Publisher's Perspective

Probably there have been many times you’ve heard, or said, a sentence beginning with the phrase “In my next career . . .”


It often goes down one of these paths. In my next career, I:

* will work only where they really value me.

* won’t put up with this commute.

* will be able to better balance my home and work lives.

Indeed, it has been common traditionally for federal employees to retire to another career rather than stop working altogether. Many have found that the financial security that comes with having a dependable retirement benefit coming in, along with continued health insurance protection, frees them to think about different types of work that may be more interesting or rewarding, although possibly not providing the salary level or the benefits that come with a full-time federal job.

Implicit in all of those phrases, though, is the assumption that there will be a next career—that is, that they can find other employment.

Obviously, finding employment has been a much more difficult chore in the last several years than it had been in the years before that. But what’s less obvious except to those who are experiencing it directly, is the even higher degree of difficulty for older persons looking for new employment.

A report by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work put it simply: older persons in the job market are less likely to find new employment than younger ones. Many of them are working part-time when they would prefer to work full-time, and many become so discouraged that they stop looking altogether. On average, it takes workers age 55 and older 40 weeks to find a job, 10 weeks longer than those younger.

Older workers “may not have the skills that readily translate to currently available jobs” and thus are in greater need of education and training than younger workers, but they are less likely to get it. Relatedly, many older workers rely on traditional methods of looking for work, such as reading newspaper want ads, sending out blind resumes and cold-calling companies. Their younger competition relies more heavily on techniques that are more effective these days, including social networking sites, job fairs, career centers and the like.

On the other hand, many are over-qualified for the jobs available and say that in their experience, employers consider them too expensive and would prefer to hire younger workers. In other words: age discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held hearings into the issue, where a Labor Department official said that the job market is experiencing one of the longest stretches of difficulty for older job-seekers in 60 years.

This is coming at a time when the population is aging and more employees are staying in their jobs past what would be their regular retirement, partly to keep benefits such as health insurance. That is, there’s more, and more motivated, competition up against feds who are looking to dip into the waters of a post-retirement career.

There are several potential courses for federal employees. First, of course, is to delay retirement themselves—which many have done and expect to continue doing. Senior employees have substantial job security in the federal government, even in these harrowing budgetary times.

Second is to retire but to look to the government for that next job. The government is subject to the full range of age discrimination laws, and indeed it is a fairly rare form of discrimination in the federal workplace. Most commonly, agencies value experienced workers because they can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and keep things moving along more efficiently.

There are authorities, which have expanded in recent times, allowing agencies to rehire persons without an offset between their annuities and salaries in certain situations. And once the “phased retirement” authority that has been enacted actually becomes available, agencies will be able to offer retirement-eligible employees the option of switching to part-time work while drawing both a partial annuity and a partial salary.

So, the trend of the future may be to finish the sentence that starts “In my next career I. . .” with something like “. . . will be right down the hall from here.”