Never in a million years did Cheryl Delaney expect to spend her retirement working with the elderly. Her entire career had been in the financial sector — as a bank officer and loan administrator, in collections and finally as an office manager at Fidelity Investments in Boston. Changing bedpans was not on her bucket list.
But life unfolds in strange ways. In 2004, Delaney was looking for a new position in banking and visited retirementjobs.com, which offers job listings and career advice for people over 50. Three years later she decided to leave Fidelity and stop working full time. She did some administrative work, renovated her home in Milton, and was “very happily retired.”
Until she wasn’t. By the end of 2012 she was paying way too much attention to her TV. “My dogs were getting on my nerves,” she said. She considered returning to work, but emphatically did not want to go to an office.
Around the same time she got a call from Mature Caregivers, a sister site to retirementjobs.com. They were looking to place caregivers older than 50, and had found her information in their database. Might she be interested?
“I said, ‘I don’t have medical experience,’ ” Delaney, now 66, recalled. “They said, ‘You just need to have common sense.’ ” A week later she went in for an interview. Today, she works four hours a day, five days a week, at Boylston Place, an assisted-living facility in Brookline.
Delaney’s story is an object lesson for retirees. Many worry that their skills aren’t applicable to new industries, that their expertise isn’t transferable, and that they will have to reinvent themselves to remain competitive. This, of course, can be overwhelming.
“There’s a real myth around reinvention, particularly when you talk about people in their 60s and 70s,” said Nancy Collamer of Old Greenwich, Conn., a semiretirement career expert and author of “Second-Act Careers.” “Why would you want to throw away all of that life and work and professional experience? It’s so much more about reconfiguring, taking the old and blending it with the new and coming up with something that’s going to excite you in the second half of the third quarter.”
A 2008 AARP study found that 83 percent of workers were interested in programs to build new skills and advance their careers. Ninety percent, however, wanted training to update their current skills and knowledge.
“It’s so much easier for people to do that if they can lean upon some aspect of what they did before,” Collamer said. “The goal is to take a step back and look — ‘OK, what is it about being an accountant that I really enjoyed?’ You might discover that the thing you enjoyed most was going to the conference and meeting other people in the field.”
That’s something Marie Ardito learned about herself after retiring at 62 from teaching elementary and junior high school math. Two weeks into retirement she grew “antsy” and took a job as executive director of a retirement group. Now 77, Ardito is the information coordinator for Massachusetts Retirees United, a nonprofit. A large part of her job involves conducting seminars and motivating retirees, many of whom are former educators.
“One of the things that drives me crazy is the comment, ‘I can’t do anything but teach,’ ” Ardito said. “I say, ‘If you can relate to kids, normally you can relate to anyone.’ The skills are transferable.”
To help people figure out how their old skills can be used in new ways, Encore.org coordinates a network of organizations offering a fellowship program. Applicants must have a minimum of 15 years of work experience, but typically have about 25 years, said the national director, Leslye Louie. During the fellowship period — which lasts from six to 12 months, part time or full time — participants receive $20,000 to $25,000 ($35,0000 in New York) for 1,000 hours.
“Oftentimes people don’t even know how their skills are transferable — that’s the number one reason people apply,” said Louie. “I think skills are lifetime assets, and ideally you’re constantly acquiring them and using them.”
That is something Kathy Quiett discovered. A manufacturing technician at Intel in Rio Rancho, N.M., for more than two decades, Quiett, 56, decided it was time to do something new. She applied for an Encore fellowship and was accepted. But when Louie asked her what kind of work she might enjoy, she was stuck.
“I said I liked to rescue small dogs and cats,” recalled Quiett, who relocated to Melbourne, Fla., with her husband in November. Louie came back with an offer: How would she like to help open a sea turtle healing center at the Brevard Zoo, in Melbourne?
She jumped at the chance. Never mind that her previous work was not remotely related to animals (or water). “They were looking for someone who could help when the turtles come to the zoo, to input into the computer whether or not they have certain diseases, what their name is, and so on, and I do have computer skills,” she said.
Louisa B. Hellegers also used her old skills in new ways post-retirement. In November 2009, Hellegers, now 66, left her job as an editor at Cambridge University Press. She immediately took a volunteer job running the search committee for a music director for an amateur singing group in New Jersey.
About a year later she applied to be an Encore fellow, and in the summer of 2011 she was placed at the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit in Manhattan that offers employment services for recently released prison inmates. Her job was to work on in-house staff development, which required editorial, interviewing, training, and marketing skills. “I was doing coaching and mentoring of people,” she said.
After her fellowship ended Hellegers stayed on as director of organizational development. In August she retired — again — and was planning to travel with her husband. But then she got a call from Encore. The director for the New York Encore Fellows program was leaving, and Encore wanted to know if she would be interested in taking the job. She was.
No one is more surprised by her transition than she. “When I left my old job I was told that I couldn’t go anywhere but in publishing,” she said. “It wasn’t until I did the music director search that I started to realize, ‘Wow these skills were really transferable.’ ”