Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Edition 31 – August September October


Navigating Mature Career Change

Popular media say that as we are living longer, we are more like people 10 years younger. So like ‘navy is the new black’ this winter, 50 is designated the ‘new 40’ and so on.

Lisa Ford

By Lisa Ford

When I was a kid, a song played on the radio by Dave and the Dynamos called ‘Life Begins at 40’. The lyrics were an ode to getting your second wind in life, around the time the kids used to leave home:


‘Life begins at 40, you wonder why you feel so naughty
You might be getting on but you can’t stop shakin’ your feet
Your body sure is willin’, even though your back is killing
You may be 40, but you can’t stop rockin’ to the beat’.

It was a catchy, toe-tapping tune, and decades later it still comes easily to mind. I’ve been singing it around the house in my lead-up to turning the big 5-0 this year. Only I have changed the lyrics to:

‘Life begins at 50
You wonder why you feel so nifty…’etc

And sure enough, as I sit here writing, my back sure is killing!

Popular media say that as we are living longer, we are more like people 10 years younger. So like ‘navy is the new black’ this winter, 50 is designated the ‘new 40’ and so on. If this is true, then 50 year olds would be experiencing what 40 year olds do - the mid-life crisis, that harbinger of great change in our lives.

In some respects this is true. Both our children’s extended dependence on us parents and Australia’s increasing pension age unite to protract our mid-life throughout our 50s and sometimes beyond. So strong drivers compel us to continue to work and earn, despite whether our personal preferences, health, opportunities, family or employers urge us otherwise.

And as during the mid-life crisis, change also frames our world. We are living in an age of constant workplace and technological change: work is intensifying, job experience and maturity are no longer highly valued, work is increasingly unstable, jobs and wages are flatlining (or gone backwards in the hospitality sector), demands for qualifications are inflating, and higher education and TAFE costs to retrain or upskill are spiralling upwards.  This places the 50s+ workforce in the unenviable position of needing to work in an increasingly inaccessible job market.

Even if finances aren’t a big issue for you, there is still the important question of how to meaningfully spend the next 30 or so years of our lives in an era of increased longevity.

Those 50+ people in stable employment often stay put, with the wisdom to know when they are on to a good thing. But others have no choice: maybe their positions have been made redundant or offered to casuals at a lower wage, or their employer has shut down, been taken over by a multinational or moved offshore, or their occupation or industry has been rendered obsolete. Personally, they may be experiencing health or family problems, or they are just plain burnt out. Any of these situations can demand a change.

Yet changing jobs can be daunting. Apart from the job market challenges for older workers, job ads these days can attract 100s of applicants and demand more than ever from the successful applicant, including ‘passion’ and ‘commitment’ which the 50+ worker may not always be willing or able to give. It can also feel scary to front up against a field of younger, more IT savvy applicants for the first time in decades. So job-hunting can seem like a grim prospect.

So what to do when you are 50+ and looking for work? It may seem like a bit of a sidetrack, but take the opportunity to really think about what you’d like to do.  If you don’t know where to start, visit a careers fair, check out career advice resources and training opportunities on the net, or consider career counselling.  

What you come up with may not be the same thing you used to do for a job. There are new opportunities around now. Consider consulting, part-time work, temp work, self-employment, mature age apprenticeships, volunteering or a combination of these to enable you to keep yourself afloat financially.  Such a combination is known as the ‘portfolio’ career. Foothills locals I know with a portfolio career include a hairdresser/art therapist, photographer/teacher, teacher/personal care attendant, administrator/writer, social worker/ meditator, photographer/personal trainer and clerk/historian.  Such portfolio careers can enable people to combine a paying day job with their passion.

Others take this opportunity to make a wholesale shift to a new career. A friend in Rowville stepped out of a manager role to become a mature-aged machine apprentice, and couldn’t be happier now he is working with his hands to create and problem solve.  An HR consultant in Tecoma made the switch to being a secondary school teacher, and a stay-at-home mum in Upwey retrained to become a kindergarten teacher. All found their maturity to be a bonus in their new jobs – they had already learned what sorts of issues to focus on and what to let go, they contributed well and they provided good role models for younger colleagues.

A career change can also be achieved through volunteering, which can be particularly rewarding for mature workers who are at a stage of life where they want to give back to the community while downshifting. A fellow Foothills writer volunteered with outpatients at the Angliss Cardio Clinic, and a Tecoma retired academic teaches English language to refugees in Dandenong.

Some 50+ women volunteer at Coonara Community House, which offers low cost training in entrance level work skills, among other community services, and which can also enable its volunteers to qualify for Newstart.

One volunteer, Diana, works at the Community House as her transition strategy into retirement. After a career in Community Services and Child Protection, she finds the lighter pace of volunteer work, such as teaching knitting and crochet, and connecting with older citizens, more relaxing and fulfilling.

She said ‘I am working with the job seekers I used to support as a Team Leader in Community Services. It has been a revelation hearing their stories about how they feel about support services. They are so much more honest and open with me now. I have been able to raise their issues with my previous employer and it has delivered new learnings for us all. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction volunteering at Coonara, like my wheel has finally come full circle’.

While Diana’s inspiring story relates to volunteering as a transition into retirement, sometimes volunteering can work the other way too and provide an entrance into a new career for those seeking work experience. Volunteering at a local op shop can give retail and customer service experience or at Coonara Community House to give administrative or community work.  This is one way to test drive a new career path in a safe environment. An added personal benefit is that volunteers are known to be Australia’s most engaged workers. They give back to their community while retaining the personal power to choose their work arrangements without consequences – that rare job which embodies both connection and freedom, if not financial reward.

And this leads us to the important topic of attitude. Despite, or because of, the challenges for the mature job-seeker, a positive flexible approach works wonders. The axiom ‘you’re never too old to learn’ remains true. So polish up your technical skills at your local library or Community House, take a free online course in a useful workplace skill, and read about the latest trends, techniques or thinking. Look after your health, get fit, network and try something different. Tick off some of those bucket list items. Make space in your life to do the things, and spend time with the people, you love.

These things may not all seem directly related to work, but importantly, they will energise you.  And it is energy that the workplace, and our world, most wants and needs. Your post-50 years can be most enjoyable and rewarding if you have the right attitude. Use your time where it counts most: Enjoy your family and friends, help others through your work and you will become the best person you can be.

About The Foothills

The Foothills magazine is truly appreciated by the local community. It covers business, community and tourisms news, events, local success stories and more. The site features electronic newsletters, feature stories, recipes, photographs and news, all from the Upper Ferntree Gully, Upwey and Tecoma communities.

From the Editor

Welcome to the first of the digital editions of The Foothills community news. Thanks to our wonderful team of volunteers that has put this edition together. Many are long term volunteers who you will have followed over several years and others are new writers inspired by the opportunities of the new digital edition.

We are keen to grow the Foothills with your contributions. If you have a club, a school or an interest that you’d like to tell us about each quarter then please contact me so we can arrange for your own column. We also welcome photos and quick news stories that we can use to update the Foothills between editions. Send those contributions and messages to thefoothills@coonarahouse.org.au.

Thanks and happy reading.


The Foothills Editor