“A lifetime of learning”: Why older employees should consider higher ed careers

 Erin Burns   December 13, 2019  Older Job Seekers

Higher education institutions have always benefited from the wisdom and experience of older adults, whether in the classroom, faculty, staff, or administration. Yet higher education also offers older employees intellectual stimulation, a sense of belonging, flexibility, and opportunities to transmit lived experiences to the next generation of leaders.

Dr. Heather Wallace serves as Assistant Professor for the Public Health program at Grand Valley State University, where she advises and teaches students in Health Promotion. Her expertise lies in health and aging. Here, Dr. Wallace shares the unique benefits that higher education institutions offer older employees.

Built-in opportunities for personal and professional growth

Higher education offers employees ample channels for cultural and intellectual engagement. College campuses also host ballets, art exhibits, even farmers’ markets. Higher ed also offers employees a rich slate of professional development opportunities, including continuing education. It’s not coincidental that the best-ranked cities to retire, like Bloomington, Indiana, are often places with major higher ed institutions. When older employees work in higher ed, they’re not simply punching a time card, but experiencing an engaging lifestyle.

A sense of community

At my university, we offer communities of practice, including one for retirees. The topics range from saving for retirement to owning a dog. Learning communities like this buffer against loneliness and isolation, which are some of the biggest risk factors for older adults.

Flexibility

Many older adults are searching for flexibility in their jobs. They don’t want to have to work a year to earn three years’ vacation time; they may have family obligations. Higher education is a great place to find flexible positions that value work-life satisfaction.

Opportunities for meaningful mentorship

While higher education institutions are in the business of educating adults to go into the workforce, they’re also in the business of providing personal and intellectual growth to their students. There’s a lot of evidence that students are hungry for this sense of personal development. Younger generations are not getting as much from organized religion like previous generations did, and they’re turning to other social structures, like CrossFit.

Older adults are the only ones who can offer true, firsthand guidance on experienced personal and intellectual growth. They have adapted to so much change—think about the people who were working in the post office with the advent of email. We can all learn from people who have navigated massive technological and societal shifts. If we, in higher ed, can learn to harness this, we can give students not only degrees but opportunities to grow as human beings.

Ready to take the leap into a rewarding higher ed career? Read Dr. Wallace’s tips for senior job seekers in higher ed.

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