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Making the most of the third age



Above: The NCVER research report Reskilling for encore careers for (what were once) retirement years.

By Stephen Easton

TAFE institutes and other training organisations would like to help people find stimulating, motivating occupations after retirement age, but current funding models don’t allow it.

A new report commissioned by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) explores ways to help Australians start fresh in a more enriching vocation upon reaching retirement age, a concept known in the United States known as an ‘encore career’.

Interviews with representatives of the vocational education and training sector found strong in-principle support for the idea, but a lack of time and money to commit to it, as well as other bureaucratic hurdles.

According to NCVER’s general manager of research, Francesca Beddie, “Encore careers provide an alternative to the standard rhetoric of keeping older workers in their current jobs longer, as has been the intention of many recent initiatives.”

“Instead they may take the person in fresh directions, building on their skills and experience, while also offering new opportunities for personal growth,” Ms Beddie said.

“Given that retirement could last for 20 or even 30 years, it makes sense to harness the life experiences and intellectual capital of older Australians and help keep them connected with the workforce beyond the age of 65.”

The report’s author, Jane Figgis from AAAJ Consulting, said a lot of people want to work well into ‘the third age’, but they want to do so on their own terms, in flexible and enriching roles.

“Encore careers are people’s idea of the kind of work they would like to do,” Ms Figgis said. “It’s definitely not full time – it has to be work that’s flexible – and people want a lot of autonomy … to do the things they decide they want to do.”

She suggests that appropriate positions need not be paid, but must be challenging and meaningful, allowing people to take ownership of important projects and drive innovation. 

The aged care industry could be a perfect setting for some encore careers, and providers could benefit from the innovative ideas of experienced and creative volunteers, Ms Figgis said.

“One example is that in some of the aged care facilities my consulting company works in, we’ve noticed that orientation of new residents and their families is often done cursorily, and only in the beginning. It seems to us as observers that this needs to be ongoing over time, so one thing we could do for volunteers is give them a challenge: how would you design a good orientation program, so that it was comprehensive and ongoing?

“It’s about giving them something they can work through by themselves. I think there’s a role to invite volunteers in and simply give them the task – it means giving up a little of control, which can be hard. 

“If I was running an aged care home, I would take the volunteers that are already coming there and say, ‘We’d really like you to be involved in helping us to really improve the facility, to be involved in stimulating our people more. 

“Give them the job and say, ‘How can we do this? How can we make it better?’”

Ms Figgis said the initial reaction was very positive when she floated the idea with TAFEs and other vocational education providers during her research, but that new funding would be needed from government to specifically support such courses.

“TAFEs were initially quite excited but that excitement faded,” she said. “There’s just no space in the system to do something that’s not already a government priority.”

But there is a chance that such an idea could become a government priority, according to statements made by federal Treasurer Wayne Swan at a business luncheon last year, and quoted by Ms Figgis in the report.

“As more and more people grapple with what to do in their later years, we want to make sure people are supported to make the decisions that meet their circumstances,” Mr Swan said. 

“This means making sure our policy framework is coherent. It means that we must constantly ask if there isn’t more that government can do to create the active and engaging society that older Australians would choose to value and participate in.”



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