By Betsy Richards is the Director of Career Resources for Kaplan University
We’ve all heard the horror stories about older workers being forced to postpone retirement because the recession stripped their 401(k) plans. And worse than that, some have lost their jobs. In this period of massive layoffs and downsizing, some 50 to 60 something’s are finding that they have no choice but to: a) become indispensible in their current positions or b) find brand new career paths.
Kaplan University has seen considerable enrollment growth among this demographic over the last two years. In 2007, there were less than 200 online students in the 55+ age category and today, there are more than 2,200 (an increase of more than 1,000 percent). The population of female students 55+ has also increased exponentially at 1,265 percent. Many of these online students are looking to secure jobs, solidify their credentials or transition into new careers. Degree programs that experience the biggest jump among this age group include: Business, Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and IT.
The 55+ crowd has a lot to offer in terms of competency and experience, and we’re likely to see more of them in the workforce in the years ahead. By 2015, one in five (20 percent) of all U.S. workers will be 55 or older, up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, the U.S. is expected to experience a significant drop in the percentage of younger workers, ages 25 to 44, making it increasingly important for employers to find ways to recruit and retain older workers.
There are numerous career options for those older than 55 in business, education, health care, criminal justice and IT. The best thing to do is to take what you already know and find new opportunities. Here’s how several Kaplan students exemplify this advice:
• At 55 Robert retired from engineering to fulfill his long time dream of working in health care. Today, he is in his second year of Kaplan’s bachelor of science in health care management.
• Marcella does not want to depend on her Social Security payments so she returned to college to pursue a post baccalaureate certificate. This 72 year old is on her way to becoming a paralegal to fulfill her desire to help the poor and disabled who use services at legal clinics.
• Karen needs a bachelor’s degree to be promoted by her state government employer and at 59 she is on track to graduate with her bachelor’s of science in criminal justice next fall. She also says that “continually learning on a daily basis keeps the brain young and alive and in proper working order!”
• Inspired by her grandmother’s college education in her 50s, Patricia returned to school and received her bachelor’s degree at 54; one year later she is in the midst of getting her master’s in legal studies.
For those in need of a career change, here are some tips:
• Make a list of the skills and knowledge acquired from each position you’ve held. Realistically evaluate your transferable skills and compare them directly to the requirements for the career or job you’d like to pursue.
• Keep your skills current, taking every opportunity to improve and keep up with industry trends.
• Seek out people in your newly chosen field to guide you and show you the ropes. Most will be more than happy to help.
• Be flexible about job options — consider part-time or even volunteer work to get your foot in the door.
• Keep your work style and preferences in mind as you search. Perhaps you prefer to work on a team or on solo projects. Maybe you need a more social environment or one that is quiet. Take this into consideration as you search.
• Think about the steps required to break into your new career and map out a plan accordingly. Determine training time, if schooling is necessary and how much it will cost.
• Remember the mantra, “It’s never too late.” Don’t be put off by naysayers or negative reactions. While it’s scary to change careers, it’s scarier to not live out your dreams.
Betsy Richards is the Director of Career Resources for Kaplan University, where she manages one of the only online full-service career resources center offered by any university in the United States. At Kaplan, Richards’ team serves more than 63,000 online students. www.kaplan.edu