Events of the last several years: large-scale restructuring of the pharmaceutical industry, processing of cheap U.S. natural gas, outsourcing of jobs, the recession and other factors, are forcing many chemists to reinvent their careers. This includes those of you in the later stages of your career. For this purposes of this blog, I’ll call these later stages “phased withdrawal from full-time employment.” We definitely need a word to refer to this phase of life. I checked various dictionaries and thesauruses and they offer no help at all. So in the absence of an accepted term and to avoid clumsy phrases, I’ll use the words “retiree” and “retired.”
Del Webb Corporation, America’s largest builder of retirement communities, conducts periodic surveys of people 50 years of age and over to determine their interests in what used to be called “the retirement years.” In 2010 nearly 40% of current “retirees” reported they were actually working. Finances are certainly one reason but others included warding off boredom/keeping busy, self satisfaction, and simple enjoyment. There was also high interest in volunteering. Reasons for this interest include the ones given previously plus “for the enjoyment, feels good, and to help others and give back to the community.”
The growing percentage of baby boomers working in what traditionally has been called their retirement years offers a major opportunity for companies and other organizations that would benefit greatly from tapping their skills. These boomers need not compete with younger and mid-career chemists but instead offer valuable advice and even mentorship.
So what are the options for chemists in both traditional and non-traditional careers?
Back to campus
Many colleges and universities offer their standard courses for non-credit to retired individuals. Many schools allow their alumni to attend these courses for free. (This was a major factor in my considering relocating to Chicago last year.) Besides allowing chemists to pursue long-postponed interests (put me down for history courses), retired chemists can keep their scientific knowledge up to date. They can also take courses to improve other work-related skills such as writing and public speaking. Another option is to improve one’s public speaking skills by participating in Toastmasters clubs.
One can also do other things on campus besides being a student, such as attending lectures by outside speakers. In the case of chemists, these speakers are often outstanding chemists from other universities in North America and even overseas. By being active in your ACS local section, you may be able to develop the contacts or networks necessary to be invited to speak occasionally on campuses about various aspects of industrial chemistry, job hunting and other subjects. I am only one of many ACS career consultants invited to campuses to speak on job hunting and careers.
In an effort to maintain access to their older employees’ expertise, some companies are offering them the option of working part time or even hiring them back on a contract basis. Senior employees now have a way to transition gradually to full-time retirement, often at their own pace, while their employers maintain access to their hard-won expertise. In an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey of 1,000 human resources managers, 69% indicated their firms are trying to keep older workers on staff as part-time employees. For example, Abbott Laboratories “Freedom to Work” program allows older employees to continue to work part-time. Since its launch in 2008 more than 400 Abbott employees have participated in the program.
According to Lesli Morasco, a Director of Benefits at Abbott, this program doesn’t interfere with younger employees’ career advancement. Indeed, being mentored by a part-time Senior Researcher can help younger employees take on bigger and more complex projects. Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Director of Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work suggests that having a highly experienced researcher as a mentor to train a newly hired scientist can help that person master their job responsibilities more quickly.
Companies can even access the knowledge of retired scientists and engineers who spent their careers working for other companies by working with placement firms such as YourEncore (http://acscareers.wordpress.com/tag/retirement/). In many cases these part-time scientists and engineers work out of their home offices rather than relocating to another city.
Professional societies offer another means to remain involved in various aspects of chemistry, such as The American Chemical Society (ACS). Technical divisions and local sections within ACS offer many opportunities for retirees to organize programs and manage other activities to help these organizations better serve their members. Other organizations such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers, National Association of Corrosion Engineers and American Association for the Advancement of Science and other groups offer similar opportunities for chemists working in various specialized and interdisciplinary fields. Trade associations such as the American Oil Chemists Society and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American also offer volunteering opportunities.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. As an ACS Councilor, he serves on the Joint Board – Council Committee Patents and Related Matters.