Don't leave the good times until you're 65

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Pensions: New rules mean planning a longer working life, says Margaret Adams

The prospect of working until 65 is becoming a reality for many teachers.

Some of you may have to wait until you are 70 before drawing the state pension. It's important, therefore, to reconsider your understanding of careers and career progression and to think seriously about how you manage a working life that could span almost 45 years.

Discussions about careers have always focused on ladders, scaling the heights, gaining promotion and reaching the top. People have come to expect that their final job will be their most prestigious, most rewarding and most important - in terms of salary or achievement.Traditionally, you expect to take on more responsibility and to earn more as you progress.

Retirement is understood by many as the time when you will have the chance to do the things you yearned to do while at work, but couldn't. Little wonder that early-retirement schemes have always been popular.

Yet a lot is changing. Retirement ages are being raised. The end of final-salary pensions may be in sight. It's already a reality in many occupations. Fewer teachers have the opportunity to take early retirement and are beginning to realise they need to take this into account.

So, teachers thinking about the latter stages of their careers - and that means anyone over 45 - need to re-examine what they want and expect, especially when applying for a new job or thinking about taking on a new responsibility.

To do this successfully, they need to ask: "What sort of life do I want to lead?" and "How can I make my aspirations compatible with working until I am 65?"

These questions deal with more than individual aspirations. They concern what teachers are capable of doing or what they are constrained from doing by personal circumstances, health, motivation and the needs, demands and expectations of others, especially family.

The first thing to do is consider your financial needs and take advice on the best ways of ensuring you understand the impact career decisions in later life will have on your likely retirement income. Once you have done that, you may consider whether to continue up the career ladder or choose an alternative route.

You may decide to take on jobs with less responsibility. Downshifting is a well-established way of helping you sustain health and motivation, manage responsibilities in all components of your life and still contribute to your profession. You may, for example, have interests beyond work that you wish to pursue but struggle to do so because work has squeezed them out of your life. The prospect of waiting until 65 for personal fulfilment is daunting.

Downshifting will ensure that life does not always have to take second place to school. It allows you to continue to earn a salary without being worn out or worn down by working too hard over a sustained period.

Teachers may also wish to consider alternatives to jumping off the cliff into retirement and opt for a gentle descent through part-time working.

Working four days a week and then three or two will help you to carry on earning but reduce the demands of the job gradually and allow time for other activities. You may even find that this approach means that you can work beyond 65.

Some teachers may decide to change the emphasis of their work in later years and leave teaching. One of the most striking trends in the development of the education workforce is the growth of non-teaching and support roles in schools. You may prefer to be a cover supervisor or higher-level teaching assistant. The review of teaching and learning responsibilities going on in every school may lead to more job opportunities and the creation of new responsibilities in schools which are not defined as teaching roles but for which teachers are well-qualified.

With one person in three over the age of 45 acting as a carer, there will be limits to what you can take on at work in the latter part of your career. It's not just ageing parents who may need support. Your partner or spouse could need long-term care. Strokes, heart conditions and cancer affect people of all ages, but from the time you reach middle age, you are more likely to be directly affected.

Your most important task is to start planning now, whatever your age, and to bear the long-term plan in mind every time you make a job application or take up a new post. You need to approach the later stages of your career understanding that you don't need to wait until you are retired to have a good life.

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