Older adults in the US are increasingly staying in or rejoining the workforce instead of retiring. In fact, over the next decade, the number of people over 75 in the workforce will increase by 96.5%. Some will work because they want to pursue an encore career and follow a passion. Others will continue to work because they can't afford to retire. Many people don’t have enough savings. And, because people are living longer, even those with retirement savings are often worried their retirement funds won’t last through the end of life.
Whatever the reason, the trend means people will need to spend some time reskilling to ensure they're prepared to be competitive in the marketplace. As the nature of work is changing, one thing is certain, a focus on technology and digital skills are needed to succeed.
The pandemic changed our lives, including our work lives. Kerry Hannon, a workplace futurist and the author of In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in the New World of Work, says that while these changes started before the pandemic, they exploded when we were isolated and began to reassess our lives and priorities. Hannon's book explores the new normal for older adult workers and how they can navigate this new landscape.
She sees five trends for workers over 50 that people should consider when re-entering or remaining in the workforce.
- Remote work is here to stay
Hannon says the genie is out of the bottle as employers realize that remote work has a lot of positives—workers get the job done, they're productive, and their performance is good. In the past, remote work was considered a perk and something workers had to beg for. But, now, it’s embedded in the workplace and will continue to grow.
It’s a good option for older workers. One reason is the unfortunate reality of ageism.
“Remote work does an enormous amount to fight ageism in the sense that when you're working virtually and remotely, you're not being judged on your cover quite as much. So when you're in the workplace, and you're right next to somebody who's a couple of decades younger than you, your age difference is a little more apparent. And even if it's subliminal, it lingers in the air. When you're working remotely, you are judged more on your performance and productivity than how you look.”
The second positive aspect involves people who have health concerns and might otherwise retire early.
“When you’re working remotely, if you have a mobility issue or a health issue that makes a commute difficult, or an employer hasn't set up their office in an ergonomic way that helps you, then this is a major opportunity to find work from your home office where you don't have to worry about that commute, and you don't have to worry about having an office that's not set up right for you.”
The bottom line is that remote work helps people stay on the job longer and opens up a global marketplace for jobs rather than only local options.
- Contract work is on the rise
Contract work can be mutually beneficial for workers and employers. It is appealing to employers because they don’t have to pay benefits. But a side hustle or other contract work can also benefit older adult workers.
“Particularly if someone wants to work part-time, to work for a season, or to jump in and out of different projects, it gives them flexibility, a sense of meaning, and some income. People over 50 have done their time in the trenches, and now it’s time to control their own destiny.”
She warns that there are a couple of downsides to keep in mind when considering contract work. People between 50 and 65 will be responsible for their own health care benefits until Medicare kicks in. Healthcare can be quite expensive to pay privately, especially as you age. Additionally, people must be diligent about keeping up with paying their taxes.
- Entrepreneurship is increasingly popular
Adults age 50 and older are starting new businesses at a rate that's been growing for more than 20 years.
Hannon says that many people have realized that they’re tired of working for somebody else and don’t want the rejection of trying to find a job if they’ve been laid off or taken early retirement.
“We all took that time to soul search when we were locked down. We reassessed our priorities. We realized how vulnerable we are and how life can change so quickly. We felt maybe this is our time to start our own thing.”
It doesn’t have to be the next big startup. It could be a small, micro business. There’s no need for a brick and mortar because now you can start a business virtually with just your computer.
There are plenty of resources for people thinking of starting their own business—how to master personal organization, set goals, and network. And there are many success stories. Twyla, a recent participant in a Startup Accelerator program for people 55+ with GetSetUp, expresses how important it is to reskill older adults who want to become entrepreneurs,
“I had more self-confidence when I was younger - most of us do. And with the encouragement, advice, and skills that I received from the GetSetUp Startup Accelerator program, not just from the leaders but also from the other participants - I slowly began to think that maybe I could do this! GetSetUp invites you to explore and try new things, meet new people and learn new skills, which helps us regain the confidence we once had.”
- The emergence of lifelong learning
Virtual opportunities to learn online exploded during the pandemic.
“Lifelong learning is crucial, and platforms like GetSetUp are at the forefront. To stay viable, people need to continue to learn. Are your skills up to date? If there is a job that you're interested in or a business that you want to start, really dig down and do your research and your homework. What skill set do people in those positions and businesses have?”
Reskilling and upskilling can help older adults stay agile and marketable. It’s particularly important to bridge the digital divide for older adults who didn’t grow up using computers and smartphones. Learning to use Zoom, how to use Google drive, or how to interview successfully online are all vital skills to learn.
- Career transition is here to stay
Changing careers mid-life was once seen as risky, a move for outliers. But encore careers have become another big trend as people decide they have enough runway to start a new career in a new field.
“I call it redeploying your skills. What are your talents? What are your existing skills? You can cherry-pick what you need to learn, but a lot of the skills that you've already had in place for your primary career can be translated to a new field.”
Hannon’s final advice to older adult workers is to create their own path.
“Stop waiting for other people to create your path for you. Own it. And the way you do that is by turning the spotlight on yourself and seeing what is it that you have that is really unique and that you can build on, that maybe you pushed aside, or it may be something from a hobby that you have, or it can be something you volunteered for. What do you smile about? What was an early job you had that still makes you smile? That's a clue to what you love about work and what you probably do super well today.”
Visit GetSetUp Jobs, a comprehensive career platform that empowers experienced professionals 55+ to find meaningful work at employers committed to age diversity.