Emerging Jobs for Baby Boomers
Maybe you haven't heard of health coaches, energy auditors and senior academic specialists, but these new encore careers are ripe with possibilities for baby boomers.
New York Times March 4, 2010
Matching Life Experience With New Careers
By ELIZABETH POPE
HEALTH navigator? Conflict coach? Pollution mitigation outreach worker? These emerging jobs aren’t household terms yet, but they are a natural fit for older people looking for new career opportunities, said Phyllis Segal, vice president at Civic Ventures, a nonprofit research group based in San Francisco.
“Many of today’s new encore careers build on multiple work and life experiences, so they are a good match for older adults who’ve spent decades in the workplace,” Ms. Segal said. To help older workers upgrade skills for such jobs, she added, community colleges, online degree programs and intensive workshops are expanding training and fast-track certification programs.
Jobs in health care, education, government and nonprofit organizations are likely to grow in coming years because of an aging population, pending retirements and demographic changes, said Barry Bluestone, a labor economist at Northeastern University.
“Between 2008 and 2018, we project 3.5 million more jobs in health care and social services,” Professor Bluestone said. He is examining census and federal labor statistics for a study sponsored by Civic Ventures and the MetLife Foundation.
Education will add 800,000 jobs, he said, with 400,000 additional openings at nonprofit organizations, in the performing arts, museums and libraries. The study will be released this month, with three reports on promising second careers in health care, education and the green economy.
Demand is already high in health care for workers who provide support and advocacy to patients confused by a complex, fragmented system. Health navigators, sometimes called patient advocates, help patients find and coordinate treatment, comply with medical advice and manage illnesses.
“Navigators connect you to the health care system. Chronic illness coaches motivate you to stick to healthy habits, and community health workers educate people in workshops and other group settings,” said Sandy Atkins, associate director of Partners in Care Foundation of San Fernando, Calif.
Navigators, advocates, coaches and health workers may be self-employed consultants, or work for hospitals, community organizations or health management plans. Education, licensing requirements and salary vary with the complexity of tasks, ranging from a hospital worker who schedules appointments to a $300-an-hour retired physician who advises on gold-standard treatments. Opportunities in advocacy and disease management are already attracting retired health care professionals, medical researchers and insurance company employees.
Marleise Brosnan, a former corporate human resources executive, has a second career that owes its origins to an emergency room visit with a young employee 12 years ago. The patient and his family listened in shock to the doctor’s diagnosis of Wegener’s granulomatosis, a life-threatening disease. Ms. Brosnan started taking notes, questioning the team of specialists and interpreting the medical jargon.
“I spent the next six weeks in the I.C.U.,” she said. “His family says they think I saved their son’s life.” The experience was so profound she vowed to go into health care when her son finished college. Last May, Ms. Brosnan, 54, earned a master’s degree in health advocacy at Sarah Lawrence College. In August, she was hired as project director of Eldercare Workforce Alliance, an advocacy group in Washington. She credited her corporate and internship experience in employee relations, strategic planning and public policy with helping her land the job.
With the legal system overburdened, too, mediation is another expanding area that attracts older workers who want to change careers. Mediators work to bring two parties in conflict to a mutually agreed resolution, avoiding lengthy and expensive litigation.
“Over the past 30 years, mediation has spread to nearly every nook and cranny of American life, from adoption to the workplace,” James C. Melamed, chief executive of Mediate.com, a professional group, wrote in an e-mail message. While mediation has long been a side practice of lawyers, nonlawyers are entering the field with only 40 to 60 hours of basic courses, he added.
One mediator, Janet Mitchell of Leo, Ind., trains social workers, therapists, ministers and others in elder-care mediation to help resolve family disputes.
“About half are baby boomers with aging parents,” she said. “Younger people might not have the credibility to do this job.”
So-called green jobs may be difficult to define and be untracked by federal labor statistics, but opportunities in the sector are expanding beyond construction and building positions, Rona Fried, founder of GreenDreamJobs.com, said. “We’re seeing highly skilled midlevel and senior workers — C.E.O.’s, engineers, scientists, sales managers and administrators — who are well positioned to transition to green businesses.”
Retraining opportunities through workshops, continuing education and certificate programs are also proliferating, she said.
However, extra training for today’s emerging jobs can be difficult to track down, Ms. Segal of Civic Ventures said. “We’re still in the do-it-yourself phase of encore careers,” she said. “We’re just beginning to create the institutions and pathways people need in order to retrain. Some communities are leading the way, and depending on where you live, you will be able to find services.” For a list of current resources, go to encore.org/colleges.
PATIENT ADVOCATE Eleven years ago, a State Department economics officer, Elisabeth Schuler Russell, learned her 2-year-old daughter had an inoperable brain tumor. “We were thrown into a terrifying universe where you have to make life-or-death decisions about treatments we didn’t understand,” Mrs. Russell, 51, of Vienna, Va, said.
She contacted the nation’s best pediatric specialists, investigated clinical trials and researched nutritional supplements. In her spare time, she helped others investigate treatment options. Today, her daughter is a thriving middle school student, and Mrs. Russell, newly retired from the Foreign Service, runs Patient Navigator to help clients with cancer and other serious diseases.
Skills acquired in her 25-year diplomatic career — cross-cultural sensitivity, language learning and negotiation — easily transferred to dealing with doctors, hospitals and nursing homes. “Instead of advocating for U.S. foreign policy, I’m advocating for people who need help finding a way through the system,” she said.
ELDER-CARE MEDIATOR As a professional court-appointed guardian in Orlando, Fla., Lennie Burke, often sees families battling over the care of an elderly loved one.
“A classic case is Mom has a stroke and can’t return to her condo. Where will she go? A nursing home?” said Mr. Burke, 62, a retired senior civilian executive for the Navy. “Old sibling rivalries break out, and pretty soon, the family is lawyering up.” Last fall, Mr. Burke opened Harmony Mediation to help families resolve elder-care issues before they escalate into litigation.
“I’m atypical for a scientist — I know how to listen and talk to people,” he said. To burnish his credentials, he took 44 hours of mediation training and volunteered to mediate in small claims court. So far, he has not signed any clients, but he remains confident that a marketing effort will build his practice. “That’s the trouble with an emerging field — nobody knows elder-care mediation exists,” Mr. Burke said.
GREEN ENTREPRENEUR Barack Obama’s emphasis on the green economy during the presidential campaign struck a chord with Mark Davis, 51, owner of a title company in Washington. When Mr. Davis discovered there was a dearth of solar installation companies in the city, he set out to open one.
“I wanted to make sure the green economy didn’t bypass the urban environment,” he said. Two brief workshops in California taught him the basics of selling, designing and installing solar panels, and how to set up a solar training program for hard-to-employ individuals, like those who had not finished high school.
His new company, WDC Solar, employs trained urban youths and already has orders to install systems on three commercial buildings.
Mr. Davis credited a strong work ethic with helping him in his latest venture. “I’ve had a job since I was 6 years old, working in a tobacco field down in Georgia,” he said. “I have to be doing and busy.”