For many, the responsibilities and financial strain of child-rearing are easing up as the later stages of their career are opening up. But, is it too late to put your heart back into the job, or even to change career completely?

Kaye Avery, principal consultant from Career Management Specialists, says if people over 50 are open to learning, they will continue to develop skills, competence and emotional intelligence. And it's not only for career progression and satisfaction, but good health, too.

"It's no longer appropriate to view a life as having growth — development — decline," says Avery. "It is well researched that as people broaden their interests later in life and take control of their later career transitions, they are likely to maintain a good sense of well-being as well."

She says there's always been ageism in the job selection process, impacting people over 50, sometimes with significant and negative impacts. However, she has also noticed an increase in awareness of this with some organisations beginning to help their older workers maintain or update their skills, as well as helping them to manage transitions.

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"Much of this awareness has come from the fact that New Zealand has a skills shortage and so valuing the older worker, in order to retain them longer, has been important."

The diversity buzzwords in HR include the older worker and employers are recognising the value of having people in the mix who are well experienced.

"Most organisations will provide outplacement support to their older workers to manage job transitions if they are made redundant," says Avery. "In my view, this is a critical service as an older worker may struggle and this can impact on their confidence."

New Zealanders are healthier for longer and retirement is no longer inevitable and predictable for many people when 65 candles appear on their birthday cake — either because they don't have enough savings or they enjoy working and want to do it for longer.

"It's not appropriate for HR to assume a person is ready for retirement and people's financial circumstances can be so widely variable," says Avery.

She says people nearing the later stages in their career still need to think about their reputation and the ongoing development of positive networks.

"Should they need to look for new work, networking is critical," says Avery. "Being open to short-term contracts is another thing to consider as the older worker often has the ability to be flexible."

Continuing to think about ongoing development and learning is more important than ever thanks to speedy technological advances making it easy to lose skill currency. As well as learning new skills on the job, though, the twilight years of your career are also the time to find alternative interests outside work, for when retirement comes around.

"Transitioning to full retirement is best for the individual when they take control of the process — it's better to make it a slow process rather than a sudden one," says Avery. "Employers are usually open to helping the person reduce their hours and this enables the individual to take up alternative activities outside work."

Experience within organisations is a valuable resource and often overlooked, however, if the person is valued and is proactive they can often be offered opportunities to mentor new or less-experienced employees.

Jobseekers over 50 can find it hard to find work, or to consider a change in career, which is where career guidance and coaching on managing job transitions can come in handy.

"No matter your age, it's always important to enjoy work, then you can't help but be engaged in it and therefore do well with it," says Avery. "If an older person is unhappy they should change their employment quickly and effectively, but first they must be clear about the ideal role criteria and the conditions that suit them best. This takes some thinking through."

After a lifetime on the job, being clear about what you value at work — for example, what conditions you like best at work, or what kind of boss you like to work for — will go a long way towards finding a job you enjoy, to save you ending up somewhere you dread going.

"It's more difficult to change careers later in life, however, many find that they have the skills, knowledge and financial capability to begin small businesses or to consult and contract after many years of being in permanent employment," says Avery. "The issues experienced by those who make a complete change of career is that their age, yet lack of experience, may disadvantage them. However, there are some careers where age and experience is an advantage, such as in the services industries."

You sometimes feel invincible when you're young, especially when you're starting out in a career with time on your side to change direction. But, just because you're in the twilight years of your career, it doesn't mean you have to give up on dreaming of a better career (and life) — it may well be just the start of the best years of your career, with enough spare time to enjoy the rewards.