Exploring the ‘encore career’

When John Langmore was undertaking his undergraduate degree in social work and economics at the University of Melbourne in the late 1950s, he couldn’t have imagined that he would eventually take a position as a professor at the same university, some 50 years later.

Following a career that spanned public service in Papua New Guinea, 12 years as a Labor MP in the Australian Federal Parliament and seven more as a divisional Director in the United Nations Secretariat in New York, at the age of 64 John found himself back in Australia, with no job prospects but with a keen desire to continue working.

“The UN has an enforced retirement age of 64 but I still felt fully capable of doing a full time job and really wanted to keep working,” recalls John.

Unsure of what to do and not finding the positions he was hoping for, John took on the voluntary role of National President of the UN Association in Australia. That position led him to be giving a talk at the University of Melbourne, which caught the attention of a representative of the Vice Chancellor, who suggested he apply for an honorary position of Fellow at the university.

“They gave me a desk and I started doing some writing and then after about six months I was asked if I’d like to run a subject for graduate students,” says John.

“The subject was on the UN, which I knew well, but preparing a new subject was a complex task. I had to hit the books again and read up on what I was going to teach. I drafted a syllabus, chose their textbooks and launched in!”

After a while, one subject turned into two and as that meant John was doing two thirds of a full lecturing load he was appointed as a half time Professional Expert, a position he has now had for a half dozen years, into his late 70s.

“I love teaching,” he declares, adding that he’s been surprised by how much he enjoys passing on to students what he has learnt in his earlier careers. He is surprised also to find himself in this fourth career at the end of his working life.

According to Jane Figgis, a scholar and researcher for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, teaching is a wonderful option for people looking to undertake what she refers to as an ‘encore career’ – a new direction in paid or unpaid work later in life.

“The desire to share their knowledge and skills and ‘give back’ to the community is a common reason people are drawn to the encore career,” says Jane. “Other reasons include a desire for more flexibility or autonomy or a drive to turn a hobby or passion into something larger.

“While some encore careers involve channelling the skills and knowledge you have into something new, some people retrain and explore something completely different,” says Jane. “Even if people have loved the career they’ve had, they sometimes feel ready to try something they’ve always wanted to do but as yet haven’t.”

To do this, further training and study is sometimes required but Jane believes that can be an appealing element of the encore career, offering engagement, stimulation and challenges in its own right.

“Studying again can be wonderful. In fact, one good way to head towards a new career is to choose some study in an area you’re interested in and see where it goes. You might choose to do a diploma in photography and later find yourself as a paid photographer or learn to make a table and end up selling hand-made furniture online.”

For John, having an encore career has not only enabled him to share his knowledge but it has kept him engaged with his former work. “I have to stay up-to-date with the UN and the issues with which it deals. It’s definitely kept me stimulated and energetic, even though the load can be tiring,” he admits. “Teaching is a wonderful privilege and I feel so lucky to be able to do it.”

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