How to approach career transitions among workers age 50 and older
By Suzanne Cook
The only constant is change. This is certainly the case today. Within Canada’s socioeconomic context, more and more people appear to be in a career transition. Those age 50 and older are no exception. In fact, they represent a large and growing proportion of those who seek employment services and career counselling.
In the CERIC-funded Redirection Project, I examined older adults who were shifting into new occupations, pursuing second or third careers. My focus has been on Canadians age 50 and above. My research and the research of other scholars points to how older adults are eager to remain engaged, active and productive in society. Furthermore, these older adults want or need to work.
I chose to study work, aging and later life career development for two reasons. First, as a gerontologist and adult educator, I spoke with older adults in different communities about their experiences looking for work and their desire for later life work options. These individuals were not planning to retire to a life of leisure as they approached the later stages of their career. They did not see an end to “working life.”
Second, the generation of baby boomers is a large population. They are entering their later years and are now older workers. I was very interested in their occupational choices.
The growing proportion of older workers is a growing social issue, as well as a significant social shift away from previously held expectations and perceptions of later life. For practitioners in the field, it is important to develop and share best practices that address the changes we are seeing in society.
Changing careers is difficult, and there are barriers during the transition process. Older adults can have occupational and career crises. They require employment assistance. Because they make up a large and growing proportion of the people entering employment agencies looking for guidance, it is important to me that I share this research with the broader career development community and people working in the field. In other words, I believe it is critical that information and knowledge gained through the research be translated into theory and practice. Furthermore, it is important to develop relevant tools and resources for practitioners working with older clients.
My research indicates we can group older adults who change occupations or find a new career into a few different categories. In this way, a typology of later life career redirection can be developed. This can be a useful resource for practitioners in the field who are assisting older clients. Several sub-categories describe the individuals who redirect into new occupational pursuits. I have developed the terms “Movers, Shakers, Shifters” to describe them. Those who are seeking redirection are: “Strivers, Stuck in Transition” (SiT), and a third category for which I have coined the term “SNAAFU.” The dictionary states that “snafu” is “a confused or chaotic state,” and currently this is the best concept to describe this category of redirection seekers.