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When The Intern, a movie starring Robert De Niro, was released in 2015, it sparked a lot of commentary about internships for older professionals. De Niro plays a retired executive who returns to work by scoring an internship with an e-commerce fashion start-up.  The movie plays up his lack of ‘cultural fit’ with the 20 and 30 somethings who dominate the business, but De Niro wins them over including the young workaholic boss, by making himself indispensable as an advisor and fixer.

Googling internships for older workers in Australia does not yield much information that would suggest this Hollywood scenario is a reality. One article came to light though, highlighting the experience of a CEO who was invited to undertake a ‘reverse internship’. The CEO did not want to stop work but also didn’t want to continue in the C-Suite. He joined a company interested in taking advantage of his knowledge and experience but also offered to transition him into a more junior role.  He was able to brush up on his social media skills and learned to navigate the new suite of office technologies that later enabled him to move into a casual position with another organization.

Internships, or ‘returnships’, which are specifically aimed at women returning to the workforce after a break, have the potential to ‘reboot’ careers for professionals reaching midlife.  The same article also described the experience of a mature-aged woman who had run her own business and wanted to move back into a corporate career. She was given an internship opportunity with an IT company where the owners were in their twenties. She was able to upskill in relation to social media but found that her networking and business development skills were much needed by the company.  This indicates an internship could provide an entrée into a second career for experienced professionals who want the challenge of something new.

Given that digital advances are transforming the workplace, it is critical for experienced professionals 45+ to continually upskill and reskill to maintain currency in the workforce. Internships for older workers could be the answer, especially in industries already feeling the pinch in relation to skills gaps, such as the tech industry.  In a blog a few weeks ago we talked about how tech workers were assumed to no longer be able to innovate once they reached their 40s and were either under pressure to leave or were pushed out.

We know that increasing automation, digitization and use of artificial intelligence (AI) will disrupt work significantly into the future, but also foster the need for new and different skills.  Retraining and upskilling will become even more pressing. There is a huge experienced workforce of professionals in their 40s, 50s and 60s, many of whom will not want to follow a traditional path to retirement. Internships for this demographic could help to change attitudes about older workers while also helping employers meet the challenges of a rapidly changing work environment.      

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1 Comment

  1. Lee Brighton

    There are issues that this article glazes across:
    1. The value of the “bonus” skills an older worker brings are harder to quantify for many companies – leading to a “risk” which many companies are unwilling to take on. HR hiring managers do not often have the scope to take on candidates outside a narrow brief. This needs to be addressed by both the person looking for a job and the company hiring people.

    This could be considered as diversity tolerance – how far outside the standard brief will you look at potential candidates if they can quantify additional skills that will add value to the business.

    2. Wage considerations come into play. How can quantify the additional value that a senior brings to justify the new hirers’ salary expectations/requirements?

    As an employer, it is hard to offer the same salary to someone with 20+ years of experience as you offer with limited experience so how do you quantify that differential. Either of the new employees will need extensive training – the younger person might well pick up the new technical skills faster as they most likely are coming from an active learning situation. In contrast, a more senior person may be slower at learning the specific skill, however, they bring a breath of additional skills with them.

    This I believe is the challenge for both groups to address.

    I can speak from personal experience and say we do hire and given internships to career transition people because we understand the value of the additional skills they bring – but that is probably because we can look back at our expansive experience across many industries and career sectors and appreciate the wealth of experiences that have offered and see that in others. With most hiring managers under 30 – how do they look at older interns and see the same opportunity?

    As with all business transactions – it comes down to perceived and real value. If younger candidates are a somewhat quantifiable and known entity, then the challenge to consider is ensuring that career transitioners can clearly articulate the additional value they bring to the business. Where possible this needs to be quantifiable facts and figures positioned in a way that does not overwhelm or seem egotistical.

    It should be noted that for a company to hire an intern – this is not a senior hire so their expectations of the candidate will be lower. As with all interviews – there is a “dance to dance” or a “fine line to walk”. The onus on the candidate to recognize and articulate their value to the employer.

    Meanwhile – we need more case studies showcasing the quantifiable value that career transition brings a business. Businesses are always keen to learn how they can do things better, faster and more efficiently. Case Studies showcasing success – costs saving and value are hugely beneficial in a marketing place desperate to find ways to recover faster.

    Oh – and as a final note – when we bring on people into our tech company who have skills from other industries – we use the term “repurpose their skills”. We do not say retrain or even train. In this way we can clearly acknowledge they have senior skills and experience in their previous industry – we are repurposing these skills to our advantage in a new tech role. It’s important that the value in each person is recognized and valued.

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