Workers may pursue new careers as seniors.

Workers may pursue new careers as seniors. (August 5, 2013)

Working one’s entire life toward a tangible goal is part of the American experience.

In a lifetime, we put ourselves through countless 40-hour workweeks to pay for our homes, educate our children and fund our retirement. But what happens when that retirement allocation isn’t enough to pay the bills? Or when the idea of nothing to do all day is unacceptable? For many Americans 65 years old and older, it simply means it’s time to do the one thing they thought they’d never have to – or want to – do again: get a job.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 7.3 million Americans age 65 and older are working. In 1998, that number was less than 3.7 million.

Top employers

Each year, the AARP compiles a list of the top 50 employers for people over 50. In 2013, eight of the top 10 companies were involved in health care. Retail, customer service and education outlets also hired and retained older workers.

“With health care and retail, there is a lot of turnover with younger employees, so employers often will recruit older workers who, as a rule, show more commitment and job stability than people less than half their age,” says Richard Fallen, a career adviser in Chicago. “It’s a good idea to look at hospitals or stores that have a good mix of workers – young, old, men, women. That’s a good indication of an HR department that places an emphasis on diversity.”
Schools often look for teacher’s aides and substitute teachers. In some cases, a college degree is the only prerequisite for either position.

Second career

Those who are less than thrilled with job options in retail or customer service, may be able to improve their employment outlook by pursuing certification toward a new career.

“Seniors can take courses to become tax preparers, cooks, dealers at casinos or health care technicians,” says Fallen. “An investment of six months or a year in training can result in significantly better pay than your average retail job.”

Fallen suggests checking out the Department of Labor’s website for job descriptions and requirements for various fields.

“If you enjoy working with children, you can take childcare classes. If you enjoy repairing your lawnmower’s engine, you can get certified in small engine repair,” Fallen says.

Not all second careers require schooling, though.

“If someone has played the piano her entire life, her extra retirement money can come from the lessons she provides to others,” Fallen says. “The key is to use your talents in way that you can enjoy them while still making money.”

Fitting in

One of the most important elements to beginning a new job is finding a way to become part of the team. That goal can be as simple as signing people up for new mortgage loans or helping customers find a product in a store aisle.

“It can be hard for seniors to see the importance of the job they’re doing as it relates to the rest of the company, especially if they’re used to running the show,” says Fallen. “Someone who was in charge of several employees or was responsible for large sums of money shouldn’t flaunt that experience in front of his coworkers. It’s just not important to them.”

At ease

For the first six years following his retirement from Sears, John Leland worked as a bus driver for a car rental agency at O’Hare International Airport. He says the job was a welcome break from the previous middle management hassles he’d experienced while working his full-time job.

“I drove a bus and talked with people all day long,” says Leland. “It was nice to know that I could come to work in the morning and not have to think about how late I would come home or who would be in a bad mood.”

Leland says that it’s not necessarily the atmosphere that changed, but his approach.

“I’m sure people have the same problems with management and coworkers, but when you know you’re at the end of your career, rather than at the beginning of it, you don’t let things get to you,” he says.