Unretirement and Returnships

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I first wrote about the concept of "unretirement" on this blog in 2016 and I have written about aspects of it on another blog. But the term came up recently in several articles and podcasts I encountered in a new way.

While my definition of unretirement back in 2016 was returning to part-time work after having formally retired from full-time work. I also defined my version of unretirement as working at something you really wanted to do regardless of whether you would be paid to do it. For me, this meant both doing some web design for people I knew and organizations I was involved in (for pay and pro bono), some minor consulting in higher education and also volunteering.

Some volunteering work I did eventually offered me the chance to do some teaching again for a small stipend. It is very part-time work but it is teaching I really enjoy. Another volunteer position with a foundation lead to an offer to create and maintain their website for pay. My goal in volunteering was never to get paid but it is nice to be compensated for your time even if it is not at the level I was once paid as a full-time employee. Unretirement, for me, is not about making money.

But two new reasons for unretirement emerged in the past two years largely because of the COVID pandemic. The first is the need for trained workers after what has been labeled the “Great Resignation” of 2020 and 2021. These are the people leaving the working world for good. The number is estimated to be more than 3 million.

The second reason is that people who retired with no plans to work again found that what they had saved and planned as their money for retirement was inadequate. Rising prices and inflation this year haven’t helped that situation.

A third reason that is not pandemic related is that many people who retire without a plan for what they will do in retirement find themselves bored and actually missing work in some ways.

We have all heard the news stories about the shortage of workers willing to take on certain jobs that had disappeared temporarily during the pandemic. There were also workers whose jobs became so different and difficult during the pandemic (healthcare, education, service industries, for example) that people decided it was time to either retire or change careers.

Companies want to lure back recently retired employees. They may need these workers back into the office or remotely, either full- or part-time.

Another new term I have seen is “returnships.” This blend of unretirement and an internship is a paid, three-to-six-month position that offers on-the-job training. This is something that might have been offered in the past to mid-career employees. For a retiree or someone who has decided to change careers, this is a chance to pick up new skills and maybe lead to a more regular work situation. Suddenly, it seems, that some companies want to keep a connection with their older employees and use their expertise.

An opinion piece in The Washington Post headlined “The Great Resignation is also the Great Retirement of the baby boomers. That’s a problem.” In that article, Helaine Olen points to a Goldman Sachs estimate that more than half of those who had left the workforce during the covid era’s “Great Resignation” were over 55. The pandemic motivated many people to retire earlier than they had planned. She points out that “In the years leading up to the pandemic, many Americans said they wanted to work well past the traditional retirement age. In 2013, a solid 10 percent told Gallup they would ‘never’ exit the workforce.”

So, why return to work, possibly full-time work? Many Americans do not have enough money set aside for their senior years and inflation in 2022 and rising prices let them know that they were going to run out of whatever nest egg or retirement plans they had made. The article also points to a kind of “obsession with work as a way of finding meaning in life.”

This article first appeared at RonkowitzLLC.com

The Great Resignation and The Great Deflate

balloon

2021 was the year of the “Great Resignation.” We have been told that it was a year when workers quit their jobs at historic rates. This is an economic trend meaning that employees voluntarily resign from their jobs. Blame has been aimed at the American government for failing to provide necessary worker protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to wage stagnation. There was also a rising cost of living. The term was coined in May 2021 by Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at Texas A&M University.

It's now 2022 and unemployment rates have fallen sharply from their pandemic highs. The labor force participation rate - which is the percentage of people in the workforce, or looking for a job - has increased, though not to its pre-pandemic level.

It was thought in 2020 that 2021 with a vaccine would mark the renormalization of the economy, schools, and life in general. But Covid variants wiped out that vision.

It seems counterintuitive, but to economists quitting is usually an expression of optimism. You don't quit a job unless you have the prospect of another, probably better one, or you don't need to work because of a good financial situation. But the quits happened when inflation is looming, and the Omicron variant is dominating.

Some industries are seeing higher rates of quitting. It isn't surprising that leisure, hospitality, and retail are at the top. Those were hit hard by the pandemic. Healthcare is another and certainly many of those workers were just burned out by the pandemic. But the reasons given for quitting include a lack of adequate childcare and personal and family health concerns about Covid. If the pandemic overwhelmed you at your job, you might have decided to quit even without a new prospect in search of better work opportunities, self-employment, or, simply, higher pay.

Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic that there are 3 myths about this Great Resignation. One is that it is a new 2021 phenomenon. Is it really more of a cycle we have seen before or that has been moving into place for years and simply accelerated by the pandemic?

For colleges, it wasn't so much a Great Quit as it was a Great No-Show. The newest report I found from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) shows that postsecondary enrollment has now fallen 2.6% below last year’s level. Undergraduate enrollment has dropped 3.5% so far this fall, resulting in a total two-year decline of 7.8% since 2019. As with jobs, not all of that decline is because of the pandemic and it too is a trend that was evident before the pandemic. But Covid didn't help the decline.

Add to these one more "Great" that I see talked about - The Great Deflate. This is the idea that rather than our economy being a bubble that will burst, it's a balloon that is deflating. In "The Great Deflate" by M.G. Siegler, he talks about a more gradual trend. Picture that helium balloon floating at the ceiling on your birthday that day by day has been slowly moving down as it deflates. No burst, just a slow, steady fall.

Is there a connection among all these trends? Certainly, the connection is the economy. Perhaps, there won't be a stock market crash or something like the Dot Com bubble burst, but we see stock market drops of 1, 2 or 3% pretty regularly. Those are significant drops.

Since May 2021 when Anthony Klotz coined "The Great Resignation," other terms have emerged including “The Great Reimagination,” “The Great Reset” and “The Great Realization” terms that express the re-examining of work in our lives. But the quitting wave hasn't broken yet and so Klotz has more recently made three not-so-surprising predictions.
The Great Resignation will slow down
Flexible work arrangements will be the norm, not the exception
Remote jobs will become more competitive


Economists say rapid quitting and hiring will continue in 2022 despite omicron wave

A Toast to the Tech Future

Businessman holding transparent tablet innovative future technology

LinkedIn Top Voices in Tech & Innovation were asked their thoughts about the technologies shaping the future of how we live and work. I'm wary of "thought leaders" and prognostication in general, but I know it is part of all this. There are buzzworthy topics that I have written about here - the metaverse, NFTs, Roblox - which are all starting to have an impact but likely have not changed your present.

Here are some links to these voices. See if someone piques your interests and read their post or follow them.

Allie Miller - Global Head of Machine Learning BD, Startups and Venture Capital, AWS - Miller is all about AI

Anthony Day - Blockchain Partner, IBM -  blockchain in crypto, NFTs and other trends and innovations

Asmau Ahmed - Senior Leader, X, the moonshot factory - she posts about her company’s latest work - robots, access to clean and reliable power, improving availability of safe drinking water (by harvesting water from air)

Many of these people are consciously or unconsciously also posting about who they are and how they got to where they are - and perhaps, where they want to go.

Avery Akkineni - President, VaynerNFTT which is Gary Vaynerchuk’s new NFT venture.

Bernard Marr - Founder & CEO, Bernard Marr & Co. - a self-defined futurist, he writes cars, phones, delivery robots, trends in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Cathy Hackl - Chief Metaverse Officer, Futures Intelligence Group - how many CMOs have you heard of so far? Her agency helps companies prepare for the metaverse.

Martin Harbech worked at Google and Amazon prior to Meta (formerly Facebook) and shares news and updates from the tech industry. You might read about remote truck drivers, photorealistic avatars, or haptic gloves research. He also shares insights on new companies and the future of various industries.

Remote Learning Is Not Necessarily Online Learning

remote learnersThe COVID-19 pandemic forced schools and corporate trainers to move their content online. Teaching and training went remote. But are remote and online learning the same thing? I see the terms used almost interchangeably.

Remote teaching, training, or learning has been done before there was an Internet to get online. Correspondence models and instructional TV/video predate the Internet. Today, we are using Skype and Zoom lectures, apps and tools but remote learning is still considered different from online learning.

I have taken classes and done training remotely that don't have many of the elements of a classroom experience. Things like reading assignments and writing assignments, assessments, collaboration on work, or full discussion boards are not used. For example, I have watched a series of history lectures that were mostly one-way experiences. I watched and although there was an opportunity to ask questions in chat or a Q&A time if you were watching live, this is not online learning.

Online learning should be more robust. It resembles more of what we consider to be "education" and would include interactive modules, assessments based on real-world scenarios, discussion forums designed to discuss and solve problems, synchronous learning sessions that involve discussions and problem-solving. There may still be live or recorded lectures, but that is not the only component.

Remote learning certainly has a place, especially in corporate and training situations. This can be pre-recorded content that can be used as needed, has a shelf life, and can be viewed again by users if necessary. Training on using software is a good example of content that works as remote learning. "But it's all online," you might say, "Why isn't it online learning?" Well, it is and it isn't.

Educators have long been trying to elevate engagement in online learning. It is not training. It requires a teacher or facilitator. Some elements are synchronous. Progress is monitored.

I hedged on my title for this post - "Remote Learning Is Not Necessarily Online Learning" - because fortunately, some training uses the elements that we consider to be integral to online learning. And, unfortunately, some online learning seems to be more like just remote training. And training and education have both been experimenting with hybrid models where learners and instructors can be in the same classroom working together but be extending the classroom online.

Remote learning is not inferior to online learning. It has its place in the broader "learning" experience. Remote learners sitting on their couch at home with a laptop may look the same as students taking an online course, but what is being provided to them, what they are expected to do with that content and what is the final expectations for that learning should be different. Putting a label on learning platforms is tricky, but it is important to know the differences.

 

The Virtual Internship

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The in-person internship

Internships for college students (and sometimes high school students) have long been a good experience. They help young people develop a professional aptitude, learn real-world skills, and often create an opportunity for a follow-up job. They took a hit during the pandemic with offices closed and a reluctance on both sides to be out in the world.

Virtual internships became a thing. I assume some existed before but not in great numbers. I read about some undergrads at Brown University who began Intern From Home in March 2020. They wanted to salvage internships during the pandemic for classmates with a free, simple-to-use platform. They were connecting students at more than 200 colleges with virtual internships and it looks like they have doubled that.

They were not the first to do this. Sites like virtualinternships.com offer college and high school students internship opportunities.

When I was a college student many moons ago, internships were rare. When my sons were undergrads, internships were fairly common but often unpaid and in some cases, students had to pay tuition in order to get credit for the experience. If money is an issue for you as a student (as it was for me), then an unpaid summer or semester was not likely. The National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) reported that the average hourly wage for undergraduate interns rose from $16.35 in 2014 to $18.06 in 2017.

Career exploration is a big plus for internships. I knew several fellow undergrads who did internships or worked in the field that they planned on after graduation and the experience led them to decide that they did not want to pursue that career. That is disappointing but important.

Reading a report from the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions CCWT and other sites all list similar benefits for the internship experience.

    Gain valuable work experience
    Explore a career path
    Give yourself an edge in the job market
    Develop and refine skills
    Receive financial compensation.
    Network with professionals in the field
    Gain confidence
    Transition into a job

 

infographic

Infographic - for larger size see ccwt.wceruw.org

It is disappointing that a new study of online internships shows that, among more than 10,000 students at 11 colleges, most virtual internships last year went to students in middle- and upper-income families. Also more positions were unpaid than paid. (Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin- Madison) They also found that there were higher levels of dissatisfaction with virtual internships compared to in-person experiences. Not unlike online learning, students listed limited opportunities for engagement and learning.

Is Your Job Future Proof?

book coverAmber MacArthur's newsletter turned me on to a new book by The New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose called Futureproof. which considers the question Is your job future-proof? 

First thought: Is any job future-proof? I'd guess that we will always need doctors, farmers, teachers, police and a bunch of other professions, but as they change will they remain recognizable as their former professions?

As a teacher, I've been hearing for decades that we'd be replaced someday by computers, robots, and artificial intelligence. It hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean it won't happen after I have left the planet.

The age of automation has been with us since the last century. We have all seen how some industries, like automakers, have automated many jobs that were done by humans. Some humans are still there working with robots and such but not very many. I once toured a beer bottling facility and the observation area was decorated with a timeline showing the place over the years. The thing that immediately hit me was that as we moved through the 20th-century photos was that people were vanishing from the photos. A crowd of humans was putting bottles into boxes in the 1920s and on the floor in front of me now was one person on a platform operating controls for it all to be done by automation.

Automation doesn't take breaks, call in sick, slow down at the end of the day, join a union, or mind working 24/7 for no extra pay.

Futureproof's subtitle is "9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation" and the first rule is to "Be Surprising, Social, and Scarce." Roose's approach is to do things yourself to protect your job.

It's not about defeating the machines because they are here and not leaving and it doesn’t just change our jobs. It changes our entire life experience with AI and algorithms influencing what you watch on screens, what you listen to, the news you get, and on and on. 

It's not about becoming like a machine. In fact, Roose thinks you need to be more human. What are the creative, inspiring, and meaningful things you can do that even the most advanced AI can’t do? At least, not yet.

Better technology for medical imaging was welcomed into hospitals, but you still needed humans to read those x-rays, scans, and such. But now, we are finding that AI might be able to more accurately read those results without bias and using comparisons to an ever-growing data collection of other results. 

Chess and Go players once thought no machine could beat a master. Wrong.

There is too much in the book to summarize here but think about some of these provocative personal rules: Resist machine drift; Leave handprints; Demote your devices; Treat AI like a chimp army.
 
Think about one of those rules: "Leave Handprints." It's the idea that we still value human artisanship and service. People are willing to pay a premium for some handmade items - such as artwork - or to be served in a restaurant.