Working Through Retirement Now Common

July 16, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Seventy-eight million baby boomers are approaching retirement age … sort of. Actually, more and more “50-plus workers” are choosing to be employed well into their Golden Years — at least part-time.

“The baby boom generation, unlike prior generations, as they approach the time to get the gold watch, they are deciding not to pursue conventional retirement, move to Florida and take up shuffleboard,” said Patrick Rafter of RetirementJobs.com, a job placement and resource site for workers over 50 who are looking to retire from their full-time jobs but aren’t ready to fully retire.

Flexibility is often a key requirement: Workers over 50 are often looking to work only a few days a week. “Snowbirds” may want to work seasonally during the warmer months when they are in Michigan.

“I think what people want to do is, they’re looking for work that fits into their existing lifestyle, which is a new lifestyle,” said Rafter. “To contrast this generation with an earlier generation, they’re healthier, they will live longer, and they’re more connected and they want to stay connected,” Rafter said.

Rafter said there are a number of reasons those of retirement age are looking for work — and a number of reasons employers are hiring them. Working out of financial necessity or for supplemental income are reasons often cited for working past retirement age. Staying mentally and socially engaged by trying a new career or simply to have fun are other reasons.

Rafter explained that many retired workers choose to use their professional and life skills to work for their favorite charities.

“Let’s say they’ve been working in an insurance company for 30 years,” said Rafter. “They’ve learned some skills, they were an insurance salesperson. What some people will do is say, ‘OK, I have this sales background, why don’t I now become a fundraiser for my favorite charity?’

“There’s a huge motivation, particularly since this is kind of the ’60s generation that was very idealistic, so there’s this whole huge trend of these people who are actually working either in some sort of compensation or in volunteer work. They take the skills they have learned and applied it to nonprofit work.”

RetirementJobs.com uses a seal to mark age-friendly employers posting jobs on its site. In order to be marked as an age-friendly employer, a company must meet certain criteria. Health care is one of the largest criteria, as it is one of the key reasons 50-plus workers are seeking jobs.

“One of the other key criteria for an age-friendly employer is: Will they offer health care benefits to part-time employees?” said Rafter. “It’s huge — especially if they didn’t have it from their prior employer or as part of their pension. Medicare doesn’t really take care of it. It’s a principal motivation.”

Employment opportunities for 50-plus workers fall in line with occupation shortages throughout the nation. The top five occupations are all in the service industry; the top three are within health care. The No. 1 shortage is nursing.

“It’s a shift from manufacturing to services,” said Rafter. “The whole services economy has just grown really, really well. So the issues as you look at the hourly earnings … people need to decide if they can live on that amount of money. In a retirement job, people aren’t necessarily looking for a 40-hour-a-week gig. They’re looking for something less than that, and employers are happy to hire them, too.”

Employers find these workers attractive for a number of reasons. Not only are they willing to work part-time, but they are typically very dependable and grateful for the work they get. They also provide skill sets, both professional and life skills, that younger workers may not have.

“Employers are very, very interested in hiring experienced workers,” said Rafter. “They have experience, and it’s experience in terms of talent that they’ve acquired in their work life, and also the experience of having lived life and learned how to interact with people. That kind of experience is valuable to employers because, among other things, a lot of employers who are looking for customer-facing roles … like to hire some of these people with a little gray hair because they look like the people they’re serving.”

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