The idea of winding down our careers once we reach our mid-50s and 60s is fast going out of fashion.
There are many reasons for wanting to carry on working past the traditional retirement age: devalued pensions, the love of the job, maintaining interaction with others or even launching a new business.
“Lots of people have a burning ambition that’s never been fulfilled – starting another career later in life is an opportunity to do this,” says Chris Ball, chief executive of not-for-profit organisation The Age and Employment Network (TAEN), whose goal it is to help remove age barriers to employment.
Employers assume a highly qualified person can’t do a less demanding job, but that individual might be happy to no longer operate at 100 miles an hour.
Many individuals find self-employment or working in freelance and consulting capacities the best route to a new direction; it allows them scope to better balance their lives or build a portfolio of roles.
There is also no escaping the fact that age discrimination exists in the workplace and for those who have either taken early retirement or been made redundant, re-entry into the labour market is more difficult.
“Although there is no proper measure of it, from the age of 50 you see the incidence of age discrimination rise,” says Chris Brooks, policy advisor for employment and skills at Age UK.
“A fifth of people working past state pension age will be self-employed, which is higher than any other age group in the category.”
Ball believes that employers should be banned from using the phrase “over-qualified” for a role, which is often the excuse for not giving an older, experienced person a role.
“Employers assume a highly qualified person can’t do a less demanding job, but that individual might be happy to no longer operate at 100 miles an hour,” he says. “And the employer gets a great bargain.”
As the following case studies show, starting a new career after retirement or a change in direction in your later life can lead to a far more balanced, varied and fulfilling working life.
Mike Ryan retired as an RAF officer in 2008 after 37 years’ service. Current role: Defence and aerospace consultant
Mike Ryan, 58, made sure he was well-prepared for civilian life and a job in industry when he left the RAF.
He possessed a range of leadership and management qualifications, had taught himself project management using the PRINCE2 training resource, and his CV boasted a number of senior roles in the RAF including UN military observer in Iraq, Kuwait and Sierra Leone, and officer commanding at the UK Defence Nuclear, Biological and Chemical School.
“I saw myself in roles that acted as an interface between the military and industry,” he says.
Shortly after leaving the RAF, he secured a 12-month contract as a security consultant with business development responsibilities.
He then worked as a capture manager at a mission systems company, before being made redundant after just over two years.
Ryan is about to embark on a part-time consultancy role with an international defence company but admits that securing positions since the recession has been difficult.
“You have to be resilient and must possess some ‘get up and go’ because the jobs aren’t going to come to you. You can feel down but as long as you have experience of life you have the ability to bounce back,” he says.
“Believe me, there is ageism out there. I’m honest and put my age on my CV because I want people to hire me for my experience. The company that is about to hire me is based in a country where they understand that experience comes with age.”
He says that, with some notable exceptions, he hasn’t been impressed with how recruitment agencies have dealt with him: “At one point I was applying for a job a day, but sometimes you don’t even hear back from them.”
Ryan intends to work well into his next decade and says that his wife, who is in her 60s, is still doing part-time teaching work.
“We’ve got a mortgage as we bought our second home – a project – only a few years ago,” he explains. “But neither of us wants to put our feet up anyway, and I don’t see why we should stop working.”
The portfolio worker
Rosemary Bruce retired after 33 years working in various management roles at Northamptonshire County Council. Current role: Trainer and alternative health practitioner
For Rosemary Bruce, her second career at Rosy Horizons is all about meeting current demand, whether it’s teaching job applications and interview skills to those at risk of redundancy, or providing alternative health treatments such as Reiki healing (she is a Reiki master).
“I had a plan when I left work to have a career of two halves and that’s what I have,” she says.
I had a plan when I left work to have a career of two halves and that’s what I have
Bruce started her career as a professional librarian at the council, moving into a number of different roles and eventually performance management. She was also equalities officer with Unison, which has provided her with many useful contacts for life as a trainer. “I do some courses in partnership with the union, such as coping with change,” she says. “I’ve also offered taster sessions in areas such as de-stressing and neuro-linguistic programming [NLP].”
Bruce still remains extremely focused on her own development. After leaving the council, she took the PTLLS [Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector] course, and is also a tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association, the largest voluntary sector provider of adult education courses in the UK.
“I’d also like to train to be a NLP Master Practitioner [she is currently a Practitioner], but that’s down to funds,” she says.
Bruce admits that she would have found the transition from full-time employment to self-employment harder without the buffer of her public-sector pension.
Even though she spent more than 30 years in the public sector, Bruce hasn’t found it difficult to adjust to a more varied, portfolio style of working.
She says her management career gave her a good grounding in adapting to the differing demands of her clients and organising her time and workload.
The biggest challenge is to remind herself to take a day off, she says. “From that point of view it was much easier at work to balance things. I keep making arrangements with friends to catch up and then have to cancel as I get busy. I’m really happy with my life though, and the big advantage is that I can do as much or as little as I want and carry on indefinitely.”
The career changers
Bill and Lynn Sayer were looking for a new direction in their mid-fifties after careers in the business world. Current role: franchisees of Hereford Camping and Caravanning Club Site, The Millpond, Little Tarrington
Bill and Lynn Sayer were debt-free and approaching the age where they could take it easy; instead, they chose to take on a mortgage and become owners and managers of a caravan site.
Bill had been a sole trader for more than 30 years, providing training to corporates, while Lynn was director of a call-handling company.
“I had enough of running a business and wanted to be part of something bigger,” says Bill. “But I also realised that after 30 years of self-employment I probably wasn’t employable.”
The couple, both 59, had once owned a caravan and when they saw the Camping and Caravanning Club’s advertisement for franchisees, Bill said it ticked “so many boxes”.
They applied and were accepted, but then came the hard part of finding a site. “At the time, caravan sites were coming on and off the market in hours.
In preparation, we sold the house, put the furniture in storage, arranged a business mortgage and moved into a tiny touring caravan,” he says.
For two years they had to imagine rather than live the dream in their two-berth home before The Millpond became available.
“It was a huge risk because at 55 we could have lost everything. Every penny we owned went into what was just an idea for two years,” says Bill.
It has paid off though, and since taking over The Millpond in 2008, they have turned it into an award-winning site, more than doubling its capacity and adding a shop that sells local produce.
Bill says that much of what he trained corporates over the years has been implemented in the site’s day-to-day running. The couple’s strong, customer-focused skills and ethos underpin everything they do.
“We always had a great social life and believed running a caravan site would be an extension of our home – full of friends and fun,” he says. “It’s been the hardest thing we’ve ever done but we’re passionate about it and the bonus is we have four months off a year when we go to Florida.”
When asked if the Sayers have another venture in them, Bill is undecided: “Today I would say we’re fine doing this, but ask me in five years’ time and it might be time to do something else.”
Kathryn Riley left her full-time job as an HR director in her late 40s. Current role: Interim manager specialising in HR strategy and transformation programmes
Kathryn Riley decided to take what she describes as a three-year “management walkabout” after a career in HR.
For an older person who wants a more balanced lifestyle, it’s do-able in the interim world
During this walkabout, she was involved in a number of projects, including selling development programmes and setting up a training school in Thailand.
“I had a great time but needed to do something lucrative when I was contacted by an interim supplier,” says Riley, now 60.
In the 12 years since, her skills have proved to be in demand and she has worked on major projects for organisations such as Network Rail, Novartis, Thames Water and Roche.
“I tend to go in as acting HR director to do the strategy or transformation programme. For Roche, however, I delivered a packaged project,” she explains. Riley took to the interim lifestyle and, thanks to a buoyant market, was lucky to quickly build up a pipeline of work.
“To be an interim, not only do you have to be a self-starter and able to manage and deliver projects, but you also have to very quickly understand clients and what they want,” she says.
“You don’t have the luxury of spending six months finding out about the organisation. By that time you should have delivered something substantial.”
Riley has a huge thirst for new interim projects but is also developing a portfolio career. She has been working with Roger Steare, visiting professor in organisational ethics and corporate philosopher in residence at Cass Business School in London.
As a result of this, she is able to roll out ethics and values programmes within organisations. She is also a trained coach and mentor and sits on the advisory board of the Faculty of Business and Management at Regent’s College London.
“For an older person who wants a more balanced lifestyle, it’s do-able in the interim world. However, you have to be comfortable with down periods,” she says.
Thanks to an enlightened HR director and the international nature of the project, her recent role at Roche has also allowed her to work remotely.
“I spent some face-to-face time in Basel, Switzerland [where the company’s HQ is based], some time working in London or at home in Hertfordshire, and some time at our house in the South of France,” she says.
“That was always my dream – teleconferencing with a different view.”