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Not the Retiring Type?

Author: Jeffrey Steele, Special Advertising Sections Writer

Date Published:
Publisher: Los Angeles Times

The second time around, consider choosing a career that is fun and rewarding

For decades, Tom Pontac worked in commercial sales for hotels, resorts and restaurants. But when he reached 60, he decided it was time for a different career. Taking advantage of a program offered through the California State University system that allows those 60 and older to enroll for $3 tuition per semester, Pontac set out toward the college degree he'd never received.

At 64, he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and gerontology from Cal State Long Beach. And today, at 68, he's well established in his second career as senior community liaison for his alma mater, serving as the university's link with the senior community in Long Beach.

Working 20 hours a week, he sees no reason to retire. In fact, he said he's like to continue "for the foreseeable future - certainly for the next five or 10 years."

A marathoner in his off hours, Pontac equates the question of how long he'll work with another inquiry he hears as a runner. "The question for me is like: 'How long would you like to run?'" he said. "The answer is: 'As long as it continues to be fun.'"

For a growing number of older adults, work is apparently still fun and not something they want to give up at age 65. According to a recent survey of 2,000 employed Americans age 50 to 70, more than two out of every three respondents reported they plan to continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65. An even bigger revelation for AARP, which represents older Americans and commissioned the study, was that many of these older adults don't aim to work just a year or two beyond 65. They plan to work into their 70s or even 80s.

"When we asked them specifically what was driving them to remain in the workforce, we got a lot of reasons," said Deborah Russell, manager of economic security and work for AARP. "Many said, 'I'm living longer and healthier and want to keep contribution to the work world.' Others said, 'I feel like my skills are still valued' or 'I feel like I want to stay connected to the work community equal to their neighborhood community or their church community. There's a real feeling of connectedness."

But the first and second most oft-cited responses were the desire to continue earning a wage or salary and interest in being covered by employer-run health care programs, Russell said.

New Era of Retirement

We're entering a new era in which retirement will be thought of in much different terms than it has in the past, Russell believes.

"We will see different models of retirement," she said.

"Some will retire and come back. Some will remain full steam ahead. Some will ratchet down their hours and work on a part-time basis. And we will see some start a whole new career," she said.

It's this last choice that may offer the most exciting possibilities, said Tammy Erickson, Watertown, Mass-based executive director for The Concours Group, a research, executive education and consulting company, and co-author of a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled "It's Time to Retire Retirement."

For those approaching or at the traditional retirement age, second career should be chosen on the basis of different priorities than the first, she said.

"Pick something you're passionate about. I could almost make the point that your first job - your up-to-50 job - is based on economic and financial needs. But your next job... can be the job you're passionate about - something creative and engaging and perhaps something oriented toward giving something back to society."

These are the kinds of second careers documented by Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Based Howard and Marika Stone, authors of "Too Young To Retire" (Penguin, 2004), on their website, www.2young The site profiles more than 100 "ordinary people living extraordinary lives in their 50s, 60s and 70s," said Howard Stone, 69, who ended a 37-yar career in trade magazine publishing about five years ago to launch a second career as an author and motivational speaker.

Reinventing Themselves

Among the subjects are a husband and wife, both in their 60s, who left stressful corporate careers to become alpaca ranchers in central California, a husband and wife team of former New York City Lawyers in their 50s who now operate a Charleston, S.C. bed-and-breakfast inn, and a former Jersey City, N.J. juvenile court judge who teaches elementary school at age 74.

In their book, the Stones included a chapter called "101 Opportunities for the Open Minded," detailing opportunities for 50-to 80-year-olds. Those opportunities include such widely divergent fields as bicycle repair, movie extra work, hypnotherapy and dog walking.

On the other hand, your passion may lie in one of an array of career fields experts report will open to older adults in the years ahead. Some of the sectors already actively seeking new workers include:

  • Health Care: As a result of large turnover, a decline in new employees and retirement of current workers, the health care industry is dealing with a severe labor shortage, Russell said. The industry will particularly need registered nurses, home health aides and physician assistants.
  • Education: In recent years, many states have instituted programs that allow mid-career adults from other fields to become teachers through fast-track certification programs. But a career in education doesn't have to mean being a teacher, said Phoebe S. Liebig, associate professor of gerontology at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at USC. "A number of people go in as teacher's aides, where [they] help the teacher but don't have all the responsibilities," she said. In addition, former teacher or those with a strong expertise in a discipline may want to launch tutoring careers.
  • Service Sector: This broad classification includes such fields as retail, the restaurant and hospitality industries and customer service. Severe shortages in service sector workers, coupled with the willingness of many companies n these fields to his older workers, should spell plenty of job opportunities for those nearing or past traditional retirement age . According to Challenger and Erickson, many firms may actually prefer older workers. For instance, CVS Pharmacy has begun hiring older employees because its executives believe their customers, many of whom are older Americans, can better relate to them. Also, customer service firms value the courtesy and respect for customers that those in their 50s, 60s and 70s often convey.
  • Government: "Over the next four to five years, we'll experience a mass exodus of people who have worked for the federal government for 30 years, have great pensions and benefits and no incentive to stay." Russell said, noting older Americans may be sought to fill some of those now-empty government positions. Opportunities might arise in the Internal Revenue Service, which expects to lose a lot of older workers with pensions, and the Department of Homeland Security, which will need new employees as it expands, according to Russell.
  • Small Business: Upstart companies that have lots of entrepreneurial enthusiasm but lack marketing, production or financing expertise often value the insights of veterans of the corporate world, Challenger said.
  • Consulting: Many older Americans have launched successful careers as consultants, allowing them to work reduced schedules but continue to use their hard-earned expertise for top-dollar compensation.

"This is true in many professions," including engineers, physicians, lawyers and accountants, Liebig said. What's the best way to begin understanding and training for new careers? Liebig recommends researching the type of work you would like to undertake. "You can do a great deal of observation," she said. "If you want to work in a hospital, volunteer at one for six months.

Another way is just to talk to people in the field. Shadow people in the professions, and see what kind of issues and problems they come in contact with." If you plan to continue to work up until the time you launch a new career, it will be essential to gain training on a part-time basis, Erickson said.

A good option is to explore continuing-education programs at the local level. "In a state like California, we have the most incredible adult education system in our high schools and our community colleges," Liebig said. "There's series of courses people can take to establish something new."

Erickson believes that although society will chip away at age discrimination, it's unlikely it will be entirely eradicated. Russell is more optimistic. "With this large cohort of boomers currently coming through the workforce, companies will not be able to afford to discriminate against older workers because they'll either need them or need to retain them," she said.

"My feeling is that as there are more boomers aging in the workplace, they will not tolerate age discrimination." And that, she said, should be good news for those who aren't the retiring type.