Our average life expectancy is greater than ever. Already in the United States there are more than 20 million Americans in their 70s and 80s. Add to that the first wave of some 76 million baby boomers who recently hit retirement age. The 65 and over set is growing. And so is demand for products and services that address their needs.
This translates into a wealth of opportunities for you to build a meaningful career.
“There are so many potential, multidisciplinary jobs working with older adults,” said Nancy Hooyman, professor in gerontology in the UW School of Social Work and instructor for the Certificate in Gerontology. “The opportunities are broad, and that’s what makes it so exciting.”
Careers in Health Care and Social Services
Just because life expectancy is on the rise doesn’t mean we’re escaping health issues. As we live longer, we may live longer with an array of chronic health conditions. That means there’s an increased need for health care professionals who specialize in treating older adults.
If you’re interested in nursing, physical therapy or social work, you already know how essential services like these are to seniors. But that’s just a start. Seniors and their families also need help navigating their medical and insurance systems, as well as managing their finances.
“That piece of the puzzle has been missing,” noted Bonnie Shultz, associate clinical professor in the UW School of Social Work. “We have a health care system that is fragmented, and as people are living with chronic illnesses, it becomes important to find ways to help them maneuver through the system.” This is where people like guardians come in.
Guardians are decision makers. They step in to make important medical and personal decisions for seniors. At the heart of this role is the goal to be an advocate for the people you work with – to help them get the best care possible. “It’s a human being helping another human being,” Shultz said. “This is a great service.”
Jobs Outside the Box
Looking for a career outside the health care and social services fields? There’s a slew of other ways you can serve older adults with your work. You might provide business and financial services or offer recreation and entertainment options for seniors. You could work on tech devices or other products designed with the needs of older adults in mind.
“People often create their own positions in a setting that one might not think of at first,” Hooyman explained. For example, some students from the Certificate in Gerontology have put their newfound skills to work at financial institutions and other corporations. One gerontology grad was hired by the Seattle Public Library to do programming for older adults. In the end, if you have the knowledge and skills to work with older adults or develop products for them, almost any career can include serving this growing population.
Bright Career Outlook
Fast forward to 2050. The number of people over 65 is expected to be almost double what it is today, according to a U.S. Census report. Not surprisingly, this jump is the main driver behind the job growth you can expect to see in fields that serve this population.
Opportunities in professions that have long served older adults, like nursing and social work, are already growing at a faster rate than average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, projects around a 15 percent hike in employment in these areas between 2016 and 2026.
Washington state is particularly rich in services and support for older adults and caregivers, ranking first in the country, just behind Minnesota, in a scorecard published jointly by AARP, the Commonwealth Fund and the SCAN Foundation. “Washington is a great place to grow old,” Hooyman noted. “So it’s a great environment to find jobs in aging.”
Getting Up to Speed for Your Career
Interested in a career serving older adults? UW Professional & Continuing Education offers several programs that can help you start or advance a career in this area.