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After spending years advancing in their careers, many older employees debut in second acts that combine purpose with a paycheck.
When Gregg Broome lost his job as the top HR executive with a global insurance firm, he figured he’d find a new one without too much trouble. He’d been in high-level HR roles for almost 40 years, including 15 as director of compensation and international mobility at Goldman Sachs. But he was approaching his 60th birthday, and his attempts to network were unsuccessful. “I was not prepared for the incredible age bias,” he says. “There was so much supply with people like me that search firms were not being civil—not even returning phone calls.”
Reluctantly, Broome began exploring other options, including starting over with a job in a different field. Though financially secure, he wasn’t ready for retirement.
Broome didn’t realize it at the time, but he was confronting a situation that thousands of older workers—professional and blue-collar alike—are facing. Either by choice or necessity, they’re taking new paths, and some are choosing so-called encore careers, or second acts that combine continued income with the promise of meaningful work.
“They need the money and the meaning,” says Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org in San Francisco, and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (PublicAffairs, 2012).
Freedman has been striving to match older, experienced workers with meaningful opportunities for more than 15 years. These individuals represent low-hanging fruit for nonprofit employers desperate for seasoned talent, he says. Freedman helped develop AARP’s Experience Corps, which matches retirees with volunteer opportunities, and then he created Encore.org, a think tank aimed at helping older workers find paid work in new areas, often in the nonprofit arena.
Although some employers have started to grasp the benefits of hiring experienced older employees for jobs at all levels, many others have not.
“The mismatch between [the number of] those who want to move into encore careers and the [number of] opportunities is kind of outrageous,” Freedman says. “Compounding the problem, so many are stuck, fumbling forward because the pathways are confusing and poorly marked.”
Broome was one of the lucky ones. When he dialed back his corporate job search and began looking for alternatives, he discovered a fellowship program that led to his second act at a nonprofit that helps financially vulnerable families.
Big Supply, Lagging Demand
Logical employers for encore careerists include more than 330,000 501(c)(3) public charities, many of which focus on the arts, education, health care and human services. Yet even with plenty of potential encore career candidates available—the youngest of the enormous Baby Boomer generation will turn 50 this year, and 8,000 of them reach 65 every day—many organizations either have not figured out how to leverage their talent or lack sufficient resources to acquire it.
“The big bottleneck is on the demand side,” says Michael Sabatino, managing director of financial planning and education at McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union in East Windsor, N.J. “Nonprofits don’t really know what to do with these people.”
Most nonprofits are constrained financially and, as a result, become masters of multitasking and thus aren’t looking for as much specialized talent. HR coverage is a prime example. In a recent survey conducted by Nonprofit HR Solutions, a Washington, D.C., consulting company, only 12 percent of nonprofits had someone dedicated solely to HR.
Kim Wisckol, HR Director, Partners in School Innovation
First Act: Wisckol spent 22 years as an HR executive at Hewlett-Packard and at Accuray Inc., a radiation oncology company in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Second Act: Deciding she was ready for a change, she accepted a $25,000 fellowship through Encore.org with Partners in School Innovation, a 50-employee agency that helps to improve learning in underperforming schools in San Francisco. She was attracted by the flexibility of the assignment and the challenges of the work. Her expertise was readily transferable to the nonprofit environment. A month before her fellowship was set to end, she approached her bosses. “I know what you need from the HR world,” she told them. “All I need is the greatest possible flexibility.” Looking back, she observes, “It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.”
Perception vs. Reality
Even nonprofits with ample resources often shy away from encore talent. Some question the sincerity of individuals’ sudden interest in the organization. “They haven’t been committed to the cause from the outset,” says Leslye Louie, national director of the Encore Fellows program at Encore.org. “That causes hesitation: ‘Will they be here when the going gets tough?’ ” Anxieties about age loom as well. Can they keep up? Are they resistant to technology? How well will they relate to younger staff?
Those fears are grounded more in myth than reality. “You can get people who are open- or closed-minded at any age, and the technology gap for encore-age workers hasn’t existed for years,” Louie says. In addition, many organizations have found the synergism of intergenerational workforces to be an advantage rather than a drawback.
Nonprofits should look beyond stereotypes, says Jere King, a former vice president of marketing at Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif. “The primary selling point is access to talent they might not be able to find or afford,” she says. “Nonprofits should think about their skills gaps and look for encore talent who can get them to the next level.” King held a fellowship position through Encore.org at Abilities United, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based nonprofit serving children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Stephen Friedman, President, Pace University
First Act: Friedman is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and a former commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Despite his incredible resume, his initial attempts to find a new opportunity in midlife were unsuccessful. He knows how humbling it can be to search for a career later in life. “The typical person feels kind of at sea,” he says. “I was a practicing lawyer coming up against mandatory retirement.”
Second Act: After an acquaintance suggested he try higher education, Friedman landed an appointment as dean of Pace University’s Law School. Then, in 2007, while many in his age group were out playing golf, the Pace trustees appointed him president. Now in his 70s, he is passionate about helping people move into encore careers. He founded Pace University’s Encore Transition Program.
Generations Inc., a mentoring and tutoring program in Boston that pairs volunteers over age 55 with elementary school students, fills crucial positions with encore careerists. Executive Director Mary Gunn credits the program’s success in part to the staff’s resourcefulness and autonomy. She relies on a mix of volunteers and paid workers who are supervised by encore managers, each of whom is responsible for about 80 volunteer tutors. The managers, among them a former banker and school superintendent, work half time and earn $30,000 per year. They set their own schedules.
“I get people who would normally make a lot more money to sign on because of the flexibility of the job,” Gunn says. “If you tap into their experience and let them use it, they’ll give you more than you’ll ever give them.” This year, two supervisors in their mid-70s will retire after 10 years on the job.
Organizations such as Encore.org and ReServe, a New York City-based nonprofit that matches professionals age 55 and over with nonprofit positions, are leading the encore career movement. Still in their infancy, these programs have attracted mostly skilled professionals with ample financial resources.
The Encore Fellows Program
Developed by Encore.org with support from Hewlett-Packard and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Encore Fellows program began in 2009 with a pilot of 10 fellows in Silicon Valley. Today, 250 fellows serve host employers in 35 metro areas across the U.S. The fellows work 1,000 hours over a yearlong period, typically part time, and receive a stipend of $25,000, funded either by the organization or a corporate or foundation donor. The fellows are roughly equal numbers of men and women, and their average age is 59.
Broome received his fellowship around the time Single Stop USA, a New York City-based agency with 60 employees, turned to the Encore Fellows program after searching unsuccessfully for a full-time HR director. “The people we wanted we could not afford, and those in our price range did not have the experience we needed,” says Angela Dorn, Single Stop’s COO. Single Stop helps financially vulnerable families and students gain economic mobility by connecting them to existing benefits and services.
Single Stop was impressed by Broome’s HR experience. “He’d worked at Goldman Sachs in talent management and benefits and had success in staff development and coaching throughout his career,” Dorn says.
Before closing the deal, Dorn made sure Broome understood that the position was “hands-on,” with a large do-it-yourself component. Broome received assurance that, if he gelled with the agency, a regular full-time position might be created for him. He began his nine-month fellowship in September 2013 intending to work three days a week.
From the start, Broome worked much more than planned as he became fully engrossed in the organization. He even relocated to the Harlem community that Single Stop serves. In April 2014, Single Stop offered him an HR director job. The negotiation was a formality. “I was not greedy, and they were happy to pay what I asked for,” he says. “It’s not money that drives me; it’s all about Single Stop’s mission.”
Encore professionals who participate in ReServe’s program are known as ReServists. They are employed by the agency and earn $10 per hour. Clients are billed $15 to $18 per hour. The overhead is divided between ReServe and a company that handles the administrative details. For the client nonprofit, the deal is seamless: No need to put anyone on the payroll; just pay a monthly invoice from ReServe.
Recently, Mike Iserson, a former corporate recruiter and business owner, turned to ReServe when he handed off responsibility for his HR outsourcing company to his two sons. “The big challenge I faced was deciding what to do with my time,” he says.
ReServe matched Iserson with Westchester Community Opportunity Inc.’s Foster Grandparent Program. It hired him to recruit foster grandparents throughout the lower Hudson Valley in New York after he wowed them at his interview with a detailed plan for generating leads.
“At heart, I’m a recruiter,” he says. “It’s what I understand best.” For Iserson, and others like him, the $10 per hour he earns is symbolic. “I may be losing money because of the taxes I have to pay,” he says. “But it’s recognition” of his work.
Leslye Louie, National Director, Encore Fellows Program
First Act: Louie was vice president of sales and marketing for Hewlett-Packard and had been with the company for 20 years when she decided to leave and do community work. She did not know, however, what type of work would be a good fit. “I had enough financial security, so I could go through a period of learning,” she says. She spent three years “wandering.”
Second Act: Louie began by volunteering in a senior center serving meals. In 2009, she was tapped as one of 10 participants for the Encore Fellows pilot program at Encore.org. She received a $25,000 stipend and was placed with host agency Partners in School Innovation, a San Francisco nonprofit. “It was a fabulous experience,” she recalls. Later, she became national director of the Encore Fellows program, which this year has 250 fellows working with host organizations throughout the U.S.
At Single Stop, Dorn has hired ReServists for their legal, financial and other administrative talents. “We’ve been able to hire professionals we otherwise could not afford to serve on a limited basis,” she says. “They are respected peers that people come to for perspectives. Within our organization, they’re looked to as mentors.”
ReServe began a pilot program in 2005, placing 13 workers. Last year, 516 workers served 726 organizations in New York, Miami, Maryland, Boston, Southeast Wisconsin and Newark, N.J. Still, only a small percentage of charities have tried the service. “It’s a shame not to engage these people,” says ReServe Director Laura Traynor. “For those who have participated in our program, it’s always been a win-win.”
On the corporate side, HR could be doing more to help employees who may want to consider a second career. “People are leaving, whether they want to or not, and I’m not sure how much guidance they’re actually getting,” says Joan Tucker, program director of Pace University’s Encore Transition Program in New York. “If we could catch them at the stage where they are beginning to look forward, we could help them prepare.”
Sabatino is worried about the financial falloff that many retirees face. He encourages McGraw-Hill employees to consider encore careers in nonprofit organizations as an alternative to further corporate employment or retirement. “I’m trying to help them widen their options,” he says. “Anything that keeps them working a little longer is good. It helps them preserve assets and defer taking early Social Security.”
SHRM’s Initiative on the Aging Workforce
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the SHRM Foundation recently launched a national three-year initiative highlighting the value of older workers and identifying—through original research—best practices for employing them. The initiative is funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
More than two-thirds of HR professionals said in a SHRM survey that the exit of Baby Boomers will have a major impact on the workplace in the next five years.
“In this knowledge economy, the retention of older workers gives employers a competitive edge by allowing them to continue to tap a generation of knowledge and skill,” says Mark Schmit, executive director of the SHRM Foundation.
Workers age 55 and older have distinctive interests, including flexible work arrangements and retirement transitions and alternatives—such as encore careers.
“New thinking by HR professionals and employers will be required to recruit and retain them,” Schmit says. “Otherwise, organizations’ greatest asset will walk out the door.”
For more information and educational resources, visit www.shrm.org/aging-workforce.
People currently in encore jobs say they expect to retire at 73, working more than five years longer than their counterparts who plan to jump directly into retirement, says Cal Halvorsen, Encore.org’s director of research and evaluation.
Making the Move
The transition from the corporate to the nonprofit world is not without challenges, says Lisa Morton, SPHR, CEO of Nonprofit HR Solutions. The nonprofit culture is founded on consensus decision-making, interaction with multiple stakeholders and living within austere budgets.
Also, performance measures tend to be more subjective. “In a corporation, the metrics might be for sales growth or profits,” Louie says. “In a nonprofit, they’re less quantifiable.”
King, recalling her experience at Abilities United, says, “I did not expect it to be so complicated. The diversity of stakeholders—donors, community members, government—and the various sources of financing took me by surprise.”
Nonprofits are not as siloed, says Holly Thauwald, SPHR, chief human resources officer at San Francisco-based Aspiranet, which offers a wide array of family support programs throughout California and which established an internal fellowship program in association with Encore.org. “It means you work harder, juggle more hats, do more things because the work has to be done,” she explains.
Morton advises HR managers who counsel workers about shifting careers to encourage them to start early and move incrementally. “Volunteer, do pro bono work, serve on a board,” she says. “It lets you practice your skill or craft while engaging in conversations with people who work there.”
Marci Alboher, vice president of Encore.org and author of The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life (Workman Publishing, 2013), cautions that the transition tends to take longer than people expect but notes that many report satisfaction in the journey. “Often detours take them to unexpected places that turn out well,” she says.
Clearly, encore careers can be a fulfilling option for workers like Broome who are approaching retirement but not quite ready to take their final bow.
Robert J. Grossman is a lawyer and professor of management studies at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
SHRM article: Interest in Encore Careers Is Growing
SHRM resource: Employing an Aging Workforce webpage
SHRM Foundation report: Evolution of Work and the Worker
SHRM toolkit: Developing Employee Career Paths (see subsection on encore careers)
Webpage: Encore Careers Survey (Encore.org)
Article: Encore Career Strategies (AARP)
Webpage: Pace University Encore Transition Program
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