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Older Workers Look for Their Second Acts

Mid-career workers blaze new roads, says author of ‘Encore Career Handbook’

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March 21, 2013 | by Stephen Anzaldi
Encore careers eventEncore careers eventEncore careers eventEncore careers event
Photos by Stephen Anzaldi
Photos by Stephen Anzaldi
Photos by Stephen Anzaldi
Photos by Stephen Anzaldi

CHICAGO --- A social transformation is happening on the job front. People are living – and working – longer than ever before, and there are no easy career roadmaps to follow these days.

That’s the reality that attracted hundreds of Northwestern University alumni to campus March 20 for a talk with author Marci Alboher about her popular new book, “The Encore Career Handbook.”

The event was hosted by the Northwestern Alumni Association in order to help alumni learn how to reinvent themselves and launch their own second acts.

Alboher spoke to alumni from a range of fields about the rise of the second act in American working life, noting the conflict comes from a workplace still designed to push people to retire at 65.

“We’re dealing with pioneers,” she said. “It’s hard to linger in the workplace longer than when people think you should be hanging around.”

This is the first generation of workers to face these obstacles. And because many people now want to work into their 70s, and even 80s, Alboher suggested that one day the notion of an encore career won’t even make sense to today’s youth.

As proof, she offered the trend of individuals in their 50s and 60s who face resistance in trying to join Teach for America because the national teacher corps had been conceived as a program “for young people.” But in recent years, Alboher said, the organization has begun recruiting older applicants because they can add so much to the program.

Medill alumna Fawn Ring, a journalism instructor, interviewed Alboher at Thorne Auditorium on Northwestern’s Chicago campus, and she asked about growth fields for encore workers. While many want to teach and mentor young people, health care jobs are increasing on a month-to-month basis, said Alboher, former writer of the New York Times blog “Shifting Careers.”

“Many of these jobs never existed before,” she said. “We’re seeing wellness coaches and health care navigators, jobs that are ‘age-friendly,’ where having some life experience and having lived through health issues can be an asset.”

Ring also moderated a panel discussion featuring three experts with a focus on encore careers for the public good. The panelists were John Fujimura-Fanselow, professor emeritus at Columbia University Teachers College; Veronica Buckley, faculty member and advisor at the School for New Learning at DePaul University; and Wendell Willis, a Northwestern alumnus and vice president of operations at Ways to Work, a nonprofit financial empowerment loan organization.

Alboher stated that nine million Americans are already in encore careers, and another 31 million people are interested in joining the trend.

“It’s important that Northwestern take the lead in supporting our alumni as they try to make a living while making a difference,” said Aspasia Apostolakis Miller, a Northwestern graduate and director of the University’s Office of Change Management. “It requires a true culture change to find ways for older workers to continue to be active members of society.”