FEDEXPERIENCE: Recruiting boomers into public service

Diana Byrd has found her encore career at the Environmental Protection Agency. Photo by Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News

Interested in a public service encore career … as an IRS agent?

IBM, which has taken the lead among corporations in preparing its employees for encore careers, announced it will launch its new Transitions to Government initiative with a pilot project at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

There certainly is a need: Treasury needs to fill nearly 14,000 mission-critical jobs in the next two years, including 7,950 IRS agents and tax examiners. Also on the “most wanted” job list: procurement, information technology and accounting positions. Overall, the federal government will need to fill 193,000 mission-critical jobs in the next two years.

IBM’s program, launched with the Partnership for Public Service, builds on its Transition to Teaching program, which helps veteran IBM employees make the switch to the classroom, most often as math and science teachers. IBM has also pioneered "learning accounts," modeled on 401(k) retirement accounts, to help employees finance their transitions.

IBM and the Partnership, together with AARP, Civic Ventures and other organizations, will expand the "FedExperience" initiative to other agencies and corporations, helping match government’s critical hiring needs with the talents of baby boomers looking for encore careers.

"Boomers get their second career where they can find meaningful work, our government gets the talent it needs to fill looming shortages and the American people get a government that has the talent to service its people," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service.

The Partnership also released a report that lays out the case for connecting baby boomers with federal job opportunities, as well as some of the obstacles to such matches. The report, A Golden Opportunity: Recruiting Baby Boomers Into Government, found that older workers want to continue working, have skills the government needs and are interested in government service. Moreover, experienced workers who go into government service actually like it.

And the federal government offers many benefits of interest to older workers, including flexible work schedules, job sharing, increased vacation time for experienced new hires, and teleworking arrangements.

For example, Diana Byrd, who was laid off from a telecommunications company in her late 50s, now works as a data coordinator in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Dallas office, tracking the progress of environmental cleanup projects. The job has rekindled her passion for the environment, she told reporter Bob Moos of the Dallas Morning News.

Byrd works four 10-hour days. "That flexibility has given me the will to keep working for a long time," she told Moos.

Marc Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, said, government can set an example for other sectors "looking to maximize this historic windfall of talent and experience." But he said better recruitment methods and more flexible jobs are just the beginning.

"Making the most of this opportunity will require nothing less than a new social contract," Freedman said. "In return for working longer in areas of high national priority and social need, like government service, boomers must receive help making the transition in a way that’s both more efficient and economically viable." He said that includes changes in Social Security, pension rules, health coverage and other areas.