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40-plus interns: Job retraining for middle-aged workers

May 30, 2013

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Scan your area to determine senior internships' impact on the local job market.

Many would-be workers are starting internships this time of year. In pondering some angles for business writers, I started thinking about the tension in today’s jobs market. There are older workers not yet ready to abandon their positions and legions of entry-level people and college grads who (according to a number of essays, online comments pages and interviews I’ve perused recently) really resent the older generation for clinging to jobs the younger group wants.

So the notion of “people of age” taking precious summer internships away from early-career folks likely won’t go down too well, either.  But it’s happening and indeed, apparently is becoming so much a part of the zeitgeist that risk-averse Hollywood is centering two projects around the notion of the middle-aged newbie.  “The Internship,” starring Owen Wilson, is about a couple of unemployed salesmen hellbent on getting internships at Google;  the company reportedly cooperated with the filmmakers.   Other reports say that Tina Fey is the hoped-for star of an upcoming production, “The Intern,” featuring a septuagenarian in the title role.

Taking a look at what some have dubbed “senior internships” might be an interesting, seasonal way to assess shifts in the local jobs market, and how people derailed mid-career may be coping with career setbacks, opportunities to change their specialties and non-traditional ways to get a foot in the door.

Try calling area employers to find anecdotal examples of “non-traditional” interns, or even posting a call on one of your news organization’s blogs for readers in such a position to identify themselves.  Tracing the career path of someone who landed a fresh start or “extended job interview,” as internships also are known, might be informative and inspiring for others in your audience.  Are companies even encouraging or facilitating this practice?  Here’s a Harvard Business Review article from last fall about “returnships” or internships for experienced professional workers. If you can find some local examples of such a program, you can bet your story will zoom to the top that day’s most-emailed list.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers has a variety of information about internships in its press room; you also can try asking for access to proprietary surveys the group conducts about internship and co-op work.   I would also try talking with unions, especially those for skilled trades like electricians and machinists, about any intern or apprentice programs they conduct.  Don’t forget about public service occupations like law enforcement, too — though as this article about a lawsuit shows, senior citizens apparently are not in hot demand as police cadets.

You can look for public, private or partnership programs that facilitate job retraining for mid-career folks; here’s a year-old Fiscal Times piece that references an Encore Fellowships Program for people hoping to transition to the non-profit sector.  And WFMY in North Carolina reports about a college placement program helping older people find internships; be sure to check with community college and vocational schools about similar efforts in your area.  And Forbes recently reported on an interesting internship program, Pathways to Work, that the government of Ireland has set up to help older workers; be sure to inquire at your state’s workforce commission and of industry/professional groups about other initiatives.

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