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Rethinking the internship – an upskilling opportunity for experienced professionals 45+

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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