By Mark Miller
CHICAGO, Mar 26 (Reuters) - Intel Corp. has something new inside: A $25,000 retiree benefit to help older workers transition into new careers in non-profit organizations.
Last year, the technology giant launched the Intel Encore Career Fellowship - a program offering a paid, one-year, $25,000 stipend to encourage near-retirement employees to put their skills to work in new careers with a social purpose.
The fellowships are part of a broader movement to encourage encore careers spearheaded by Encore.org, a non-profit led by Marc Freedman, a leading thinker and author on the topic.
Much is at stake. While Washington worries about the growing burden of entitlement spending to support an aging population, programs like Encore are focused on leveraging the experience of millions of retirees for the greater good.
Continued participation in the labor force is a net positive for the economy and the federal budget - and it can boost retirement security down the road for seniors by allowing them to delay filing for Social Security, and by adding to retirement saving accounts. At the same time, Encore appeals to the instinct for a second act that is so prevalent in the baby boomer generation.
Intel isn’t the only company to experiment with this type of retirement transition program. There have been encore fellows in 15 states and the District of Columbia, and dozens of companies and foundations have participated in the program.
Hewlett-Packard Co is a founding sponsor of the program and Goldman Sachs Group Inc has also participated.
But Intel’s program stands out because the company is offering the benefit to any employee over the age of 50, at any level, as part of its retirement benefits, depending on the length of their service. Employees must submit applications for evaluation, and then Intel attempts to match them up with non-profits, which post openings for fellows.
The fellows program is still in its pilot phase, but it has the potential to ramp up into a major program at Intel - and it’s off to a strong start.
Forty employees are working as fellows, and another 80 are in the pipeline, says Julie Wirt, Intel’s global retirement design manager.
“We wanted something that would work for all of our U.S. employees, no matter what previous work history,” she says. “And we thought this would bring tremendous value to nonprofits. The numbers are higher than we anticipated, and it’s one of the benefits our people are aware of more than any others.”
Indeed, participation is coming from all parts of the company.
A construction project manager is doing similar work for a Portland, Oregon non-profit, while an engineer from Massachusetts is working as a site manager in Florida for Habitat for Humanity.
Sonia Hodshire was an Intel manufacturing supervisor in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She retired last year at age 67 after 26 years with the company and won an encore fellowship working with the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico. The 30-year-old non-profit distributes more than 26 million pounds of food annually to a network of hundreds of partner agencies and four regional food banks.
Hodshire put her expertise in sophisticated, robotics-based microprocessor manufacturing to work helping Roadrunner reorganize its warehouse operations to improve its process flow.
“I’d been feeling anxiety about separating from the company,” she says. “I had a feeling like, ‘I‘m no good anymore - I‘m going to be put out to pasture. I knew I didn’t want to sit at home on a rocking chair, that just isn’t my style.”
The shift into non-profit work has been a culture shock - but in a wonderful way, Hodshire says.
“As a manufacturing supervisor, you’re accustomed to giving orders - making sure goals are met, no deviation. You investigate and analyze outputs,” says Hodshire. “I often felt like an extension of my machinery.”
“At the food bank, everything is different,” she says. “The equipment is archaic, and the budgeting is hand-to-mouth. But people have a pride in their work and their mission that I haven’t seen in many people. And the job satisfaction is enormous. I know when I make the operation more efficient, the faster we can deliver food to needy people in New Mexico. And that is a human reward that is priceless.”
Hodshire’s fellowship at the food bank draws to a close at the end of April, but she plans to continue working in non-profits, probably with a combination of volunteer and paid work. She retired with a lump sum pension payout and Social Security.
“I‘m okay financially, but don’t want to work for no pay at all,” she says. “Maybe I haven’t grown enough to say I’ll do it just for love. But I don’t need to make as much, maybe enough to pay for gas and a couple of little things.”
“I’ve discovered a passion within me and I want to feel that I’ve used the end of my life to accomplish something that will help people,” she adds.
And that’s a good feeling - inside.