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What do you want to be when you grow up?

August 21, 2023
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Rachel Slattery creates and nourishes communities of curious minds around frontier tech and better ways of working.

When was the last time someone asked you “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When was the last time you asked yourself?!

Considering how long we might live, why do we not continually revisit this question as we grow older? Taking the time to reflect and review where we are at and where we want to go next is always beneficial. Many of us are well-acquainted with the annual “review”, where employers take stock of our performance, compensation and set goals. Far less common are mid-career (and beyond!) reviews that capture a holistic review of us as individuals, where we are now and where we might want to go next? Being offered a mid-career review – or undertaking our own – will help us better plan for our silver futures.

A mid-career review is an ideal time to understand our options and empower us to negotiate the future we want. It is a time for us to become better informed about what our silver futures look like by understanding the choices we can make about training, education, work and life. It is a great time to reflect on how and when we might transition to a life where work no longer dominates.

While financial considerations are important as we grow older, we often overlook the planning we might take to ensure the longevity of our friendships, social networks, and pastimes. With the right person to facilitate a mid-career review, it can be an ideal time to clarify our aspirations and motivations as we transition to life stages where our interests, capabilities, priorities and settings may change.

With the right person to facilitate a mid-career review, it can be an ideal time to clarify our aspirations and motivations as we transition to life stages where our interests, capabilities, priorities and settings may change.

A mid-career review may help us evaluate how our work satisfies our needs to be productive, valued and included. Better work is an aspiration for all of us, regardless of age. Jobs that utilise our skills and make us feel valuable are crucial to our sense of self. Career journeys are becoming less linear as people take time out for study, training, holidays, volunteering, caring responsibilities and hobbies. Taking stock and future-scaping helps us navigate how we transition in and out of jobs with the assistance of upskilling, training, and even just a little confidence and guidance.

In a 2022 OECD report, Australia was rated above average for providing “career support” for those in mid-career. On closer inspection, most of those support services focus on job matching rather than career guidance, let alone anything about balancing non-work responsibilities or transition planning to take on roles such as caregiving, volunteering or spending time on physical or emotional well-being.

Mid-career Australians are also more likely to receive career guidance through their employer than mid-career adults in other countries. This may partially explain why mid-career adults in Australia use the advice to progress in their current job (43%) rather than transitioning to a new job (32%). And there are next to none subsidised programs for employed Australians to receive career guidance, as in many other parts of the world.

A report by the Centre for Ageing Better evaluated a significant pilot into mid-career reviews by the UK Government. It concluded that “well-founded mid-life career reviews, which consider future prospects in the context of an individual’s current situation and future ambitions, can play an important role in opening perspectives and confronting challenges and signposting to services.”

In early 2023, the Singaporean Education Minister Chan Chun Sing announced that the Singaporean Ministry of Education will look into how they can counsel mid-career workers whose careers are “at risk”, as well as how to better support those in mid-career to meet the costs of lifelong learning.

By stepping up to lead the conversation around our silver futures, organisations can help their staff and gather invaluable insights for their leaders around the changing needs of their employees. Imagine the knowledge they can gain around their workforce’s current and future intentions, signposting individuals who may be dissatisfied, benefit from training, promotion or flexibility.

Mid-career employees increasingly make up a higher proportion of the Australian workforce, according to research conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR). The share of workers above the age of 55 has more than doubled from 1991 to 2021 (up from 9% to 19%), a shift led by women re-entering the workforce in mid-life and delaying retirement. By having conversations with these employees, organisations can make better decisions to improve working environments.

Mid-career reviews are also an excellent time to reinforce an organisation’s values and outline how it can support – or not – the various options the individual may have coming up. Organisations that actively help employees plan for their silver futures will be rewarded by individuals who feel more valued, confident and motivated.

A woman I know recently went on a two-day “review” retreat run by her employer, along with 10 colleagues mostly in their mid- to late fifties. She said  there was palpable angst in the room at the beginning as they first delved into talking about their future plans. However by the end of the two days she and her group all felt they had benefited from reflecting on their options and were quite excited by the many opportunities they could now see ahead.

As time-management guru Alan Lakein famously said: “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now!”

We are interested in hearing from those who have undertaken a mid-career review. Was it a good thing to do? Did your organisation help to facilitate it?

References

Mid Life Career Review Pilot Project Outcomes: Phases 1, 2, and 3 (2013 -2015) Final report to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Published by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (England and Wales) 

OECD (2022), Strengthening Career Guidance for Mid-Career Adults in Australia, Getting Skills Right, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/e08803ce-en.

R. Chomik, & Khan, F. J., 2021, Tapping into Australia’s ageing workforce: Insights from recent research https://cepar.edu.au/resources-videos/research-briefs/australia-ageing-workforce-research-insights

Dr David Parsons and Dr Kenneth Walsh., 2021,  Employment support for over 50s: Rapid evidence review, Centre for Ageing Better https://ageing-better.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-06/Employment-support-over-50s.pdf 

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