I recently watched The Intern, a film starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. The premise is that Ben Whittaker (De Niro), a 70-year-old retired manager, returns to the workplace as a senior intern working for Jules Olsen (Hathaway), the CEO of a fast-growing online fashion retailer. This being a Hollywood film, of course the outcome is that Whittaker brings a wealth of experience, maturity, calm and common sense, and that the internship opportunity gives him a new lease of life, a sense of purpose, an ability to have an impact on this successful business, and a lot of new young friends.
The main thought that has stayed with me is that we will all need to work for much longer than our parents did. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers in the corporate world have typically worked for a small number of employers during their careers, and have been able to retire with reasonable pensions. My X generation have seen a swing in their working lives towards a more varied career with a range of organisations, and a recognition that with the demise of the final pension scheme we will need to work well into our sixties, if not into our seventies, in order to maintain a decent income for our longer life expectancies. And so it goes on down the generations.
So, if we are all going to work into our seventies, then at some point it is likely we will need to or want to try something new.
I have been an HR specialist for the vast majority of my career but could imagine working in animal welfare during my twilight years. My 68-year-old mother would love an internship in a Michelin-starred kitchen, and my husband dreams of retraining from banking to marine biology. Every single person over the age of 50 that I have spoken to on the subject has some alternative career options.
HR professionals are well aware that a diverse workforce – especially one that mirrors your client base – can improve business results. This diversity should include diversity of age, especially when by 2020 over-50s will make up a third of the UK workforce. The engagement and employment of over-50s employees will be critical to economic growth over the coming years.
Could my mother bring some balance, calm, and mature leadership to a working kitchen? Definitely. Is she likely to be offered a position when her last paid role was some 20 years ago? Possibly not. So here is where the internship for older workers would come in to play.
My searches have come up fairly short for companies that provide internships for older people. One notable exception is Barclays, which launched its Barclays Bolder Apprenticeships in 2015. Several organisations offer support to older workers looking to get back in to work, including the likes of silversurfers.com and opportunity50plus.com, but the pull from corporate UK is either missing or very tricky to find. Equally, government advice to older workers is uninspiring, although Ros Altmann’s 2015 government-commissioned report A New Vision for Older Workers is thought-provoking and worthy of a read.
As HR professionals I believe we have a wonderful opportunity to create enthusiasm about the benefits of bringing career changing senior interns into our businesses. Whether on a full- or part-time basis, those with many years of experience and learning should certainly bring both a mature and a fresh perspective to our organisations – and we should remember that these workers will also increasingly make up the majority of our client and consumer base. I would love to see The Intern’s Hollywood dream become a corporate reality.
Natalie Bickford is European HR director at Sodexo. She is ranked sixth on the HR Most Influential Practitioners list