In Tina Fey’s new movie, The Intern, she plays the founder of an e-business with a fashion focus, who takes on a 70-something intern to much eye-rolling angst.
Are internships for older workers on the cusp of going mainstream?
Marc Freedman, founder of Civic Ventures, writes in his recent Harvard BusinessReview blog, Outsourcing The Old Folks: ”A small but expanding cluster of new movies is starting to grapple with the experience of millions of baby boomers entering uncharted territory in the years between midlife and anything resembling true old age.”
I wouldn’t say senior internships are trending in the U.S., even if the notion is surfacing in conventional culture as entertainment.
But in Ireland, there is an innovative internship program that welcomes older workers, called Pathways to Work.
It’s part of Ireland’s strategy to help the unemployed get back into the workforce.
Irish eyes are smiling. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ireland’s Minister of Social Protection Joan Burton at Sardis restaurant in Manhattan during a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration not too long ago.
Sipping a cup of tea in a cozy room tucked above the rollicking celebration of Irish dancing and balladeering in the main dining room, Minister Burton opened up about the new opportunities for experienced, older workers to get back in the door at Irish companies in growing fields.
She was in the midst of a whirlwind visit to New York to promote Ireland as a leading tourist and business destination. Uber-media consultant Terry Rooneyarranged a meeting for me with her to discuss her pioneering approach to getting Irish workers back to work.
Burton’s mission might offer some insight into what government and the private sector here in the U.S. can do to ramp up employment for older workers looking for jobs today.
Burton was appointed Minister a little over a year ago. Her main priority: “j
he country, once known as the Celtic Tiger, was slammed in 2008 when the overvalued property market imploded and the banking industry went down with it. “Thirty percent of our economy was hit hard, pulling a large slice of the Irish economy out of circulation,” Burton calmly explained. “It’s never going to return to that, so we need to reinvent what we do. Refocus what we do.”
Lots of workers were stranded–from construction engineers and carpenters to retail and real estate salespersons to financial and banking managers and advisors.
Unemployment now stands at 14.5 percent, compared to the average unemployment rate in the EU of 10.2%, and 8.1 percent in the U.S.
“We want a good social welfare system that acts as a bit of a trampoline. Not only does it cushion you and give you income support, but it helps you get right back up there,” she told me.
“We have a lot of qualified people who in the current climate can’t get a job because they don’t have experience” to make the shift into one of the growing areas.” There are openings cropping up in fields like accounting, computer programmers, digital marketers, financial services, healthcare, IT, online gaming, and biotech, to name a few.
How to land one of these jobs? In Ireland, Pathways to Work is answering that question.
The program is primarily focused on those who have been out of work for a year or more. The aim is to get 75,000 people back into the workforce and to reduce the average time spent on the live register, or what we call receiving unemployment checks, from 21 months today to less than 12 months by the end of 2015.
Older worker internships are key. A big piece of the effort is JobBridge, a National Internship program. JobBridge provides work experience placements for interns for a 6-or 9-month period, regardless of age.
Admittedly, JobBridge has been particularly attractive to the under-35 age group. Internships are often a key step to getting a job when you’re young. But Burton says older workers are getting in on the action.
Why not do an internship, when you’re older and starting out once again? I know I could never have broken into the field of journalism without an internship at the Washingtonian Magazine when I was 21. And I always advise younger job seekers and college age protégés to get an internship–even if it’s not paid.
For older workers, that’s hard to do. There just aren’t many companies offering internships to post-50 workers looking to find a job, or make a career change into a new field. And working without a paycheck is simply not appealing when you reach a certain age, or not feasible–you might need the income now, if you’ve been out of work for a while, or feel you don’t want to sacrifice the time you should be spending on your job hunt.
But if you can be awarded an internship to help with your retraining and still receive income from an unemployment check, that makes sense to me.
The aim of Ireland’s JobBridge is to break the cycle where unemployed jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience and need to learn new skills. The goal is to provide work experience in the private and public sectors. Interns receive an allowance of €50 per week on top of their existing social welfare entitlement.
These internship openings go to people who have been on the live register for at least three months. As an incentive, the Irish government offers tax breaks to employers, and if they hire the person, that tax break continues for the first 18 months of employment.
The program has been so popular that last week Burton announced 1,000 extra places for JobBridge. Since it went live just ten months, 6,840 internships have started.
Burton gets it. Employers are nervous about hiring. “If they are going to make a commitment to take somebody in they want to really feel, especially in smaller business, that this person fits and can go with the flow,” she said.
For unemployed workers, “the internship helps establish you,” she said. “It gets you out of the syndrome that you haven’t worked, It fills that gap in your CV, and helps you put your foot on the ladder.”
The demand by unemployed older workers in this country exists. As you may know, the employment news in April was not particularly encouraging here, especially for older workers and jobseekers, according to Sara E. Rix of AARP’s Public Policy Institute, who each month analyzes BLS data and develops an extensive report on older workers unemployment.
- The unemployment rate of 6.3 percent for those aged 55 and over showed no improvement over the rate for March.
- Average duration of unemployment for older jobseekers was up to 60 weeks; the number of long-term unemployed had risen as well.
- There were more older persons saying they would like to be working even though they were no longer in the labor force and seeking employment; in fact, the number of older persons who were out of the labor force rose by 270,000 between March and April.
How much of this increase might be due to jobseeking discouragement as opposed to other reasons (ready to retire, for example) is not known, Rix explains. The number of older discouraged workers, however, was up in April.
The persistence of long-term unemployment remains a matter of great concern, Rix says. “The longer a worker is unemployed, the harder it for that worker to overcome negative assumptions on the part of employers about why they haven’t found work. In addition, skills atrophy.”
Many jobseekers—particularly older ones—become discouraged and drop out of the labor force, with potentially damaging costs for current and future financial security in retirement.
The Senate Aging Committee, in fact, recently held a hearing on efforts to address the issue of unemployment among older workers, “Missed by the Recovery: Solving the Long-Term Unemployment Crisis for Older Workers.” Maybe the senior internship idea will come up.
I know the critics say internships just mean employers get workers for free. On the other hand, for jobseekers, it’s a free education and networking opportunity that’s worth exploring. And if can be part of an unemployment compensation program, I think it’s got potential.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this? Are internships good for older workers or exploitation?
Click here for an Index of Articles by Kerry Hannon
I’m the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job, available here www.kerryhannon.com. I am a fellow in the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship program created by New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America. To learn about great jobs for retirees, check out my column on AARP. Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon