Retiring boomers, aka encore workers, will seek meaning in new jobs

In these economic times, boomers will need to work longer, and many say they want a job that provides both money and meaning. The question is, are nonprofit employers interested in hiring employees who have finished their midlife careers? What makes nonprofits more eager - or less - to give encore workers a try?

A national survey released this month by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures finds that half of nonprofit employers actually see encore workers as highly appealing, with an additional 39 percent finding them moderately appealing. In addition, the survey finds that nonprofits with experience hiring late-career or recently retired workers are the most positive about hiring more.

Recent reports show that the nonprofit sector is growing faster than business or government - and facing talent shortages. According to the Urban Institute's Nonprofit Almanac 2008, there are at least 1.4 million nonprofits in the U.S., accounting for 10 percent of U.S. employment. A 2006 study by The Bridgespan Group projected that the nonprofit sector will need 640,000 new senior managers by 2016.

This past June, the MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Encore Career Survey revealed that between 5.3 and 8.4 million Americans have already launched encore careers, jobs that combine personal meaning, social impact, and continued income. Of those workers ages 44-70 not already in encore careers, half are interested in them, specifically jobs in education, health care, and the nonprofit sector.

"Are boomers all dressed up with no place to go?" asked Phyllis Segal, vice president and director of the research project at Civic Ventures. "Our first survey showed tremendous interest among boomers for work that matters. This survey asks nonprofit employers whether they see a match. The answer for most is a tentative yes, with an appreciation of benefits and some concerns about uncharted territory."

Key findings from the employer survey include:

  • More than four in 10 nonprofit employers (42 percent) see recruiting and hiring talent as a top human resource concern, and only 9 percent expect it will get easier to find the talent they need.
  • Nonprofits with experience employing late-career or retired workers are more likely than other employers to view these workers as very appealing - by a margin of 53 to 40 percent. They are also more positive about workers who have switched from business to nonprofits (40 to 29 percent).
  • Nearly seven in 10 nonprofit employers (69 percent) rate the valuable experience encore workers bring to the job as a significant benefit, and 67 percent say the same about encore workers' commitment and reliability.
  • Some employers expressed "serious concerns" that encore workers could demand higher salaries (25 percent), be reluctant to learn new technology (23 percent), lack technical/professional skills (20 percent), and could have
    higher insurance/benefit costs (19 percent).
  • In terms of addressing the flexibility requests of workers - young and old - 90 percent of nonprofits say that they offer part-time work, 86 percent say they offer flexible schedules to all or some employees, but just 40 percent say they allow employees to work from a mobile office or home.

"The fact that pioneering nonprofits are already enthusiastic proponents of encore workers is encouraging," said Sibyl Jacobson, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation. "They see encore talent improving organizational effectiveness, adding capacity, providing opportunities for learning across generations, and creating the kind of flexible roles that make nonprofits attractive to workers of all ages."

"Money is always a concern for nonprofits, but money is not the only organizational resource," said Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers and work. "Human resources are as significant as financial ones, and this new research raises the prospect of a vast new market for human resources - and a new fantasy for nonprofit leaders: What if talent were no object?

"What if a modest percentage of boomers pursue encore careers and a fraction of organizations change attitudes and practices to recruit and retain them?" Freedman continued. "The result would be a genuine windfall of time, skills and experience in areas deeply dependent on these attributes to succeed."

You can read the complete survey.

Survey Methodology

The MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Survey of Nonprofit Employers includes both qualitative and quantitative research conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., from February to April 2008. Hart Research interviewed 427 nonprofit employers by telephone from March 27 to April 18. The sample was based on a list provided by the well-respected national list management firm infoUSA.

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