You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – or can you?

“Let’s go the movies tonight” is always a suggestion in my family that can spark off hours of debate and negotiation that can sometimes lead to us staying at home grumpy watching some B rate film on Netflix.  So when everyone agreed within 5 minutes on “The Intern” for last weekend’s viewing I was so delighted I found myself sitting in the Empire 45 minutes later with a bag of minstrels and no clue what to expect.

The story is about Ben (Robert De Niro), a bored and lonely 70-year-old hired for a senior internship program at a start-up in Brooklyn. And Jules (Anne Hathaway), the founder of a hugely successful and trendy online clothing store.   Ben wears a suit and tie in an office where the other men are unshaven and in jeans and ripped t-shirts.  He’s old school, they’re new.  You get the idea.

As well as enjoying some good old-fashioned family time, it also got me wondering how many (if any) companies actually have the imagination to give ‘older’ people new experiences?  And so I set out to find out ..

I was genuinely surprised to discover that Barclays has recently confirmed details of its Bolder Apprenticeships Programme, aimed at people aged 25 and over (with no upper age limit at all!).   Their aim is to give an as yet undetermined number of older job seekers the same opportunities the bank offers the 2,000 or so 16-to-24-year-olds who enroll in its apprenticeship program each year.  Successful interns will work towards a recognised qualification whilst also working at the bank.

Advertising agency Beattie McGuinness are now offering placements to non-graduates as their Head of Talent, Alex Brown, believes that in order to attract the very best new talent to the advertising industry you have to keep an open mind about educational background.  They found that the non-graduates were very often over 25s looking for a complete career change and wanting to bring existing skills into a more creative environment.

The Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme has been running most successfully now since 2011.  Its aim is to tackle the culture of unpaid internships by providing a nine-month paid work experience placement designed to open up Parliament to people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are interested in politics but who would not be able to work without a wage.

Working together with The Creative Society, the scheme offers 10 paid internships to people from diverse backgrounds and of all ages, in order to help Parliament become more representative of the UK population.  Successful applicants spend four days a week, Monday to Thursday, working in an MP’s office as a parliamentary assistant.

Deborah Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Media Associates was fired from her producing job after 25 years at CBS News.  She was thrown into a job market she knew nothing about and found that in order to learn the necessary skills of modern day communication (social and digital media) she had to swallow her pride (and take a huge cut in salary) and become an intern again.  I’ve cribbed her 3 key pieces of advice to any one out there in the same boat:

Create a new brand
See it as an opportunity to rebrand yourself. Make a list of your current skills, the ones you must have and those you can do without in your new work life. Then you can start researching your internship. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may be the oldest one in the group but you can always teach the younger generation a thing or two about business.

Learn new skills
The day to day of any internship might not always be full of glamorous tasks and networking and can in fact be quite tedious. The onus is on you, the Intern, to be proactive and make sure you’re really learning and getting to try new and different things.  Being older you will bring skills, expertise and sometimes contacts with you.  Ask for more responsibility, to join more projects, to sit in on meetings and conference calls, and to shadow the most active employees of your department.  Don’t be frightened to ask other colleagues or HR to be placed with people who will allow you to take advantage of every business scenario.

Network relentlessly
Go out of your way to create friendly, respectful connections with everyone you meet – you never know who might become a useful contact or a helpful reference. This may be the key to finding the perfect job after the internship ends. And don’t forget to use LinkedIn.

So, I didn’t quite find the type of “senior internship” programme depicted in The Intern movie but I was pleasantly surprised to find that businesses are getting wise to the benefits of hiring older people and keeping an open mind about how they may mutually benefit from such arrangements. It did also get me thinking about whether Change Gear would benefit from someone wise and knowledgeable to share their lifelong learning and skills with us.  Suitable applicants please apply …

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