- Rosanna Dickinson, 52, became an intern for an online magazine company
- Older workers are becoming increasingly valued for their life experience
- It’s estimated that by 2020 a third of the workforce will be over 50
Rosanna Dickinson flinched as a stream of words she’d never heard before came thick and fast. ‘Listicles’, ‘shareability’, ‘native advertising’ – they seemed to be everyday terms to her colleagues, but she didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.
She felt sick with nerves. But perhaps that wasn’t surprising. After all, it was her first day as an intern for an online magazine company.
But it wasn’t just that. For while most people doing internships – unpaid work experience – are teenagers or twenty-somethings, Rosanna was a rather more mature 52 years old.
Having been out of the workforce raising her three children for more than a decade and having lost her beloved husband Rupert in 2011, she’d decided to go back to work last year. She craved the normality a job brings to your life. But, like so many women trying to return to work after a career break, the former publishing executive had lost her confidence and worried she had nothing to offer an employer.
So it has ever been, but never more so than in the past decade when technology has moved on more quickly than at any other time in history.
Today, you’re not just returning to the nine-to-five, you’re returning to a new world of smartphones, video-conferencing and sophisticated technology – terrifying to anyone who hasn’t grown up with it.
hankfully, employers are beginning to wake up to the problem. And as older workers become increasingly valued for their experience, dependability and communication skills, firms such as Barclays and KPMG are ripping up the rule book and creating internships specifically for people over 50. Lasting anything from a week to a year, the aim is the same – to ease people back into the workplace.
The phenomenon has even formed the basis of a Hollywood film called The Intern, in which Robert De Niro stars as a widower floundering in grief who finds a new lease of life when he accepts a work experience post at a fashion website.
It could be Rosanna’s story.
After being made redundant from her book publishing job in 2004, she devoted herself to bringing up her children, Atty, now 22, and 20-year-old twins Joshua and Caspar.
But in 2007, her property developer husband Rupert was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, finally succumbing to the illness in September 2011, aged 51.
‘I’d cared for Rupert for four years and when he died, I felt completely bereft – very alone and frightened,‘ says Rosanna, from Shepherd’s Bush, West London. ‘The future seemed dark and forbidding.
‘In the depths of my grief, I’d stand in Tesco not knowing what to buy. I knew I had to do something to snap out of this – what I craved most was normality, hearing the alarm clock, getting on the Tube, going to work – but I didn’t know where to start.
‘Technology had boomed and I didn’t have the skills to return to my old career. I was a technophobe without a laptop or smartphone and no knowledge of social media. I just didn’t know what to do.’
Two months before the internship started, I did have sleepless nights worrying about everything from getting to work on time to what I should wear. I was convinced everyone in the office would laugh at me
Then, out of the blue one day last year, an old friend rang her. Robert Campbell ran an online lifestyle firm called High50, offering advice to over-50s on topics including travel, health and finance. He was looking for older interns to bring wisdom and experience to his young team – did she know anyone?
‘Before I knew what I was saying, I had volunteered myself,’ says Rosanna. ‘Afterwards, I was quite frightened about what I’d done as I didn’t want to look foolish or let anyone down but my children were very supportive and told me I had nothing to lose. Besides, nothing could be worse than losing your husband.
‘That said, for the two months before the internship started, I did have sleepless nights worrying about everything from getting to work on time to what I should wear. I was convinced everyone in the office would laugh at me.’
The first day she walked into the company offices, a 20-minute journey from her home by Tube, it was like straying into an alien world.
‘Even having to ring a bell to be let in was terrifying,’ she says. ‘Then, when I got there, there were no telephones – everyone had headsets plugged into their computers and they were all working so intently there was no office banter.’
Her brief was to provide articles that could be posted on the website. But it wasn’t that simple.