Senior-friendly bosses. Anita Porter started working for Scripps Health in San Diego as a nurse's aide in 1964. Now 72 and a surgery scheduler, she is taking advantage of the company's phased retirement program, which lets workers reduce their hours while keeping their health coverage. Porter has cut back to three days a week and hopes to stay on for a while. "Working keeps me young," she says. "I'm hoping to make it to 50 years."
This year, Scripps Health topped AARP's "Best Employers for Workers Over 50" list, which recognizes companies offering such programs as flexible hours, wellness classes, continuing training, and an alumni network for retirees that keeps them updated on events and opportunities. "People don't always want to stay fully retired," says Vic Buzachero, corporate senior vice president for innovation, human resources, and performance management at Scripps Health. "We view our retirees as potential future employees as well as recruiters of friends and family members." Finding work at a similarly progressive company as a younger worker—or lobbying for innovation where you are—can help cement your employability later.
It's no coincidence that nearly half of this year's AARP winners are healthcare companies; health is one of several industries experiencing a shortage of skilled labor. Because such industries tend to be more creative and open-minded in attracting and retaining talent, they're a good bet for older employees looking for new ways to work. Besides healthcare, fields that are facing shortages now, or expect to, include nonprofit management; primary, secondary, and special education; social services such as child care and assistance for the elderly; engineering; software development; and library science.
Like Ed Jones, many people are finding their way into these fields via a training program tailored for older workers. Civic Ventures has teamed up with the MetLife Foundation and Deerbrook Charitable Trust to provide grants to 40 community colleges around the country for programs aimed at transitioning experienced workers to new careers in one of five areas with potential: education, health, social services, nonprofit, and "green" jobs focused on the environment. "These are people who want something that's not going to take a long time, that's fast-tracked," says Judy Goggin, vice president of Civic Ventures.
Some programs serve more as entryways to a new field. Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., for example, provides executives transitioning from the corporate to the nonprofit sector with career coaching and peer networking. Others offer coursework leading to certificates—in early childhood education or caregiving, say. (To learn more about these programs, visit http://www.encore.org/learn/colleges/overview.) Similarly, the American Association of Community Colleges' Plus-50 initiative (http://plus50.aacc.nche.edu) has helped 32 colleges launch learning opportunities and workforce training programs; surveys of the 15,000 students who have so far taken these courses show that 73 percent believe they've helped them land a job.
The $50 Human Services Paraprofessional Training Program that Ed Jones took included 40 classroom hours exposing students to opportunities in professions short of workers plus 80 hours of unpaid field experience with companies that had made in-class presentations. "Before, employers saw I spent 34 years with Safeway and threw my résumé in the trash," Jones says. "Now I have a certificate, all these hours of field experience, and grant writing under my belt."
For-profit companies are also popping up to help older career switchers. Starting in fall 2012, the Encore Career Institute, a Silicon Valley technology start-up working with the University of California–Los Angeles extension, will offer online assessments, counseling, networking help, and one-year certification programs in 17 fields, including teaching, nonprofit management, healthcare management and leadership, college counseling, and financial services. The one-year online programs, which will cost $8,000 to $10,000, are specifically designed for baby boomers, a group vastly underappreciated by employers, says CEO Steve Poizner. "Turning around the impression that people over a certain age have no economic value is potentially the next civil rights battle," he says.