Retooling for Your 'Retirement Career'

A "computer guy" studies to become a rancher in retirement.

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Steve Gaylord, 51, of Valley View, Texas, studied engineering management in college. "I was kind of a computer guy, a math guy, at 18 or 19," he says. And throughout his career, Gaylord has taken computer classes on Visual Basic and Java to keep his skills up to date for his current job as a technical sales specialist for IBM. But now that he's thinking about retirement, Gaylord would like to do something completely different—like ranching.

Gaylord wants to spend more time working with his horses in retirement, something that requires him to retool by taking classes in horsemanship and farming. "Most of the people in the classes are 19- or 20-year-old kids, but a few of us are 45 or 50," he says. "It's kind of hard to become an expert rider or horseman after the age of 40 because your body doesn't move like a 20-year-old."

Many workers wouldn't want their employer to know that they're training for a different career. But IBM is encouraging Gaylord to learn skills that aren't applicable to his current job, and the company is even paying for part of it. IBM launched a program in July that allows employees with more than five years of service to contribute up to $1,000 per year to a special account earmarked for education, with a 50 percent match from IBM up to $500. This account can be used to pay for classes on any subject—not just work-related classes. So far, about 500 IBM employees have signed up. Their contributions accrue in the account until the employee is ready to use them.

Why would a company want to train people to work for someone else? "When companies began to help their employees think about retirement, they did it because they wanted to help them be more productive on the job," explains Stanley Litow, an IBM vice president who helped create the program. "Whether the education people get is specifically job related or not, I think it's going to help them on the job anyway."

Gaylord has already deposited $500, the maximum amount for this year, and received a $250 match for future classes. "I don't think you want to wait until the day you walk out to figure out what you want to do," says Gaylord. "If you can start working on it before you retire, I think that will help you."

Tell us, are you retooling for a new "retirement career"?