The job-shifters: people who reinvent themselves mid-career
How many professionals are creating second careers in an unforgiving economy? Meet six who did it successfully.
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Rich Anderson was ready to do something else. He was enjoying excellent wages and gold-plated benefits at Ford Motor Co. in Indianapolis, but he didn't feel passionate about his work. He much preferred to paint, draw, and sculpt rather than help oversee the manufacture of a pump used on power steering assemblies.Skip to next paragraph
Still, he labored on for 14 years. When Ford's fortunes began to wane in the mid-2000s, the company offered buyout packages two separate times. He turned them down. Ford's third offer was one he couldn't refuse: full tuition reimbursement at college, half his salary while he was in school, and company-paid health insurance.
Although he could have furthered his skills in engineering or quality assurance, he opted instead to study at the Herron School of Art and Design, which is part of Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. "I just wanted to do something creative," he says.
Mr. Anderson had not yet pinpointed what he wanted to do with all this education. But someone put him in touch with a local school district, and two days later, he was teaching art to preschoolers and kindergartners.
"I didn't know that kindergarten teaching was for me," he says. But "it gives me a sense of purpose."
At his old job, Anderson worked long hours and got what he called great money. Now, he works fewer hours and earns considerably less, but he lives a better, fuller life, he says. "This is my renaissance, and I'm with these kids."
Training and education can help in reinventing one's career. When Ms. Belzer, the Iowa grandmother, was laid off by Whirlpool just before Thanksgiving, she didn't have a college degree. So she resolved to do something about it. She sought help at Kirkwood Community College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she took aptitude tests that steered her to a program to become a medical assistant. She will graduate, along with her daughter, Dana, this May.
Belzer's new career choice may prove to be propitious: The BLS has estimated that employment for medical assistants will grow 34 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all other occupations.
Belzer says she won't earn as much in her new field as she did working in the factory. But if she is like low-income Americans who have gone through training, she could come out ahead. A 2008 study of the Workforce Investment Act, a federal job-training program, found that workers who received training eventually averaged more than $400 more in pay per quarter than those who didn't develop new skills. But mastering a new career isn't as simple as just enrolling in a job-training class.
"Everyone has a unique gift – a unique combination of traits," says Paul David Walker, founder of Genius Stone Partners, a strategic consulting firm in Greater Los Angeles and author of a forthcoming book, "Invent Your Future." Mr. Walker relies on a tried-and-true personality test to figure out strategic directions for his clients. "Once you do what you're naturally good at, you're going to do better than anybody."
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Microphone in hand and shirttails draping over the top of his black jeans, comedian Shaun Eli launches into his routine on a recent Friday night skewering vegetarians, overweight Mississippians, and life and times in the Big Apple.