We caught up with Lisa Jones, a Career Consultant for the Forces Employment Charity’s Executive Programme, to discuss the topic of returning to work in your fifties.
The Executive Programme works with serving personnel, veterans, dependents and spouses, regardless of rank or length of service, who want to work at an executive or management level. The programme helps clients find work, and Lisa, a qualified coach, provides advice and guidance to clients, to help them secure a job and achieve their chosen career path.
Returning to work
Often when we talk about returning to work, we imagine someone who has retired from work and then, for various reasons, decides to re-enter the workplace.
However, Lisa also explained how returning to work within the Armed Forces community can mean returning to – or commencing – civilian work after having left the Forces.
The Armed Forces is quite a youthful workforce, with majority of Service leavers being encouraged to leave by the time they are 55, in order to ‘create opportunities for those coming up behind them’.  The over-50 bracket in the Armed Forces community can therefore face the potentially daunting prospect of needing to retire from the Forces, and make decisions on moving into a new career. Sometimes this challenge can make retirement seem an easier option, even if the individual is not ready to stop work. However, the Forces Employment Charity is here to support veterans to help them decide what work they want to do, and how to achieve this.
Why are over-fifties returning to work?
Recently the return of over-fifties to work has been a topical discussion in government, following reports that 6.6 million people are classed as ‘economically inactive’ – meaning they are not in work and are not seeking work – and over one million of those are within the 50-64 age bracket who retired early. 
The Covid-19 pandemic has been implicated in contributing to workers retiring early, with many who were made redundant or placed on furlough during the pandemic not returning to work. In the over-fifties group there are other factors too, such as being in ill-health or caring for older family members, which can influence an individual’s decision to give up work prematurely. For some, ceasing work can be a solution to juggling multiple commitments. 
However, the cost of living crisis has caused a growing number of people to return to work, whilst others have felt the desire to do something to provide them with more purpose and add value.
Challenging negative perceptions
Some employers have a negative perception of hiring older people. Research conducted by the Forces in Mind Trust, commissioned by the Officers’ Association – which merged with RFEA to form the Forces Employment Charity in 2022 – found that ‘over a third of 50+ Service leavers reported experiencing ageism, anti-military bias or both’  when searching for employment.
There is a perception that older Service leavers are set in their ways. This, Lisa explains, is inaccurate, with the opposite actually being true. Service personnel have to change roles, jobs and locations throughout their career in the Armed Forces, which means that they are highly flexible and adaptable.
The Forces Employment Charity works with employers to alter this incorrect perception, and encourages them to see the benefits that military personnel can bring to the workplace.
There is also a misconception ‘that older Service leavers have career and salary expectations which are unrealistically high’ whilst reporting suggests that Service leavers actually have a range of aspirations for their careers after leaving the military.  Lisa’s skills as a qualified coach are especially helpful in helping clients realise what it is they want from and value in their work, and how they can prioritise these in their job search.
Some older job seekers can feel ‘out of touch’ with newer technologies and processes. To counter this, training can be sought and individuals can keep on top of their personal development, and our Career Consultants can also advise on this. Moreover, Serving personnel can access learning credits throughout their career, as well as additional ones when they are in transition, to spend on qualification and training, which allows leavers of any age to upskill.
Our Career Consultants can also advise on areas where an individual might want to learn further skills, and if there are tech interests or requirements, then our TechVets programme can be a good place to start.
On a personal level, returning to work after leaving the Armed Forces can be a challenging or overwhelming prospect. Some veterans can experience a sense of loss or question whether any other job could match their experience in the Armed Forces. Ex-Service personnel can also lack confidence or self-belief, particularly if they have Served for many years, or if the military has been their only job. These challenges can, of course, affect Service leavers or ex-Serving personnel of any ages.
This is where the Forces Employment Charity steps in; we’re here to provide one to one, tailored employment support. Much of Lisa’s role in the Executive Services team is about coaching, mentoring and restoring confidence in individuals, helping them to decide what they want to do next in their career, as well as providing practical job-seeking support.
One client Lisa worked with had served for 34 years, having joined the Army as a Private Soldier and left as a Lieutenant Colonel. The client explained how, following Lisa’s guidance, ‘I left the process feeling very informed and with more confidence in how to better build my CV and bring it to life. This was an area I had been worrying about in terms of how to frame my experience after 34 years’ service… Lisa was great to talk to, she engaged at the correct level and understood, through experience, the level at which to pitch her recommendations and advice.’
Another client commenced a completely new line of work in his mid-fifties. Although not returning to work, as he had been in continuous employment, he was starting afresh and reinventing himself within a new industry and new role.
He explained how, ‘Following redundancy in my mid-fifties from a role I had worked in for 16 years, in an industry I had worked in for 24 years, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. The support I received from my advisor at the Forces Employment Charity helped to build my confidence and provided me with helpful guidance as I decided what kind of role and which industry I wanted to work in next. My advisor helped me through the whole process of updating my CV and she prepared me for an interview. I was delighted when I got the job. It’s in a new industry and a completely different position to my previous role, and I’m really enjoying it.’
Positives of having over-fifties in the workplace
There are a number of benefits of hiring over fifties in the workplace. Having a variety of ages within a workforce can increase the diversity of an environment, ensuring that there are multiple perspectives, more innovation and creativity, and more informed decisions being made within an organisation.
Moreover, Service leavers who are 50+ bring with them a plethora of skills that they acquired during their military service. These include communication, teamwork, planning, leadership, problem-solving abilities, the ability to work in difficult and stressful situations, and inspiring and motivating others, all of which are transferrable skills that are crucial to managerial or strategic management roles.
Service leavers who are over 50 also have qualities that make strong business sense to employers.
Service leavers tend to stay longer in a role, particularly if they have evidence that they were in the Armed Forces for a long time. Such higher retention rate makes it more cost-effective for employers.
In addition, having older, more experienced members in the workforce allows for junior team members in the team to be mentored. Colleague-to-colleague learning is a positive and cost-effective way to train team members, and pooling skills only enhances a team’s capabilities. It works both ways, allowing more experienced staff to feel valued, as well as teaching less experienced workers. Plus, in a world of work where personal development is hugely emphasised, employers’ ability to upskill junior members of staff on the job only serves to make the employer look more appealing to other candidates.
Lisa’s top tips for those returning to employment
- Focus on your ability and not your age
You are hired for your experience and skills. Focus on the kinds of roles and jobs that will want you for your ability and the experience you have gained throughout your career. Don’t be intimidated – the kinds of jobs you will be applying for are unlikely to be the kinds of roles that younger and more junior candidates are seeking.
- Keep updating your skills
By upskilling and developing, you are showing a willingness and hunger for learning, which is a highly employable trait. It also counters any misconception that employees may have that over 50s can be inflexible or reluctant to learn new things!
- Believe that can reinvent yourself
Many people in the Armed Forces identify themselves as a ‘military person’, and so can suffer a loss of identity when they leave the Forces. However, there are so many other identities – we are a myriad of different identities – and with that comes new opportunities. If you moved during your service and worked in different roles, then you have already reinvented yourself and adapted to change. Moving into civilian work, or restarting civilian work is similar – you can reinvent yourself and take on new challenges.
- Your ability to adapt and be flexible is a strength
Have faith in yourself and don’t undersell yourself. You have skills and experience that are in demand. So much of Lisa’s work is about building individual’s confidence to achieve their goals.
Networking is very useful, and using your military network is a fantastic way to learn from and talk to others. LinkedIn is a great tool for networking and connecting with others. It’s essentially a massive database of people, which provides information and job listings, and is a means of reaching the people who might be able to help you. Some Service leavers are nervous about LinkedIn, particularly if they worked in an intelligence role or similar, but you have complete control over what information you put on your profile – you can put as much or as little information on there as want. It is a tool to help you. You can read more about networking here.
If you are a 50+ Service leaver, and returning to work or looking for a new role, the Forces Employment Charity is here to support and guide you find your next role. Contact or register with us here.
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