Tamara Erickson, in her new book, Retire Retirement, makes the case that Boomers, those people born between 1946 and 1964, have the motivation and opportunities to work beyond the time at which they would traditionally retire. To some extent, this notion is nothing new. Seniors who could not afford to retire and those in jobs that did not enforce a retirement age (college faculty, farmers, small business owners, etc.) have always continued to work until no longer physically able. The difference now is that the numbers in this retirement-eligible generation are staggering and, due to their level of education, a worsening economy, and the prospect of 20 to 30 years left in their careers, Boomers are increasingly motivated to do something meaningful and productive, and, for many, with financial benefit (whether salary, health insurance, or both).


A survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. for The MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, found that between 6% and 10% of people between ages of 44 and 70 are working in second careers for nonprofit organizations and another 45% would like careers in those kinds of organizations. Civic Ventures labels these “encore careers,” jobs in which people are doing “work for the greater good” in the second half of their lives.


A report of the survey results says this about the roles they play:


They are public employees, helping to ease the shortage of qualified teachers and classroom assistants. They are social entrepreneurs, starting nonprofits and businesses to improve local education efforts, clean up the environment, or provide health care to the uninsured. They are nurses and hospital workers and nonprofit leaders and homeless outreach workers. And all of them are using their experience to help improve the quality of life in their communities and across the country. In an era of emerging labor shortages in critical areas, they are truly the beginnings of a new workforce for social change. 


The report concludes:


The millions now in encore careers constitute a new social phenomenon with promise for individuals and society. The tens of millions interested in joining them could add up to one of the most unexpected and significant consequences of an aging America.


Sibyl Jacobson, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation, says that retirement-age people who have chosen encore careers are “pioneers”; they are blazing a path for themselves and other Boomers.


Being a Boomer myself, I like hearing that this generation still can make a positive difference in society. However, I worry that the government and nonprofit sectors are not ready for the onslaught of this generation. Most Boomers want flexibility, meaningfulness, and the opportunity to continue learning. Some need salary and health benefits. They want to contribute now; they don’t have time to waste. They need an environment that recognizes their knowledge, experience, and abilities while continuing to provide training to help them be effective workers in these organizations. This means that these organizations need to be well managed. My experience is that most nonprofits, schools, colleges, and government agencies are well-intentioned but not well managed, and training, especially for their senior employees, is not aligned with the needs of individuals nor the intended results of the organization. Much change is needed in civic sector organizations if they are going to be successful assimilating Boomers and helping them to be effective contributors.

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