Do you look at your age and think, “But I don’t feel that old”? No surprise there. In 1950, life expectancy for Americans was 68.2 at birth; by 2003, it was 77.5.
Not only are Americans living longer, but they living vigorously enough to continue to work longer. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found in a 2003 survey that 80 percent of baby boomers expected to keep working after the traditional retirement age of 65. Anyway, the work force may still need you: More than half of workers are 40 or older, up from 33 percent in 1980.
Senior Living (about.com) tells us that the four basic reasons people want to keep working later in life are money (to maintain a standard of living), love (of the work itself), fear (of having to adjust to a diminished lifestyle), and friends (your colleagues are a key part of your social life).
One approach to choosing a retirement career is to rate yourself from one to ten (least to most) on each of these four factors, and keep the scores in mind while assessing opportunities.
Here are thoughts about careers that address each of these needs:
Although you are free to start a new career, to make money, you will probably make your most reliable money by retiring into a career in your current field or a similar one. Here are some examples:
1. Keep your current career but reduce your hours: Because the entire work force is aging, most companies will permit older employees reduced hours rather than full retirement. But they do not necessarily advertise that fact as one of their formal employment policies. While exploring, negotiate to keep your health benefits.
2. Retire into an allied career: An older worker is frequently sought as a consultant, especially by businesses that have used the product or service in the past, and would like an insider’s insights.
3. Switch sides: If you worked for the government as a regulator, you could work for a corporation, to help ensure compliance. If you worked in commercial marketing, you could work for a non-profit.
If these choices appeal to you, consider upgrading your career-related education through online or continuing courses. Perhaps when you were young, you thrived in your field without today’s certificates or degrees. But now that you are marketing your services at a level of compensation “to be determined”, it’s best to acquire those credentials. Otherwise, you may need to underbid despite your experience. In fact, it is best to start this process now, before you announce your intended plans.
4. Teach what you love: If you love helping seniors with disabilities or tagging wildlife for conservation, chances are that others do too. Your enthusiasm is your strongest teaching asset for a retirement career.
5. Research what you love: Because you know your own field, be alert for opportunities to help with research, whether for the government, a university, a union, a trade association—or anyone who may need the information.
6. Provide a related service: For example, if you taught art, you could consult with suppliers of materials. If you worked in hospitality, you could consult on seniors and disability issues. If you operated a travel agency, you could design specialty experience tours.
More education in your field? Go for that by all means, before you announce your plans because, if you are a Boomer, many others are eyeing the same golden years opportunities as you. Your resume needs to be at the top of the pile, not halfway down in the “might-be-good-buts.”
7. Just don’t feel ready to quit? Only you know when and how you should reduce your commitment to the work force, and today’s employers can be quite flexible. After all, you could always be working part time for a competitor …
8. Worried about lifestyle changes? There is a risk, of course, of retiring into a rut, but consider a course in retirement planning to make sure that your later life is the one you really wanted.
9. Thinking about your health? If part of your later life plan is to take better care of yourself, investigate whether your employer or other industry sources will co-pay for lifestyle and health counseling. You may even discover a second career in counseling (after completing requisite qualifications). After all, if you are thriving, you are proof that it works!
One way of demonstrating that you are staying in the game is continuing education.
10. Counseling Your many years in the field gave you a feel for the problems people encounter and may give others trust in your advice and support in difficult times.
11. Advocacy Chances are, a number of professional associations serve your and allied fields, liaising with government and industry. Your many contacts gained over the years can bring your resume to the top.
12. Mentoring Moving into retirement, you are no long are a competitor, but a coach. Consider a role recruiting, orienting, and encouraging young people who are thinking about the field.
In all retirement careers that keep you in touch with your friends and contacts, training as a counselor would be an asset, and perhaps a necessity. Again, check out online, distance, or continuing education, to add credentials to your life experience.
Continuing education is one of the best ways to demonstrate that you are not ready to quit. Focus on upgrade courses that you can take part-time at your convenience.
Here are just a few career possibilities, only to get you thinking:
Teaching: If you know your job so well, you think you could teach in a related field, a 2006 Merrill Lynch New Retirement Study found that 20 percent of retirees hoped to be teachers ($40,000-$55,000 per year) or professors ($55,000-$110,000 per year). Acquiring the best credentials is especially important here because you are, after all, an educator yourself. Many online, distance, and continuing education programs are available. It’s worth investigating whether your current employer would co-pay for a course, in return for a commitment to work in industry education programs.
Paralegal: You always wanted to be a lawyer, but there was never money for law school? Paralegals work with civil and criminal matters under the supervision of lawyers. From its beginnings in the 1960s, the paralegal profession has grown rapidly to its present 120,000. With an annual salary ranging between $41,000–$58,000, this profession could be for you now. In the interests of affordable justice, there is a trend in many jurisdictions to give them more scope in routine matters. The field is not centrally regulated at present, and programs are available from certificate through Masters degree. A growing number of programs are available online.
Real Estate Agent: You know and love your town so well, you think you could sell it? Seven percent of new retirees in a 2006 Merrill Lynch study would enjoy selling it too. The earnings range is wide: $40,000-$104,000 per year, depending on your market and time commitment, as well as your skill. The scope is broad: Americans move every five years, on average. If your early life career has given you in depth knowledge, contacts, and sales skills, stand out even more by getting the best educational credentials as well. A number of online certificate programs and licencing programs (which may be compulsory) will teach you the real estate ropes. Putting credentials after your name helps convince the people who don’t know you.
Historian: Yes, you can be a historian—if you have observed the changes in your industry, town, or company for forty years, and have an eye for details and a flair for writing. Government grants are often available to the institution that hires you. You will likely be paid by the project, with the option of lecturing, publishing books, and guiding tours as well. A history teacher can make $34,000 – $51,000, and if you are enterprising, you will likely end up in that range. For best results, take courses in public speaking, writing, and archival research.
Bed-and-breakfast owner/operator: Your house could be worth about $100,000 per year in income if you live in a friendly neighborhood near tourist attractions and can accept paying guests, vacationing on a budget. If you have not worked in the hospitality industry, take advantage of courses in management, aimed at small operations like b&b’s, and by all means check local regulations. (Note: Nine percent of retirees wanted this retirement career in the 2009 Merrill Lynch study, so you will have competition and your offer must stand out.)
Counselor: “Me, a counselor, after all I’ve been through?” Well, who better? Someone who doesn’t know? This is one field ($32,000 – $48,000) where age and experience are definitely an asset. If you have life experience to offer, definitely study counseling, online while you work. Lots of people have the experience; you stand out if you have the credentials, with the Masters degree much preferred. It’s a broad field, and includes, just for example, bereavement counseling, career counseling, juvenile counseling, marriage counseling, and post-trauma counseling.
Renovation and repair: This field is growing to the point of manpower shortages. Older people typically choose renovation over relocation, when addressing disabilities. Many depend on reliable repair jobs as well, to remain in their own homes. While you may be competent without a trade certificate, get any needed ones, as well as licences, to ensure market rates. You can earn $50,000 a year, while making your own hours.
Aide/assistant: If you have few savings and cannot afford formal training, but do have a high school diploma, a number of health and education positions are available, including occupational therapist aide ($23,000 – $38,000), physical therapist aide ($18,000 – $25,000), pharmacy aide ($17,000 – $31,000), teacher’s assistant ($16,000 – $25,000), or recreation worker ($18,000 – $33,000). A key advantage is that you probably have pension entitlements that offset lower earnings, plus fixed part time hours are usually available.
Technical writer: As a technical writer ($41,000 – $71,000), you document the processes, describe the product, and organize legal documentation. If you know the product well and can learn to write in the required style, this is a good job to ease into in later life. Online courses in technical writing are a real asset in learning the tricks of the trade.
Media work: If you welcome an audience or a readership, consider part-time media work. Small radio, TV stations, newspapers, or Web sites may be looking for someone to handle a few stints per week. A talk show host, for example, could earn between $24,000 – $61,000 per year, full time. It really depends on the size of your audience, which may depend on your lifetime contacts.
Film work: Me? In film? Aw, come on. Maybe you always did want to work in film, but gave up when you realized you’d never be a star. Yet films need casts of thousands, on and off screen. For example, have you considered working as an extra? Impossible, you say, because “I don’t live in Beverley Hills.” Well, here is the 10th annual ranking of the country’s best cities for independent moviemaking (2010): Albuquerque, NM; Los Angeles, CA; Shreveport, LA; New York, NY; Austin, TX; Stamford, CT; 7. Boston, MA; Detroit, MI; Philadelphia, PA; Seattle, WA. And this wide array is only the best ones, not the only ones. An actor/actress, for example, can earn $500-$900 per week, when working. But demonstrate your commitment to the field by signing up for lessons, often available at a community college. In this field, the contacts are as important as the training, and that is a good place to start making them.
Music A great many music careers do not require you to be a virtuoso. You could retire into a career as a musical instrument repairman (20,000 – $40,000) with skill and on-the-job training, or a recreation worker ($18,000 – $33,000) who brings out the musical talent in others. As with many careers in the arts, your advantage is that, while the jobs don’t pay lavishly, you likely have a pension coming and don’t need as much money just to get by.
A final thought: When planning a retirement career, choose one that gives you considerable control of your own hours. Later years make many personal demands on our time: weddings, births, graduations, anniversaries, elders’ funerals, promised trips, etc. That is the future we sacrifice for when we are young.