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Working as a Senior in Our Digital Economy

    This Post is Intended for a Mature Audience

    Remember that announcement on television? The following program contains scenes … I believe it’s been watered down into the almost fully diluted “viewer discretion may be advised”. How can we decide if we’re mature or not? Worry not. There is no religion, politics, or sex in this post. I hope that doesn’t discourage you to read further! Working as a Senior may be less interesting to you if you are a decade or more away from your 50th or 60th birthday, but, you will get there.

    I saw a dating website the other day specifically catering to people over 50. I had my second child just before I was 50. I left my thankless employer of fourteen years and started freelancing full-time when I was 52. I’m 58 and I’ve just published another book. It never occurred to me that I am now probably considered a senior worker.

    Regardless of your age, if you want to do something, you should just go for it. One day, you will be too old to do it.

    What’s is it Like to be 60 with Your Nose to the Cloud in 2022?

    Can you see 60 from where you sit? Remember being 30? 40? We may not be the desk jockeys we once were with our noses to the grindstones, but at least our phones fit in our pockets. Remember those “Bricks” in the 80s? (I had this one, and now it’s in a museum. It cost me $2000 in 1988. That’s $5000 today. Crazy.)

    Do you recall the “Freedom 55” retirement insurance commercials in the 1980s? Freedom 55 for the end of generation Boomers, has come to mean “We have spent decades working at jobs we had to work at and now we are working at jobs we want to work at.” You would think that would have been a better place to have started, but most of us did what we had to do to pay the bills, pay off the student loans, and raise the kids. As we hit 60, some of us are now thinking of second careers or even third.

    Today we are more likely to work from remote, shared office venues, or our home offices. Nonetheless, closing in on retirement we’re still working hard to bring home the bacon as they say. The grindstone may now reside in the cloud, but our noses are pressed against it as hard as before, even if for some of us it is only out of curiosity.

    From Senior Devs to Senior Partners to Senior Citizens, the term “senior” seems to mean different things to people. The term originally meant someone of higher standing and learning or having a higher rank based on their experience. I hope it still has that meaning for you.

    The proportion of people over the age of 50 in employment has risen over the last 20 years. The over 50s make up a significant and growing proportion of the workforce: a third of all workers are over 50. (Centre for Ageing Better)

    Why do Employers Not Hire Older Workers?

    A study commissioned by AARP entitled A Business Case for Workers Age 50+: A Look at the Value of Experience showed that workers 50 and older are the most engaged cohort in the workforce. In other words, we’re keen!

    I started building websites with Graffiti – a Springer & Jacoby spinoff – in Munich in 1999. I had started learning Flash, Photoshop, HTML and co, a year previous. The internet economy was booming. We built the first online banking websites. Games and websites for Sony movies. It was awesome. I was 35. The “Digital Natives” weren’t even born yet. Ironic right?

    The other day I saw a mockup of my workspace from 1999 in a history museum in Hamburg. A history museum. “Digital Natives? Hold our Boomer beers. Yes, hold all of them.”

    An acceptance, and strategy of integration, of older employees in companies today, will make it easier for current younger employees when they themselves are in their 60s. By 2050 the percentage of the world’s population over the age of 65 will double, from 8% to 16% – while the number of minors will significantly decrease. (The Digital Cloud with a Silver Lining)

    A Guy Walks into a Bank Wearing a Suit …

    First, he walks into the bank dressed as a homeless person. Everyone knows that story. So why do employers prefer younger workers? Many reasons. Some are completely valid, many are not. Senior workers won’t switch jobs quickly, they add the benefit of in-house training, and they are generally more cost-effective. They don’t look young, but that’s your problem, not ours.

    Companies that (adapt to an ageing workforce) have seen tangible improvements …. Since B&Q began actively recruiting older workers, its staff turnover has decreased by a factor of six, while short-term absenteeism is down 39%. … older employees have been integral in creating a friendlier, more conscientious work environment. And profits are up 18%. … BMW has seen productivity jump 7% … (Harvard Business Report)

    A recruiter admitted to me that his clients wanted people that looked the part. Their experience was often a secondary consideration to that of fitting the expectations of clients and the culture of the team:

    “People can be trained. They learn. But, when customers meet them at the pitch they see what they expect – a young, hip, person. They must know what they’re doing because they’re young, right?”

    In other words, society hasn’t changed much. You still need to be able to talk about the latest TV shows around the water cooler, and we still judge books by their covers.

    Older Americans with basic digital skills or who are digitally literate have, on average, higher numeracy and literacy skills than younger Americans, underscoring just some of older workers’ assets. (Urban Institute)

    Time to Get Woke: Ageism is All Around Us

    Short answer: Yes. Ageism isn’t rampant across the board, but we have all experienced it in one way or another. It’s also not legal in many countries, so you aren’t told outright that you are too old for a job. Depending on the industry people in their 50s or 60s are far from thriving though. Online Marketing is one example. When people assume an industry is youth-centric, age can become a very problematic barrier. All the more reason to empower people of all ages to use tech.

    Technology being “the great democratiser” rings hollow at times. You still need access to tech. Tech is democratising, but only if you have access. Not everyone has the necessary bandwidth or devices. Not every child can learn from home. Not everyone can work from home. Tech still favours the unmarginalised.

    Google something like “seniors working in our digital economy” and the SERPs surprised even me. I’m hard to surprise too. I’m one of those people that looks both ways when crossing a one-way street.

    • + How to close the digital gap for the elderly
    • + How can we ensure digital inclusion for older adults? 
    • + Why do many seniors have trouble using technology?
    • + The Benefits of Social Technology Use Among Older Adults Are Mediated by Reduced Loneliness
    • + Empowering Older Adults: Improving Senior Digital Literacy
    • + Health and well-being top digital benefits for older people
    • + Ageing in the digital era – UNECE highlights key actions to ensure digital inclusion of older persons
    • + Digital e-seniors and the silver economy
    • + Is Government Doing Enough to Enable an Inclusive Aging Digital Society?
    • + Digital Technologies Can Help Older Persons Maintain Healthy, Productive Lives
    • + Ageing societies — General requirements and guidelines for ageing-inclusive digital economy

    Whether you’re searching for something on Google, watching the news, or shopping, the internet is an integral part of our everyday life. For seniors to benefit and participate in our new digital society, it takes more than the ability to send a message over Facebook Messenger. (SeniorLifeFYI)

    Is Age Bias Common? Yes.

    Ageism is more than common. Both younger people (reversed ageism) and older people report experiencing discrimination based on their age. Many studies have looked at the problem of ageism in society. It has been suggested that half of us have biased attitudes towards older adults.

    According to AARP64 per cent of workers have witnessed or experienced age discrimination.

    The titles of each article in my Google search give me the distinct impression that seniors are a very marginalised group. They may not be, but the language suggests otherwise.

    Gap, Inclusion, Trouble, Mediated, Empowering, Well-Being, Inclusion (again), Enable, Inclusive (three times), Help, Inclusive (fourth time). What stands out most for me are the words contained in the headlines of the articles.

    These words do not inspire much confidence. Seniors sound like migrants who just arrived from another planet. A technologically challenged planet.

    What Can a 60-Year-Old Do for Work?

    According to most accounts, American workers between the ages of 55 and 64 are working again at their pre-pandemic levels. Nationally, 64% of people in this age group are employed. COVID took its toll on many older workers, especially in the service industry. In many places, those employment numbers are returning to normal.

    For a lot of people, working right up until and after retirement age is often a question of necessity to make ends meet. Retiring is for some, simply not an option. For others, leaving a job at age 50 or 55 means many more employable years ahead. But where? And, how old is too “old” when it comes to working?

    According to Indeed.com, there are many jobs a senior over 60 might consider. I like that Blogger made their list, coming in at position 4. I don’t know if Nanny, position 8, is a job I would aspire to at my age though.

    Typically, part-time, service-based jobs are carried out by older workers. In addition to part-time jobs, volunteer positions and mini-jobs are useful to add to already existing savings and retirement funds.

    According to Glassdoor.com, the best jobs for people over 60 include:

    • + Bookkeeping
    • + Adjunct faculty
    • + Project consultant
    • + Retail sales
    • + Tutor
    • + Administrative assistant
    • + Real estate agent
    • + Driver
    • + Writer/Blogger
    • + Tax preparer

    What jobs typically have the oldest workforce in the US? According to USA Today, and it may come as a surprise to employers wary of placing an older worker behind a desk, some of the more demanding jobs are in fact held by the oldest workers. We’re tough nuts!

    Many of my older clients are Trainers or Coaches in a variety of fields. Using your knowledge to help others is a great freelance idea for older adults.

    Some of the professions with the oldest workforce include:

    • + Clerical library assistants
    • + Real estate brokers and sales agents
    • + Bookkeeping, accounting, auditing clerks, legal and administrative assistants
    • + Postal service clerks, mail sorters, and processors
    • + Property appraisers and assessors
    • + Construction and building inspectors
    • + Stationary engineers and boiler operators
    • + Tailors, dressmakers, and sewers
    • + Bus drivers, transit and intercity
    • + Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

    Farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers are in the occupation with by far the highest median age, at 56.8 years. This is more than two years older than any other job. Almost a third of all farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers are 65 or older. (USA Today)

    Older Workers Should Consider Freelancing

    Indeed, Freelancing regardless of the profession is a good choice whether you are 20 or 60. Freelancing sounds a bit like “you’ve made it”, even though some people may wonder if it’s a “real job”. There are many benefits to freelancing. You have more freedom, and control over your clients and colleagues, are less dependent on location and time, and you are more in control of the money.

    Like everything, there are also disadvantages to freelancing, but at 60 you’ve lived through enough rough times – you’ll make it!

    In recent years, freelancing has become more popular than ever, with more than one-third of people pursuing it. Moreover, people aren’t freelancing out of necessity. The majority deliberately choose the freelance lifestyle. This isn’t surprising when you consider the benefits and freedom of being your own boss. (Upwork)

    Self-employment is not exactly better or worse than a permanent position. It doesn’t have to be a permanent state either. For many people though, there is no turning back after having the freedom that freelancing brings.

    Freelance opportunities can expose you to professionals in the field you may otherwise not have met. It’ll also help you build your portfolio, which you can later show to a hiring manager so they understand more about your work. (Indeed.com)

    Freelancing, leading to self-employment of older workers, is not an adhoc solution because companies are hesitant in hiring either. As a recent “State of Small Business in 2022” report showed, the majority of small businesses are in fact owned by people 55 to 65 years old.

    How to Get Started as a Silver Freelancer

    There are countless possibilities to become professionally self-employed regardless of your age. Get started – just do it!

    Self-reflection – what do I want and what can I do?

    If you want to get started on your own, you need to know what you can do. Are you a marketing specialist, programmer, or salesperson? Perhaps you have little to no professional online experience, but that doesn’t matter. Offline skills can be made into online skills. Dusty online skills can be upgraded.

    Write down all the skills and knowledge you have gathered in your life so far. Don’t forget to think outside the box – what have you always known you could do but didn’t have the chance?

    The unique selling point – your freelancer DNA

    Once you’ve developed a detailed picture of your knowledge, skills and expertise, ask yourself what clients are you wanting to serve? Define your USP – your unique selling proposition. What problem can you solve? What service can you offer? What can you do better than anyone else?

    Self-marketing – your business card

    Now you’ve defined yourself as a freelancer. You have identified potential markets and clients. Now it’s time to market yourself. In addition to active marketing offline, it’s just as important to market yourself online. Build your own business card mix. There are endless possibilities available:

    • Join freelance networks like Upwork
    • Easily create your own website with WordPress
    • Develop your own social media profile such as on LinkedIn
    • Connect with people and market via email with a free MailChimp account
    • Join your local Chamber of Commerce (the internet is alive and well in rural America!)
    • Take advantage of free tools available to freelancers and small businesses (including a website) such as Google Business Profile

    Is Your Business Taking Advantage of Google My Business? It should be. If you haven’t claimed your Google My Business listing, you’re seriously missing out on discoverability and visibility opportunities. Google My Business helps your business get found on Google Maps and in “near me” searches. So, have you claimed your business listing yet? (Bridget Willard)

    Network and make contacts – your first job

    Once you have created your digital presence, you need to get yourself in front of potential customers. Make contacts both online and offline (for example at your local chamber of commerce), with other freelancers (online and at conferences and meetups) and with companies and recruiters (for example on LinkedIn).

    Your employment is now your responsibility! Freedom doesn’t come cheap.


    Need some professional Freelance advice? If you are new to the world of freelance employment, I would recommend The Unstoppable Freelancer by Jovan Cicmil. It came out in 2021, and I have a copy of the book myself.

    What recommends this book is not only the freelancing advice. The quality and care of the book itself showed me how much the author cares about and understands this subject. Based on a decade of freelance experience, this book guides you through every phase of freelance success.


    Got a Talent? Regardless of Your Age, Find Something You Love Doing and Just Do It

    This is pretty good advice regardless of age. If you aren’t finding the opportunities you want where you live, perhaps the next few years are best spent somewhere else. The internet has radically changed the need to be in any specific geographic location too. Have you thought about San Antonio? What about eastern Germany?

    Do you have a flair for languages? “Góðan daginn” means good day in Icelandic. Fun fact: Iceland had the highest employment rates among all age groups in 2018. 82.9% for those aged 55 to 59, 78.0% for individuals aged between 60 and 64 and 52.6% for those aged 65 to 69. They were followed by New Zealand and Isreal. “Shalom!” (WeForum.org)

    Some countries, like Australia, Japan, and Singapore actually discourage older workers from being employed. (ILOSTAT) I can understand trying to ensure the young have job opportunities at home, so they don’t leave for other countries. Japan and Singapore are both small nations, and Australia has other problems.

    As long as there is unemployment, I believe we should look to anyone of legal working age interested in employment. Interested in a new job? As long as you have the energy, resources, and interest to work, you should go for it. Don’t look back when you’re 80 and wish you had tried.

    How can we ensure the participation of older (all) members of society in the current digital transformation? How can we ensure that digital remains both inclusive and accessible, so that older (all) members of society are not excluded? The answers to these questions require us to first understand what participation means – namely the empowerment and autonomy of (not only) Seniors (but everybody) in society. Good digitalisation practices cannot be dictated from the outside.  We must have options – and the right support – to use technology to improve our lives. (Grandparents Can Code Too)

    Interested in assisting someone older than yourself?

    Digital Skills for Smart Seniors

    A 6 module program for seniors, family members, and caregivers

    If you are in your 70s or 80s, no longer working, and with limited digital exposure, this program may be of interest. The Smart Seniors program is about accessibility and safety. It is about citizenship and relationships. Most importantly this program is about collaboration and participation.

    Further Reading

    The New Post-60 Career Paths
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-post-60-career-paths-11644166740

    How To Keep Working Into Your 60s And Beyond
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2017/04/13/how-to-keep-working-into-your-60s-and-beyond/

    Recruiters Are Burned Out, And Gen Z Job Demands Aren’t Helping
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-07-13/recruiters-are-burned-out-and-gen-z-job-demands-aren-t-helping

    Ageing in the digital era – UNECE highlights key actions to ensure digital inclusion of older persons
    https://unece.org/media/press/358156

    The Advantages of Older Workers
    https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/research/age-smart-employer/advantages-older-workers

    Why Employers don’t Hire Older Workers? 16 Pros and Cons
    https://content.wisestep.com/older-workers/

    13 reasons why you should hire older workers
    https://eu.heraldtribune.com/story/business/briefs/2021/02/15/dennis-zink-13-reasons-why-you-should-hire-older-workers/4467495001/

    10 Reasons To Hire and Retain Workers 50+
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryhannon/2019/07/21/10-reasons-to-hire-and-retain-workers-50/?sh=1813b59a2faa

    Hire Older Workers – 5 Key Benefits for Your Business
    https://vantageaging.org/blog/benefits-of-older-workers

    With thanks for the Pexels photo by Pavel Danilyuk:
    https://www.pexels.com/photo/an-elderly-woman-with-eyeglasses-working-on-a-laptop-8425025/