The golden years of work
Changing careers, working past retirement age becoming common

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

Dec. 14, 2014

  Jake Musil, left, helps Bob Borchardt with a computer issue in the repair shop at Aries Industries. The two employees can trade tips in their areas of expertise.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - It’s well known that the days of having one career for your entire life and then retiring are long over. Now, workers are switching jobs more often, having more than one career and often working a part-time job or starting a business after retirement.

With the workforce also aging but technology always changing, emphasis is placed on older and more experienced workers maintaining and upgrading their job skills.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20 percent of workers in the United States, about 33 million, are age 55 and up.

Bob Borchardt repairs a remote camera used for sewer inspection at Aries Industries.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

This second part of the ongoing evolving workplace series will look at what older employees are doing to keep their jobs skills up-to-date, as well as how retired workers are continuing to make an income with a new job or by starting their own businesses.

Cross-training of employees

At Aries Industries in Waukesha, the company leaders have implemented a cross-training initiative to encourage older, more-experienced workers to mentor younger, less-experienced ones and vice-versa. Both sets of employees have valuable skills that they can share with the other group, said Aries Industries President and CEO Nick Kroll.

“Younger people are very adept with the technology available today and the older employee hasn’t had the same exposure,” he said.

There are then great opportunities for the young workers to help their more experienced counterparts develop needed skills for the new technology Aries Industries continues to install.

  Bob Borchardt repairs a remote camera used for sewer inspection Wednesday at Aries Industries.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

For instance, Kroll said at each work station there are computers with video monitors that are tied into the work stations so an employee can pull up production needs. He said some of the older workers are not very familiar with the system so their younger co-workers help them become more so.

The cross-training at Aries Industries is primarily occurring at the production level and is often peer-to-peer, Kroll said. This also means more than one person can perform a job, so if someone is on vacation production doesn’t sit idle.

It is also a concern if a more experienced worker can’t keep up with the new technology due to feeling uncomfortable with it or lacking the right skills, because this could affect production, Kroll said. He doesn’t want that part of the workforce at Aries to become frustrated.

“That population of our workplace is still incredibly valuable,” Kroll said. “We want to make sure they are engaged and active in the workplace.”

Updating job skills

Now more than ever, keeping up job skills is vital for all age groups, said Suzanne Kelley, executive director of the Waukesha County Business Alliance.

“It is important to stay current and to stay relevant even for an older worker,” she said. “The motivation can be to stay in your current job or to start something new.”

There are many resources in Waukesha County for workers to improve their jobs skills, such as Waukesha County Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and private and online learning institutions, such as Herzing University, Kelley said.

There are also groups, such as SCORE Southeast Wisconsin, which offers free business consulting, business mentoring and business resources and low-cost business trainings.

Kelley said reverse mentorship such as Aries Industries offers is a great way for workers to keep their job skills current by working with a younger employee to learn new trends.

Making a passion profitable

Some Waukesha County Business Alliance members spent their careers working for a company and then eventually became consultants and started their own businesses, Kelley said.

Starting a business happens at many ages, said WCTC Small Business Center Manager Russ Roberts.

Skills that many older adults are lagging behind in are often the same ones Roberts said entrepreneurs need to improve, such as technology and social media knowledge. Small business owners, he said, don’t need to be technology experts but must know how to use a computer as a tool.

Starting a business can offer the entrepreneur the flexibility she desires and a needed income - or maybe she just wants to keep busy.

“They don’t want to sit around in a rocking chair. They want to do something with the skills they developed over the years,” Roberts said.

He has observed many retirees starting consultant work and others who take a passion for food and start a small online or farmers market business.

“The interesting thing is starting a business later in life isn’t any different than starting a business earlier in life,” Roberts said. “Everything is teachable as long as someone is willing to learn.”

The necessity of working longer

For some choosing to start a new job or a business after retirement is a necessity because they didn’t save enough or their pension and Social Security doesn’t cover all of their living expenses.

A Gallup poll in April 2013 indicated three-fourths of employed adults planned to keep working past retirement age. According to the poll, 19 percent of people said they would choose to retire, 40 percent want to keep working and another 35 percent believe they will need to keep working for financial reasons.

Kelley said there are people who continue to work full time or part time not because they must, but from their love and passion for their work. And there are other benefits to working more years.

“Just daily social interaction would be one thing - satisfying your need to give back to make a difference. Just really staying active and continuing to build your network,” Kelley said, adding it can also be as basic as keeping your mind sharp.

“I see lots of benefits coming from staying in the workplace and there are opportunities in the workplace,” she said.

At a glance

Half of older workers who left their career jobs by the time they were ages 65 to 69 moved to a new employer.

More than eight out of 10 full-time workers ages 51 to 55 in 1992 had left their 1992 employer by 2006 (when they were ages 65 to 69). Half of workers who did so (and 43 percent of all older workers) had a new employer by 2006.

Nearly two-thirds of workers who changed jobs (and 27 percent of all older workers) switched occupations.

About three in 10 late-life career changes are the result of layoffs or failing businesses. One in four adults ages 51 to 55 who were working full time lost their jobs because of layoffs or business closings by 2006, even before the Great Recession began.

Source: AARP Public Policy Institute, July 2009

5 part-time jobs for retirees with decent pay

Librarian assistant/aide with a pay range from about $8.86 to $23.33 per hour.

Bookkeeper with an annual pay range of $21,610 to more than $54,310, depending on advanced training and degrees and location.

Personal and home care aide, which pays about $7.91 to $13.34 per hour.

Handyman, which pays $10 to $20 an hour, and up to $50 for certain custom work.

Medical assistant with a median pay of $14.12 per hour; upward depending on location and experience.

Source: AARP, April 2014