Some older workers are being welcomed back into the labor market

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Tad Greener’s career and expertise was primarily related to electric and natural gas utilities. Towards the end of 2019, he unexpectedly found himself subject to a “work cut” at the university where he was working at the time. Losing his job at 60 “shook my world,” he says. Still, he wasn’t too worried about getting another job since the economy was strong and a number of employers were quick to show interest in meeting with him.

Then, as is so often the case, life intervened. The pandemic-induced economic lockdown put an end to potential job openings in early 2020. He also found himself struggling with a chronic illness that physically prevented him from working. He started looking for work again at 62 with the economy on the rebound and his health has improved following “monumental life changes”.

He had been unemployed for nearly two years, and one night he learned of a news story about the Return Utah program that brings people with career gaps into state jobs. He joined the three-month program along with 15 to 20 other career-breakers. He worked part-time for several months with the Utah Office of Energy Development. At 63, he is now a full-time employee at the National Energy Agency as a regional delegate for economic competitiveness. The position builds on the knowledge and skills he has developed over his long career in the energy field.

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“At that time, right at that time, I really needed a boost,” says Greener. “Return Utah kicked me out.”

Back Utah is currently unique among state governments. Chances are it won’t stay that way for long. Governments at all levels in the race for talent are increasingly attracted to recruiting experienced workers eager to relaunch their careers. For example, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston joined the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Re-entry Task Force and partnered with iRelaunch and the Society of Women Engineers to recently establish its Fed Resurgence program. The professional reintegration initiative aims to attract professionals who have interrupted their careers and are now looking to relaunch their careers.

The central idea behind various re-entry programs for professionals is that careers are often not linear. Back-to-work programs are gaining momentum in the private sector, thanks to the powerful combination of an aging workforce, increased longevity and tight labor markets. Governments are now looking to join the back-to-work bandwagon. “Governments are big employers, and they’re looking for high performers like the private sector,” says Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch, a company that works with employers to create re-entry programs and leads. a community of more than 100,000 raisers.

For a long time, a hiring stigma has attached itself to professionals who have taken time off from their careers. That began to change about two decades ago when several Wall Street firms adopted formal re-entry initiatives in an effort to bolster their ranks of professional women. Today, companies as diverse as Johnson & Johnson JNJ,
+1.45%,
JP Morgan JPM,
+4.58%,
AmazonAMZN,
+2.64%,
and Mastercard MA,
+2.32%
set up professional reintegration programs. In an intriguing sign of the times, professional job search platform Linked In has added a “Career Break” tag so people can describe their experiences away from the world of paid work.

“People are taking career breaks that have nothing to do with job performance, including childcare and elder care,” says Cohen. “Employers started to see that there was a high-calibre pool.”

The driving force behind Return Utah was Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson who took a 13-year hiatus for her family. ShayAnn Baker, program manager for Return Utah, is another raiser. She was a human resources specialist and TV journalist/producer before leaving the workforce to start a family in 2015. She was part of Return Utah’s inaugural class in fall 2021 and now leads the program. “A career break gives them a major life perspective and the way they solve problems is usually a bit more innovative,” she says. “It also increases equity in the state. Individuals who may be terminated or face barriers to employment due to the career interruption. Despite the gap, they are watched.

The program is small but growing. iRelaunch helped set up the Utah program. (A number of companies have emerged to meet the demand for creating reintegration programs, including iRelaunch, Path Forward, and reacHIRE.) Each cohort is made up of approximately 15-20 relaunchers. Participants receive 16 weeks of mentorship, training and support, including a technology refresher course. Raisers are hired either on a temporary basis or with the intention of hiring for a permanent position. The majority of participants were asked to remain on the state payroll. “We think it can be a lot bigger,” says ShayAnn. “We are delighted with what we see.”

Among those with a position is Greg Flynn, a whistleblower investigator for the state of Utah. He retired in 2018 at age 62 from his 35-year career as a litigation paralegal to care for his mother and play more golf. He wasn’t actively looking to retire, but he got bored during the retreat. He started keeping tabs on work, and he joined the Return Utah program after hearing about it. “I was impressed with the talent pool,” he says.

Utah law protects employees who report health and safety concerns about their employer from retaliation. His job is to establish neutral facts when a problem arises. The skills required for the job are similar in many ways to what he did before retirement. He works from home and the job is part-time. “It fits well with what I wanted to do,” he says. “As long as I’m mentally active and with the economy, the extra income is a bonus.”

The different versions of official reintegration programs in the private and public sectors are not specifically designed for experienced professionals. Career breaks are driven by many reasons, including military service, continuing education, a new baby, and retirement. But formal programs make it easier to transition into the paid workforce, a clear benefit for older professionals who have taken time off from paid work. The emerging movement to create more opportunities for experienced professionals to join the public sector is a classic win-win situation given the demographics of an aging population: good for older professionals and a great fit for government as an employer.

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