jobs.”

To harness the talents of older workers, Barclays launched a program called Bolder Apprenticeships in September. The bank will hire 400 workers in the U.K. who are near or coming out of retirement, from any field, and it expects to expand the program globally over time and share its recruiting platform with other businesses. Barclays especially values these workers’ openness to flexible hours, mentoring potential and life experiences that enable them to relate to the needs of older customers in branch offices, Vaswani says.

The program is part of a slowly shifting tide. Two-thirds of HR professionals report that their organization hires older workers who have retired from other firms. “Companies are trying to find ways to utilize this part of the workforce,” says Jaye Smith, co-author of The Retirement Boom. “Workers that return after an extended break bring energy, creativity and confidence.”

Many older workers almost intuitively understand the value of rebooting. “Most who retire and come back do it as a matter of choice,” says Nicole Maestas, a senior economist at the Rand Corp. “This is not some hapless response to an unexpected financial problem. It was their plan all along.”

Companies like Intel and IBM make it easier for their retirees through specific programs that help them transition into meaningful postcareer employment. Others, like Scripps Health and Atlantic Health Systems, make the AARP list of 50 best employers for workers past age 50 by offering a phased retirement scheme that lets workers wind down a little at a time.

For the millions who do not work at such companies, the obvious risk is that these people retire and, after some time off, do not find other work. That’s when it may be beneficial to turn back the clock and explore an internship or volunteer with a group like the Peace Corps or Teach for America. “These positions don’t always pay,” says Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org, which offers annual prizes for older adults who reinvent themselves and make a significant contribution to society. “But they provide a strong sense of purpose and can be a pathway to a whole new act.”

These doors are wide open. The Peace Corps woos volunteers past age 50 with its Response program, offering shorter commitments for professionals with at least 10 years of experience. About 7% of Peace Corps volunteers are age 50 or older. Teach for America, another find-yourself favorite among the young, encourages experienced volunteers as well. Grads and undergrads make up a stable-to-declining portion of its volunteer force. Meanwhile, those with professional experience have grown from 17% to 27% of volunteers since 2011. You are never too old to get a fresh start.

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