She enrolled in nursing school and five years later is happily employed as a registered nurse at an Albuquerque ambulatory surgery center, where she specializes in operating- and recovery-room care.
"I love helping people, so nursing was very appealing," Hanes says. "I told my husband, 'I'm sick of competing with 100 other applicants for a decent job. I'd rather have 100 hospitals competing for me.'"
Hanes made a smart calculation, switching to a field where demand continues to outstrip supply, even in an unsteady economy. In 2011, health-care positions remain high on the list of hot jobs for people over 40.
The need for RNs and other health-care professionals is stronger than ever due to the country's aging population, and because the field is "disproportionately composed of older workers who are expected to be exiting the work force" in the next few years, says Jacquelyn James, research director at Boston College's Sloan Center on Aging & Work.
Health care isn't the only bright spot for midlife career changers. New positions in retail, manufacturing and other industries have helped offset continued declines in government hiring in recent months, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. For midcareer workers, if you're a trained specialist in some key categories, "the job demand is phenomenal right now," says Matthew Henson, a spokesperson for job board Monster.com.
[Related: SecondAct Career Center]
Are you in the job market? Here are some of the most in-demand jobs for people over 40 right now:
1. Biomedical engineer. The country's fastest-growing occupation through 2018 is biomedical engineering, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The field is expected to see a 72 percent boost in new jobs -- or 11,600 positions -- from 2008 to 2018. The job requires at least a bachelor's degree in biomedical, mechanical or electronics engineering. The median annual salary for biomedical engineers is $81,540, the labor bureau reports, and can climb to $100,000 or more for experienced workers, according to Salary.com, the salary comparison website.
Some biomedical engineers pursue jobs in traditional fields such as health care and pharmaceuticals, but opportunities also exist in consulting, law and finance. Organizations such as the Biomedical Engineering Society hold career fairs for job seekers in conjunction with annual or regional meetings. Schools such as the University of Maryland offer online master's and certificate programs in bioengineering suitable for midlife career changers.
2. Registered nurse. Hospitals and other health-care facilities can't hire RNs fast enough. Online job board Indeed reported a record number of RN and other health-care industry job listings in August, a 7 percent jump from the previous month. The median salary for staff RNs is $65,570, according to Salary.com.
Age is a nonissue in nursing jobs as long as you can do the work. "This is a physical profession, even if you do traditional [hospital] floor nursing," Hanes says. "It requires long hours on your feet, so you need plenty of stamina."
"It could be a lengthy process for workers 40 and older who do not have the training, skills and licenses to prepare themselves for openings in this sector," adds James of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. If you're headed back to school, go for a bachelor's degree in nursing, which has become the standard requirement even for entry-level positions. Other available health-care openings include home health aides, physician assistants and skin-care specialists [Related SecondAct Slide Show: The Health-Care Job Boom]
3. Web developer. Techies have their pick of jobs, especially if they can build websites or mobile apps. Unemployment in Silicon Valley, where web developers can make close to $100,000 a year, dropped to 9.9 percent in May from 11.7 percent in July 2009. In states such as Oregon, software engineer and other information technology jobs are growing at their fastest pace in a decade even while the region's overall hiring remains flat. Nationwide, the median salary for senior software engineers, developers and programmers is $92,565 according to PayScale.com, the online compensation database.
Tech companies' hiring demands have some industry leaders worried about a labor shortage, a situation they hope to improve with stepped-up high school and college training programs that could benefit midcareer professionals and other students. "The American technology industry is a critical component in driving an economic recovery, and part of that recovery is going to be ensuring that there is a steady stream of qualified talent to satisfy the specialized needs of growing technology companies," says Phil Bond, president and chief executive of industry trade group TechAmerica.
4. Tax preparer. H&R Block uses 110,000 tax preparers each year and this summer had 9,617 openings listed on SimplyHired. The company hires experienced finance professionals through regional job fairs and trains people who can pass a 50-question multiple-choice test assessing their tax knowledge. Tax preparers and other financial examiner jobs are projected to be the fifth fastest-growing job category by 2018, adding 11,100 new positions, according to the labor bureau.
The median annual salary for entry-level tax accountants is $47,734, according to Salary.com. Kathleen Downs, an Orlando, Fla., recruiting manager for staffing firm Robert Half International, reports seeing higher demand for senior-level accountants and financial analysts, especially for candidates with exceptional IT skills. Accounting and finance jobs are well-suited to older workers, says Daniel Greenberg, SimplyHired's chief marketing officer, "because those are skills you accumulate over time in your career, and they don't change markedly even with the rapid change in technology."
5. Nonprofit program manager. As the first boomers turn 65 this year, the number of people seeking encore careers in nonprofits or community service is mushrooming -- and the jobs are there. Forty-two percent of 3,000 organizations in a recent Idealist.org poll said they expected to bring on new staff this year. In the Employment Trends Survey conducted earlier this year, nonprofit executives said they expected to hire program managers, counselors, tutors, mentors and fundraisers. Annual compensation, including salary and bonuses, for nonprofit program managers ranges from $29, 898 to $67,847, according to PayScale.com.
For help transitioning, tap into regional organizations such as ReServe, a New York City nonprofit that matches professionals 55 and older with part-time jobs at both nonprofits and government agencies. Civic Ventures' Encore Careers website provides online and in-person training, lists of job openings and links to other resources. "So many people are using skills they had in their first careers and learning how to apply them to the nonprofit sector, which continues to grow in this economy," says ReServe Executive Director Mary Bleiberg.
[Related: 10 Top Jobs for Nonprofit Jobs]
6. Solar panel installer. Though still in its infancy, the U.S. solar industry employs more people than domestic steel companies -- about 93,500, according to government and industry estimates. Solar photovoltaic panel installers work on business and residential projects as general contractors or employees of solar panel manufacturers or installation companies. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics' Careers in Solar Power report, installers' starting salaries range from $30,000 to $40,000 a year, with individuals trained as electricians or general contractors making significantly more.
The federal government recently started tracking solar and alternative-energy jobs and will begin sharing statistics on green-job growth in 2012. The nonprofit Solar Foundation estimated the industry would add 24,000 new jobs between August 2010 and August 2011. Job seekers can use the Solar Energy Industries Association's job board to post resumes and apply for open positions. Other online green jobs resources include Greenbiz.com, Sustainable Industries, SustainableBusiness.com, Treehugger.com and SustainLane. "If you look at jobs that are posted, many are technical, such as engineering positions with renewable energy companies," sustainable business expert Glenn Croston says in a recent SecondAct interview. "Other types of jobs are for nontechnical positions at green companies."
7. Consultant. By 2018, jobs for management, market research, environmental and other consultants are expected to grow by 83 percent, representing a gain of more than 800,000 positions, according to the federal government's spring 2011 Occupational Outlook Quarterly. The jump is spurred in part by companies that laid off workers during the recession and now need more manpower but aren't confident enough in the economy to bring people on full time, says Downs, the Robert Half recruiter. The staffing firm is working with many companies that use consultants "for a couple weeks to many months," she says.
Age can work in a boomer's favor in these assignments, she says, because companies prefer using someone with experience in different industries. "They realize they're getting more than they're paying for," she says. Consultants' median annual wages range from $56,850 to $82,100 depending on industry and specialization, according to the government report.
8. Veterinary assistant. Love animals? Veterinary technologists, technicians and other assistants are expected to be the 13th fastest-growing occupation through 2018, adding 28,500 new jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unlike veterinarian jobs, which require post-graduate training, veterinary assistants only need an associate's degree. In May 2010, the median salary for vet assistants was $29,710. If you don't mind going back to school, the demand also is strong for full-fledged veterinarians, with the job category projected to be the 18th fastest-growing occupation by 2018, adding 19,700 new jobs at a median annual salary of $82,040.
Many boomers also seek refuge in related animal health-care fields, tapping into the nation's $50 billion-a-year pet-care industry. After losing a six-figure job as an engineer at Boeing, Gail Snyder opened a Colorado business to provide natural nail hoof care for horses. "I'd rather live in a barn with my horses," Snyder tells SecondAct, "than go back to the corporate world."
9. Retail sales. Post-recession consumer spending has helped boost the economy and retail industry hiring in the past two years. U.S. stores added 228,000 jobs since December 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Career experts say a part-time retail job can be a way to ease into semi-retirement or pick up extra income. But know what you're getting into. The pay is relatively low: The median annual salary for a full-time retail sales position is $23,499, according to Salary.com.
In addition, hours can be erratic, and unless you have a related degree, opportunities for advancement could be limited. "You have to go in with an understanding of what the ground rules are, and if you can deal with it, great," says Caitlin Kelly, a 53-year-old writer whose 2011 book Malled chronicled the two years she worked part-time at a North Face outlet outside New York City. To take advantage of seasonal hiring before Christmas, start applying in early fall, be enthusiastic and don't dwell on your age or the fact that you may be over-qualified.
10. Call center representative. Staffing a telephone help line for a call center isn't glamorous or highly paid. But the flexibility could entice boomers who want to set their own hours or work from home. Some companies hire full-time or part-time workers for call center jobs, while others use independent contractors who may be responsible for their own training and equipment costs.
In August, the Federal Communications Commission forecast that U.S. call center companies will add 100,000 positions over the next two years due to so-called "re-shoring." Jobs will include positions in marketing, sales communication and social media, among others, according to Jobs4America, an organization working in the re-shoring movement.
Read more: Job Boards for the 40+ Crowd