This guest post is by Elizabeth (Betty) Black. She has worked in education and workforce development for more than 25 years, most recently with Joanne Dustin, in partnership as Synergy Consulting Collaborative LLC. Their latest work is Career Collaborators Building Career Communities, a self-directed career development program emphasizing career conversations for both for-profit and non-profit organizations.
There’s something about September that focuses people’s attention on education, careers and next steps. Whether it is back-to-school planning for our kids, Labor Day signaling the end of the summer, “A Day of Service” to give back and commemorate those we lost on 9/11 or a confluence of all the above, many adults are thinking about where they are and where they should be going. No group may be paying closer attention than the Baby Boomers, in their 50s and 60s and not yet ready, willing or able to move into traditional “retirement.”
Career Drivers Over Time
Generations in the workforce have often been classified, roughly, by age—Gen Ys in their 20s, Gen Xers in their 30s and 40s, Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s and Traditionalists 60+. They have also been characterized by what motivates them in their careers. GenYs, just starting out are concerned with “Getting In”—finding a first job or starting out on a career. GenX individuals have found a job or even moved from their first job to their second or third, and they are now focused upon “Getting Known”—establishing their expertise, developing their networks and becoming influencers in their industry. Boomers, especially those who have established their expertise and networks, often concentrate on “Getting Ahead”—ensuring they are taking full advantage of their highest earning potential, saving for the future and beginning to think about retirement. Traditionalists, one could say, have “been there, done that and got the T-shirt.” They are thinking about “Giving Back and Making a Difference.” While these characterizations may be generalizations and how we feel about work and careers has as much to do with our personal and family economics as it does with the overall economy and job market, there would seem to be a grain of truth to these descriptions. Since there are 78 million Baby Boomers and many more Traditionalists who will not be ready to retire in the traditional sense, what types of careers might they be interested in and how might this career shift play out?
Maraci Alboher and Marc Freedman of the nonprofit organization Civic Ventures, have defined careers for Boomers and Traditionalists as “encore careers—second acts for the second half of life; paid work that combines personal meaning with social purpose.” Their motto is “Encore careers combine purpose, passion and a paycheck.” Alboher, who has written “The Encore Career Handbook,” states that “a mixture of longer lifespans, layoffs, shifting cultural attitudes and financial realities is causing this growing urge among over-50s to seek out more purposeful work. Sometimes it’s just an itch to do something more purposeful in retirements that can now last for three decades, while still pulling in needed income. … This trend has the potential to be a new social norm much the way that the dream of the golden years of a leisure-based retirement was an aspiration for the generation before.” (Washington Post)
Promising Career Choices for Encore Careers
Civic Ventures has mobilized many support resources for individuals who are beginning to think about their careers in the second half of life. Healthcare, education, green jobs, government and nonprofit organizations seem to offer the most plentiful opportunities for meaningful work. Stories of second (or third or fourth) careers abound. A West Point grad and corporate financial analyst volunteers with the Alliance for Climate Protection and parlays it into a full-time position with an environmental nonprofit. After three decades as a hospital administrator, a 58-year old becomes a lifestyle coach trainer for the YMCA helping people prevent diabetes. An immigrant farmer who built a successful gardening business launches a scholarship fund to assist low income Latino youths to attend college.
How to Plan for the Second Half of Your Career
In some organizations, Boomers and Traditionalists either don’t seek out career conversations or the company believes that they will be retiring soon and aren’t interested in or need a career development plan. In other organizations, people with depth and breadth of experience are put into the “high pro” category in the organization’s succession plan—vital to the institutional knowledge and extremely helpful as mentors to others, but not “high potential” or “promotable” in the near or longer-term future. Hence, career conversations usually aren’t lengthy or involved.
It is possible to change this dynamic if both the individuals and the organizations begin to think about what opportunities might be available or can be created as “encore careers” to support the organizational goals and the individual’s goals. Community involvement, social responsibility, knowledge transfer, industry experts/Fellows programs and philanthropy are all corporate goals that might be considered. What it requires, though, are career conversations.