The Intern and Creative Employment

by Edward Henkler on December 1, 2015

Senior intern program just might be a brilliant idea!

Have you seen The Intern? It’s a wonderfully enjoyable movie featuring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway. Quoting from the movie site:

Starting a new job can be a difficult challenge, especially if you’re already retired. Looking to get back into the game, 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) seizes the opportunity to become a senior intern at an online fashion site. Ben soon becomes popular with his younger co-workers, including Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the boss and founder of the company. Whittaker’s charm, wisdom and sense of humor help him develop a special bond and growing friendship with Jules.

Aside from the pure entertainment value, I really enjoyed the real life possibilities of becoming an intern in my retirement years. The concept links well with creative employment and might ensure a mentally healthier retirement. As long time readers are probably aware, I have been working with a number of young companies that are developing enabling technology for people who are blind. I am becoming increasingly excited by the possibilities represented by one of the companies. COSY is a UPenn spin-off that will soon launch an app that is like GPS for an indoor environment. Armed with the COSY tech someone who is blind will be able to independently navigate unfamiliar, complex indoor environments. The very positive experience has also prompted me to get involved with other young companies. One of the founders observed that I really seemed to enjoy working with young people. I hadn’t thought about it that way but think his observation is exactly right.

Throughout my career, starting with duty as a Naval ROTC instructor and continuing through myriad Merck activities, I have enjoyed fulfilling the role of mentor. It’s a great way to give back or pay it forward, dependent on your perspective. I also felt it kept my thinking fresh by routinely interacting with younger people. Fast forward to The Intern and the possibility of working well into traditional retirement years has been brought to life by Robert DeNiro. While I still envision my eventual role as mentor, there is something intriguing about the intern perspective. The mentor is a deeply experienced individual who serves as a sounding board and voice of wisdom to a younger colleague. DeNiro eventually transitions into that role but only after first working as an intern, saddled with many mundane tasks. He is able to observe behaviors which might have been hidden to a mentor (when the mentee was on their best behavior). By remaining humble and doing everything that was asked of him, he becomes a trusted and valued member of the team. His journey takes him from ridiculed senior citizen to peer to advisor to trusted mentor to all.

Senior intern - the biggest library can't fully offset the value of an experienced individual

Senior interns – no amount of studying can fully replace their experience

There are a lot of smart senior citizens who have more to contribute even if they don’t need the money. Is it time for the intern to move from the big screen to the boardroom?

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