The economy still may be shaky, but many well-paying professional and management-level jobs are out there--if you look in the right places.
Some of the hottest jobs for midlife job seekers are in health care, which, due to the aging population, is one pocket of the economy that continued expanding during the recession. Since health care is part of the service economy, positions can't be moved overseas like so many manufacturing jobs have been, says Stephen Sweet, an Ithaca College professor and researcher at Boston College's Sloan Center on Aging and Work. Put those factors together and it "sets up the perfect positive storm of job demand," Sweet says.
The federal government's efforts to climb out of bad times, institute financial and health-care reforms and secure the nation's online borders mean more public-sector jobs also are available.
Companies in other industries are expected to start hiring again as well. A quarterly survey released in July by the National Association of Business Economics found that 39 percent of economists polled anticipate companies will add staff in the next six months, the highest level of hiring expectations since January 2008. Even certain pockets of manufacturing are predicted to add jobs in the coming months or years.
Some professions--such as teaching--aren't in huge demand right now because of state budget cuts linked to the recession. But based on economic recovery forecasts and shifting demographics, experts say the question is when, not if, more teaching opportunities will arise.
Here are some of the best career bets for the over-40 set right now, based on information from government data, experts on aging and work, and companies that place boomers into part- and full-time work.
1. Aging-in-Place Remodeler As the U.S. population grows older, more people need stairway handrails and other accommodations to continue living comfortably and safely at home. The need has created a cottage industry for senior housing retrofitters, also called aging-in-place remodelers. Enrollment in classes and online aging-in-place remodeling certificate programs is strong, says Jon Pynoos, a professor at the University of Southern California's Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, which offers one such class. People who sign up range from general contractors to occupational therapists.
Dave Dickinson, 54, co-founder of In Your Home, a Lake Oswego, Ore., aging-in-place remodeler, has been so successful he's selling franchises. "To be effective in this space, you need to have a lot of specialized knowledge, so it is not as easy to find a second career here as you might think," he says. "But if you do, it is very personally rewarding helping people solve problems that are getting in the way of enjoying life or feeling more secure in their future."
2. Internet Security Guard
The war in Afghanistan isn't the only one the country is waging. The U.S. government is fighting cyberterrorism and looking for qualified men and women to help. According to an upcoming report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there's a severe shortage of cybersecurity experts to counter ongoing attacks from in and outside the country on public and private data networks. One expert recently estimated that 10,000 to 30,000 specialists are needed. The demand is causing government agencies to speed up hiring processes. The Air Force, for example, recently streamlined hiring procedures to fill 700 positions. Defense contractors and other tech companies are also hiring, including Northrop Grumman, Sparta, SRA International and Symantec, all of which have ads posted on Washington, D.C., area job boards.
3. Packaging Engineer
Makers of everything from snack foods to pharmaceuticals are answering the call to "Go Green" by switching to more environmentally friendly product packaging and looking for packaging engineers to oversee redesigns. Packaging engineers are some of the most highly sought-after recruits at Your Encore, an Indianapolis company that places 5,500 semi-retired scientists and engineers into contract positions at approximately 65 corporate partners. Companies also are using packaging engineers to create new ways to sell existing products--such as putting tuna into single-serving pouches instead of larger cans. Baby boomers are good candidates because of their experience and willingness to work on a contract basis, which fits the project-based nature of many package redesign projects, says Gary Crays, YourEncore's vice president of sales and marketing. Pay for project work is good, though not equal to salaries for full-time positions.
4. Social Media Strategist
More companies are using Twitter, Facebook and other social networks for marketing, customer relations and recruiting. Though some companies hire consultants, others want someone in-house to develop and run campaigns. Enter the social media strategist. Depending on what they're hired to do, strategists--or community managers, as they're also called--can come from marketing, media relations, customer service or even finance backgrounds. As you can imagine, for a job with "social" in its name, industry conferences, meet-ups and webinars abound--all good places to network and pick up tips on job openings.
If you're a number cruncher, you'll find plenty of opportunities in specialty areas such as cost accounting, auditing and market research. In general, people with advanced technical skills have the greatest prospects for a second career, according to Sweet, the Ithaca College researcher. "They have greatest flexibility in where, when and how to work."
6. Pharmacy Assistant
Between 2000 and 2008, the number of prescriptions filled in the United States rose 23 percent to a record 3.5 billion, according to U.S. Census data. The increase has resulted in a big demand for pharmacy technicians who can perform some of the same tasks as pharmacists, including filling prescriptions. Unlike pharmacists, however, pharmacy technicians--or aides, as they're also called--don't need post-grad training or even college degrees. Training courses and certificate programs typically run six months to two years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobs are a good fit for boomers, says Art Koff of the boomer job board RetiredBrains, because the majority are with retail drugstores that offer a range of hours and full-time or temporary positions.
If you've got a nursing degree, you've basically got your pick of where and when you want to work. Like other health-care industry employees, nurses are aging out of the work force at an increasing rate, providing opportunities for new workers, according to a June 2010 Sloan Center report. In addition to nurses, there's also a big demand for physician's assistants, dental assistants, physical and occupational therapy assistants, licensed practical nurses and other health-care workers. Demand for health-care jobs is so strong, the positions are predicted to account for 26 percent of all new jobs in the country by 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook, 2010-2011.
8. Home Health Aide
People who work as home health aides or live-in caregivers don't make a mint, but they can make a difference. Demand for these positions is skyrocketing. Rick Cohen, 59, owns Home Care Assistance, a home-care franchise whose certified nurse assistants and home health-care aides tend to about 35 patients a week throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Cohen says he pays well over the $8.50 to $10 an hour aides usually make, but can't compete with hospital and nursing homes salaries. What he can offer are better hours and more flexible schedules for people who want to cut back but still do what they love. Age doesn't matter as long as someone can keep up with the physical demands, he says.
9. Software Developer
The popularity of the iPhone and iPad has led to an avalanche of software applications for those and rival smartphones, electronic tablets and e-book readers. Behind every app is a software developer or engineer. The trend is trickling up from startups with only a handful of employees to software giants, creating demand for software developers. For example, in June, Washington state companies had more than 1,900 openings for software engineers, making it the second most in-demand job category after registered nurses, according to the state's Employment Security Department.
You wouldn't know it from the budget cuts California, Oregon and other states are making to keep cash-strapped school districts solvent, but teaching is alive and well and is expected to get stronger as the economy recovers. With many educators due to retire soon, it's opening up opportunities for boomers considering a second act as teachers. Primary, secondary and special education teaching positions are some of the fastest-growing encore jobs, according to economist Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University in Boston. Job boards such as RetiredBrains are full of teaching positions that fall outside traditional public school district positions, including work with charter schools and in federally funded programs in low-achieving school districts.
11. Contract Positions
If you are job hunting, Koff suggests looking for contract jobs or other temporary work through an agency. Temping gives employers and job seekers a chance to try each other out before making a long-term commitment. "Most temp agencies are more interested in [whether] you can do the job, not how old you are," says Koff.
The Road Ahead
Job opportunities for experienced workers will continue to get better as more of the nation's 75 million-plus baby boomers retire, says Bluestone of Northeastern University.
He estimates that between now and 2018, the United States will add close to 7 million social-sector jobs, all well-suited to encore career seekers. Half of those positions will be health-care-related, with the remainder in education, state and local governments and nonprofits, according to Bluestone's March 2010 report, "After the Recovery: Help Needed."
"Many of these jobs will go begging unless older workers move into them and make them their encore careers," Bluestone says.
SecondAct contributor and blogger Michelle V. Rafter covers business and workplace issues for a variety of national publications. She is based in Portland, Oregon.
Info: Job Websites for Experienced Workers
• Dice. Jobs for technology professionals
• Experience Works. Helps low-income workers 55+ find training and jobs
• Jobs 4.0. Companies seeking workers 40+
• LinkedIn Jobs. Jobs section of business-based social network
• PrimeCB.com. Division of CareerBuilder.com geared toward experienced workers
• RetiredBrains. The name says it all.
• SecondAct Career Guide. Information on job hunting, salary calculators, going back to school, finding internships, volunteering and more
• YourEncore. Connects retired engineers and scientists with companies for short-term projects
• Workforce50.com. Job board for candidates 50+
• Senior Job Bank. Listings for older job seekers.
Salary Finder: To find out what jobs pay, try: