Restarting work in your 50s

Allen & Overy have been running a unique programme for men and women over 50 who are struggling to get back to work.

Group of varying age women sitting chatting and smiling


Long-term unemployment in your 50s can have a damaging impact on self-confidence and mental health. A unique return to work programme aims to counter this and give people the skills they need to get back on their feet. 

Run by international law firm Allen & Overy, the ReStart programme targets the over 50 group living in London who have been unemployed for between six months and a year. Through workshops, business mentoring and digital modules, participants are supported to rediscover strengths and to build the knowledge, skills and confidence to help them get back into work.

The first programme was run in 2017 and has run every year since between February and April. It is now looking for new recruits for the next session.

ReStart is a community programme rather than a recruitment one. The aim is to make a difference to those who are finding it hard to get back to work rather than guarantee jobs at the end of it.

There have been some striking success stories since it started. For instance, one woman who took part had lost her parents in quick succession and then her job as a PA as she struggled to come to terms with her bereavement. Within two weeks of doing the programme she had agencies fighting over her. She is now working for a law firm and feels back in control of her life. “The transformation can be amazing,” says Sue Wisbey, Community Investment Manager at Allen & Overy who set up the programme.

Men and women attending the programme come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience. They include a personal trainer who was looking to move into a different job as she got older, but had no relevant office experience. Through the programme she was able to see the transferable skills she had. That diverse mix of people is important as it shows participants that they are not alone and that many others are in the same position as them, even if they were a former CEO. “It makes people feel it’s not just them,” says Wisbey.

She adds that participants need to live within one hour’s commuting distance from the firm’s London office because they have to attend not just the four all-day workshops, but meet up with their coach and mentor in between.

Skills building

Some of the issues that come up at the workshops are experiences of ageism, even if it is not intentional. Participants may have found it difficult to even get an interview or have been told they are overqualified. “It’s a very difficult place to be,” says Wisbey who has had years of working with the long-term unemployed. She says that, unlike most returner programmes, ReStart is focused on building people’s skills and confidence, for instance, teaching them how to use LinkedIn effectively and how to tailor their application for each job. 

One of the most popular elements of the programme is the one to one professional coaching which helps people to think through different aspects of their lives and how they might come across in interviews. The mentors provide a fresh pair of eyes and encouragement to try sectors they might not have thought of. Previous participants also come back to talk to the new cohorts.

In the first year, over 50% of participants found a job within three months, but Wisbey says it can be variable. “Unfortunately, no-one can just wave a magic wand and find someone a job. People have to have the right mindset and be open to change. We can provide the support, guidance and tools, but no-one can do it for them,” she says.

Since it started there have been several tweaks to the programme. There were, for example, 40 people in the first cohort, which was deemed too many and there are now around 30. There are four workshop sessions instead of three and there is a longer period between these so coaches and mentors can have more one to one time in between addressing things like the importance of a positive mindset. “It can have a big impact on people’s lives,” says Wisbey. “The reason I’m so passionate about this programme is that there are so many organisations that do so much with young people, but no-one is really doing anything for mature people.”

*The deadline for applications for the next programme which starts on 6th February is on 13th December. This is to allow time for participants to be matched to the right mentors and coaches for them. To apply click here.

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