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School for the Second Half of Life

Encore Career Institute targets boomers for online job retraining

Lansing began thinking about a way to help retirees after she left Paramount Studios at age 60 to start a foundation dedicated to cancer research and education. "I got obsessed with my demographic," says Lansing, now 66. "Nobody was paying attention to people over age 55 who are living healthy longer and want to give back."

After Lansing joined the board of Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based think tank focused on boomers, work and social purpose, she was inspired to develop two programs using retirees as volunteers and math and science teachers in California high schools. "Then I started thinking about ways to expand that model," she says. "Everybody wants to reinvent themselves, but nobody knows how."

About two years ago, Lansing began discussing potential projects with Creative Artists Agency, which represents George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities. CAA also handles marketing and brand creation for social causes, says Michael Yanover, the agency's head of business development.

"We're good at recognizing cultural shifts and giving them a bit more juice," he says, citing CAA's role in helping to turn former Vice President Al Gore's PowerPoint presentation on global climate change into the movie An Inconvenient Truth.

Other schools may follow

Although details on the marketing strategy and involvement of the agency's star power are yet to be determined, Yanover says one of the goals of the campaign will be to tap into older adults' intentions to pursue encore careers while convincing employers of the benefits of mature workers. "If we do this right, we'll create a social movement, the by-product of which will be the success of ECI," Yanover says.

Many experts on aging have long called for a school for the second half of life, and the Encore Career Institute could fill the bill, says Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University's Center for Longevity: "This is huge — it's like a bowling ball that's been shot down the lane."

ECI could be a tipping point, Carstensen adds, providing an infrastructure so that older workers feel less like pioneers struggling on their own. "Just to have a single website or phone number to help find the training you need to re-skill is big step forward." Eventually, other universities may follow suit, she says, so that education occurs throughout one's life.

Meanwhile, Poizner says, meeting ECI's aggressive launch date is a big challenge. "But once we're up and going, there's an international opportunity," he says. "The great thing about online education is that the teachers and the students can be anywhere in the world."

You may also like: Health care jobs for retirees. >>

Elizabeth Pope frequently writes about job and work issues for the AARP Bulletin.

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