The numbers tell only part of the story.
Today, more than 25% of women and 33% of men ages 65 to 69 are employed full time. People in the next age bracket, 70 to 74, are hardly slackers either – 15.5 percent of women and 24 percent of men are working full-time. And the U.S. Labor Department projects that by the year 2024, 25 percent of the labor force will be 55-plus.
But what’s behind those numbers? Many older adults continue to work for economic reasons; others love their job or career too much to stop. And then there are men and women embarking on second or third career, finding fulfillment – and fun – by helping others, learning a new skill or starting a business.
One survey, by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, found that 74 percent of workers plan to get a new job after they retire.
So let’s get started.
Make a Difference
The mission statement of Encore.org is to build “a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world.”
The non-profit offers lots of help to older adults who want to move in this direction, including fellowships, conferences, personal testimonials and “The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life.”
“You may be forty and thinking about planning for another thirty years of work, or fifty-five and thinking of a ten or fifteen-year act, or seventy and wondering how to find a part-time job that would add money and meaning to your life. The good news is that you still have time,” writes author Marci Alboher, speaking here at a conference in Italy.
Some people know in general terms what they want to do – be involved with children or work on environmental causes, for instance – but are not sure how to get there, especially if their career has been in a completely different field.
The encore handbook offers self-assessment exercises, budget worksheets and a lengthy section for “further reading and resources.”
One great suggestion: “try it on” by volunteering at an agency involved in the kind of work that interests you.
And if you are able, consider a volunteer position as your new career. Churches, schools, libraries, hospices, many other social service and non-profit organizations depend on volunteers for direct services, office help and special events.
Learn a New Skill
Maybe you are interested in learning a new skill. If you spent your career working with your head, maybe it’s time to use your hands, or vice versa.
Retired teacher David Moon lives near Cedar Point in Northern Ohio. He kept telling his friend he would really like to work in the amusement park’s landscaping department. The friend finally said, “Dave, either apply or shut up.”
Now, the 85-year-old spends each spring helping get the park grounds in shape for its opening in May. “I learned a lot about plants that, frankly, I didn’t know an earthly thing about. I learned about caring for plants and am amazed at the high volume of plants at Cedar Point. Sometimes it would take me three to four hours to just water all the plants,” he said in an interview.
Depending on the skill and company, on-the-job training is often available. High schools, community colleges and universities also offer many classes and training sessions aimed at older adults. They run the gamut, from photography and jewelry making, to web design and culinary training.
Start a Business
Maybe you want to provide a service or skill that you’ve mastered and are still passionate about, but you want to do it on your schedule. In other words, time to be a boss.
Retired professionals can help you make that transition and will do so through the U.S. Small Business Administration program called SCORE. In addition to offering free mentors, SCORE provides online training and on-site workshops across the country.
As baby boomers reach “retirement” and redefine what aging means, second and third careers are going to become even more popular, experts predict.
"There are a lot of organizations all over the country that are coalescing around this working-longer theme and helping people figure it out," says Chris Farrell, author of “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life.” “People are using different phrases such as meaning and money, passion and a paycheck, and this notion of reimagining and rethinking."
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.