Marci Alboher is a leading voice in the advocacy of encore careers—later-in-life work that combine personal meaning, continued income and social impact. Alboher has been rethinking the world of work since she created the popular Shifting Careers column for The New York Times. Now a vice president at Encore.org, a nonprofit think tank, she recently chatted with The Allstate Blog about finding a job in retirement.
Allstate Blog: You’ve been writing about the workplace for years—when did the idea of an “encore career” hit your radar?
Alboher: Back in 2007, I interviewed Marc Freedman who coined the phrase “encore careers” and wrote about it for one of my New York Times’ columns. I became intrigued about the idea of a new stage of work sitting where retirement used to sit, and the idea of taking what had traditionally been seen as the leftover years and, instead, fashioning them into something with great meaning.
AB: Boomers are now entering this stage, but isn’t there a great debate over what that’s going to mean for society?
A: The wave of aging baby boomers is often portrayed as a big problem, as if the great grey wave of retirees will bleed the Social Security coffers. Instead, why not look at this as a windfall of talent available to solve big social problems. Encore careers can provide a triple win by affording people a way to make a difference in the world and in their own lives, and make a living, too.
AB: How big is the encore career movement?
A: Our latest research shows that 9 million people are currently doing work we define as an encore career: a second act with a contribution to greater good. And 31 million more are interested.
AB: Is this a boomer-specific trend?
A: Boomers might be the first generation to really think about the idea of 20 bonus years packed on to life. But boomers are just the first to enter this stage. The encore pioneers are reminiscent of the early wave of women who broke barriers in the workplace. And like those pioneers, future generations may not think there’s anything unusual about people embarking on ambitious second and third acts, or having a job after retirement.
AB: So, who is the typical candidate for an encore career?
A: There’s no one-size-fits-all. Some people hit an “is this all there is moment” and they’re ripe for reinvention. Others are spurred to action after a layoff, or some other significant life event. I’ve also talked to countless women, who started careers and then interrupted them for a period of full-on parenting. By the time those women re-enter the workplace in their fifties, they often feel as if they are beginning their careers from scratch. They’re perfect candidates for encore careers.
AB: Where are the most likely job prospects?
A: Most encore opportunities seem to fall into five categories: education, healthcare, the environment, government and the nonprofit world. If you’re looking at where the most hiring will be, definitely consider healthcare. Nurses, physician assistants, and all kinds of medical support positions are projected to be in demand for the foreseeable future. There are also a variety of newer healthcare roles and many of them—like wellness coaches and health care navigators—don’t even require a medical background. Many people are also drawn to working with young people in their encore years—either as teachers or in other roles in schools. Teachers in special education, math and science are in particular demand. As lifelong learning becomes more prevalent, that will create more jobs.
AB: What about the idea of age bias? Does it still exist?
A: Certainly. And the best remedy is to be current in your field. Age bias tends to come up a lot less when you have the proper credentials and training for a role. If you don’t have the background needed, consider taking classes or volunteering to pick up what you need. The flipside of age bias is that there are some areas where older people have an advantage. So, look for opportunities where life experience and collective wisdom are appreciated—coaching and mentoring are attractive to people in this life stage. And this is why healthcare is frequently such a good fit.
AB: How simple is the transition into this new stage of work?
A: It’s not easy. It takes a lot of time. Our research shows that the average transition, where people are often not earning an income, is 18 months.
AB: What’s the best way to start preparing for an encore career?
A: My number one tip: plan as far ahead as you can! What can you be doing now to set yourself up? Put money aside for the time when you’re working on retooling (whether it’s going back to school, retraining, or just taking time to transition). You also want to do some work that’s internal, to find out what you want to do in this next stage. It may be a long time since they’ve checked in with yourself, and you may find that what you want now is quite different than what you wanted the last time you asked yourself that question.
But a word of caution: You can take self assessments and do “What Color is Your Parachute” and all that, but, ultimately, you need to get out of your head and into the world. Go to events, network in new communities, and volunteer in areas that speak to you.
It’s the best way to narrow things down, cross things off your list and hone ideas.
Photo credit: Marcia Ciriello.