One stumbling block to ‘reinventing’ myself and starting a new career is my age. I’m not old, although probably old enough to apply for a job at Rent-a-Grandma (see link on Boxcarkids Facebook page), but I’m not young anymore either. I did four years of college, and then attended grad school on the Ph.D. track. I worked over 20 years in my chosen field (environmental permitting) and have been out of work for awhile now. And that’s as close to telling my age as I’m going to go! Age is an impediment, although it isn’t just age that needs to be overcome. There are habits as well. I ended my career at a fairly high step on the management ladder and by that time, in addition to experience and know-how, I had developed a manager’s way of interacting with clients and subordinates. But you can’t go into a new field acting like the boss; you have to rein in any tendency to step forth or take over. You have to remind yourself that the 24 year old showing you the ropes really does know more about it than you do! And maybe your new job will require new skills as well – learning new technology for instance – or the pace and environment at which you work will vary greatly from your past career. If you go from sitting at a computer in a cubicle to standing at a cash register all day you will feel it.
These career transition issues are not mine alone; there are a lot of workers who are close to retirement age, or who have retired, who are looking for jobs these days, many in a field completely different from the one they were in previously. There are so many older job seekers that an entire market of goods and services has been created for them. According to a segment titled “What Retirement? Seniors are getting back to work” that aired recently on NPR, more seniors are looking for work, and while some are succeeding, even more aren’t. Those that aren’t, are looking for help. There are books like Working after Retirement for Dummies, Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50, and Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life (all available through my Amazon.com link). There are websites like Wiser worker – an internet job search and resource center for older workers and Retired Brains – a job and information resource for boomers, retirees and people planning their retirement. Community colleges often have entire programs geared towards seniors with a surprising number of courses job related (such as computer programs, starting your own business, accounting, foreign languages, and investing).
Interestingly enough my research indicates that there are quite a few resources out there for employers of mature workers as well. Just as there are book on working after 50 there are books for employers on how to train, manage and retain older workers. And a recent NPR story detailed the efforts of employers to keep their older workers fit and healthy by implementing an exercise program at work, thereby avoiding the costs of injuries, and hiring and training new employees.
Does all of this mean it is easy to switch careers or find a new job as a mature worker? No, not really. Age bias still exists making older workers more likely to face layoffs and less likely to be hired. Job seekers who are 55 or older take an additional 3 months to find work on average and lawsuits alleging age discrimination are on the rise. According to an article titled, “Tips for Staying Employed after 50”, there are still a lot of misconceptions about older workers. These include the idea that older workers are more expensive, can’t adapt to new technology, and can’t keep up with the fast pace of today’s work environment.
Switching careers is not always easy to do. While the job search site, Retired Brains, lists thousands of jobs presumably geared towards the older worker, most of these really require substantial tenure in that job’s field. Very few of the “Retirement Jobs” listed are entry level positions. For example all of these: EOE-ESE Senior Data Integration Architect; Controller; Registered Nurse; Web Analytics Consultant; Director, Coast Guard Investigative Service; Veterinary Cardiologist; Elementary School Principal; and Physical Therapist, require extensive schooling and experience.
Retraining can be expensive, or difficult. Training programs in areas where there are job openings, such as IT, healthcare, and engineering, cannot meet the demand. In fact many training programs in these areas have been cut or eliminated during the past decade of education cuts. Our local college has a 2-year waiting list for its nursing program and some schools now have waiting lists to get on a waiting list! At the same time employers cannot find enough well-trained employees. MathWorks, a developer of mathematical computing software for engineers and scientists, regularly advertises more than 200 job openings and complains that they cannot qualified workers to fill them.
Perhaps it is time to revive the notion of apprenticeships, a system developed in the Middle Ages wherein the employer trained the worker in exchange for his service for a set period once the training was complete. Before education become widely available and accessible apprenticeships were the way most craftsmen and tradesmen learned their craft or trade. Still used in some countries, this system of learning has become much less prevalent in the United States, although some trade associations such as the Associated Builders and Contractors do offer apprenticeship programs.
As for me, I am making plans for a career switch of my own. Jobs in my field are still scarce and the openings are increasingly focused on areas (such as alternative energy development or oil and gas exploration) in which I have little direct experience. Job ads stress the requirement for applicants to have an unbroken employment history and to have an existing client base. I apply regardless but my applications just disappear into a cyberspace void. So we are contemplating a big move. One that is still in the planning stages and likely to be a logistical nightmare, but which gives me hope and provides a tiny glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel that was beginning to appear endless. As our plan progresses I look forward to sharing it with our blog readers and I hope you will join us on what is sure to be a roller coaster ride into our future!