Consider the 50+ Intern

natalie bickfordThe following post is courtesy of our board member Natalie Bickford,  Group HR Director at Merlin Entertainments PLC.

I recently watched the 2015 film, The Intern, starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. The premise is that Ben Whittaker (De Niro), a 70-year-old retired manager, returns to the workplace as a senior intern working for Jules Olsen (Hathaway), the CEO of a fast-growing online fashion retailer. This being a Hollywood film, of course the outcome is that Whittaker brings a wealth of experience, maturity, calm and common sense, and that the internship opportunity gives him a new lease on life, a sense of purpose, an ability to have an impact on this successful business, and a lot of new young friends.

The main thought that has stayed with me is that we will all need to work for much longer than our parents did. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers in the corporate world have typically worked for a small number of employers during their careers, and have been able to retire with reasonable retirement benefits, including pensions in some cases. My fellow Gen Xers have seen a swing in their working lives towards a more varied career with a range of organizations, and a recognition that we will need to work well into our sixties, if not into our seventies, in order to maintain a decent income for our longer life expectancies. And so it goes on down the generations.

So, if we are all going to work into our seventies, then at some point it is likely we will need to, or want to, try something new.

I have been an HR specialist for the vast majority of my career but could imagine working in animal welfare during my twilight years. My 68-year-old mother would love an internship in a Michelin-starred kitchen, and my husband dreams of retraining from banking to marine biology. Every single person over the age of 50 that I have spoken to on the subject has some alternative career options.

HR professionals are well aware that a diverse workforce – especially one that mirrors your client base – can improve business results. This diversity should include diversity of age, especially when by 2020 over-50s will make up a third of the UK workforce, and about 25% in the U.S. The engagement and employment of over-50s employees will be critical to economic growth over the coming years.

Could my mother bring some balance, calm, and mature leadership to a working kitchen? Definitely. Is she likely to be offered a position when her last paid role was some 20 years ago? Possibly not. So here is where the internship for older workers would come into play.

My searches have come up fairly short for companies that provide internships for older people. A couple of notable exceptions are Barclays, which launched its UK-based Barclays Bolder Apprenticeships in 2015, and Goldman Sachs with their US-based “Returnship Program”. Several organizations around the world offer support to older workers looking to get back in to work, including the likes of IRelaunch,com, silversurfers.com and opportunity50plus.com, but the pull from the corporate world is either missing or very tricky to find.

As HR professionals, I believe we have a wonderful opportunity to create enthusiasm about the benefits of bringing career changing senior interns into our businesses. Whether on a full- or part-time basis, those with many years of experience and learning should certainly bring both a mature and a fresh perspective to our organizations – and we should remember that these workers will also increasingly make up the majority of our client and consumer base. I would love to see The Intern’s Hollywood dream become a corporate reality.

 

2 thoughts on “Consider the 50+ Intern

  1. Natalie, I totally agree with the premise that people will need to work much longer (presuming robots don’t take over all the work). I also agree that the solution is not to have them cling on to their current jobs creating a ‘clay layer’ in the organization preventing new people from moving up.

    I think the great opportunity is in talent platforms. Talent platforms provide the option of working for as many hours as you want, in whatever location you want and they reduce age-sim bias because for most talent platforms the work is done remotely.

    There are lots of challenges in the talent platform world, not least of which you are competing with the whole world for work; but it does create a working opportunity that didn’t exist in the past.

    Some good talent platforms to explore are Upwork, Twago (Europe), MBA & Company (high level work) and the amazing Tongal (creative).

    (Yes, and I must plug my own co-authored book on the topic “Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment.”)

  2. Natalie, Thought provoking and enjoyable article, and clearly people are working later in life than prior generations, whether out of necessity, desire, or both. As time goes on, it would seem the application of the “over 50 intern” would meld nicely with the rapidly emerging gig economy.

Please share your comments