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Downsizings force baby boomers to reinvent careers

Resource type: News

Dallas Morning News |

Original Source by BOB MOOS After a decade or more of corporate downsizings, baby boomers are looking upon cradle-to-grave job security with the same nostalgia as Hula Hoops and 45 rpm records. When boomers entered the workforce, many thought they could spend their careers with one employer. But prompted by buyout offers or layoffs, they’re reinventing themselves. Too young or too broke to retire, boomers are becoming consultants or independent contractors, starting their own businesses or returning to school to learn new skills. Boomers intend to work longer than their parents, partly because few of them will have the retiree health coverage and traditional fixed-benefit pensions that previous generations enjoyed, the institute says. “If you’re in your 50s and have been downsized, you shouldn’t expect to land another job like the one you’ve had,” said Dallas career counselor Helen Harkness. “Many jobs are just disappearing, so changing careers is often the only thing to do.” Ms. Harkness, who owns Career Design Associates Inc., works with clients to make the transition. She’s helped a public relations specialist become a chef, a lawyer turn into a gerontologist, and an investment banker start as a financial adviser. Find a purpose and then pursue it with a passion, she tells them. At the Career Connection, a support group for jobless professionals that meets every Tuesday at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, boomers in their 40s, 50s and 60s are in the majority, said director Lisa Miller. Hundreds crowd into meeting rooms to exchange job leads and learn how to write résumés, prepare for interviews and land offers. “Looking for a job is a struggle, especially for workers over 50. Although age discrimination is against the law, people still run into it,” Ms. Miller said. “But they can overcome it and succeed if they don’t lose faith in themselves.” James Hill, 55, of McKinney lost his job in the tech bust. So he rented out a room in his house to a boarder to help pay the mortgage and scrambled for any kind of work. For a couple of months, he remodeled an office building. “I have a master’s degree, but I was glad to be sanding and painting,” he said. Mr. Hill became a regular at Career Connection. “It’s unbelievably depressing to be unemployed and feeling like you’re on your own,” he said. “The networking was a big morale booster. It helped me realize the economy was the problem, not me.” Learning to adapt So he figured out a way to adapt to it. After months of searching, he landed a contract job with an India-based company that edits and designs technical journals and books. He now makes sales calls from his home office to U.S. and foreign publishers to persuade them to outsource some of their work. He values the freedom and flexibility of his home-based job. And he’s spared the long commute to Dallas and gets to spend more time with his 14-year-old son. “The wolf isn’t at my door anymore,” said Mr. Hill, who adds that he now earns 50 percent more than he did before he got laid off. “But I look over my shoulder all the time. Losing a job makes you paranoid. Things are going well, but how long will that last?” Downsized boomers have also regained control of their working lives by starting businesses. One in three self-employed older workers became their own boss after 50, says the AARP Public Policy Institute. Therese Tetzel, 52, of Dallas figured she had had enough of the corporate world after two downsizings. “The meetings, the 12-hour days, the constant turnover I just got worn out,” she said. “Plus, I didn’t want to hand over my future to someone else again.” Drawing on her marketing experience, Ms. Tetzel is launching Business Modern to do strategic planning and marketing for other businesses. She’s using her personal savings to finance the venture, which she expects to oversee well into her 60s. “I understand what customers want, and I can do it,” she said. “I don’t need to work for other people anymore.” Boomers who have been bought out or laid off also are returning to school to sharpen their skills and restart their careers. Back to school At 50, Patti Bradley expects to be among the oldest students when she begins classes at the Dallas campus of the University of North Texas this month. But that doesn’t deter the Dallas woman from her goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. “I haven’t been able to find a job as a paralegal with my associate degree, so I’m headed back to college to get the credentials that law firms are demanding,” she said. She plans to take part-time jobs to support herself while in school. And having been laid off from secretarial positions, Ms. Bradley hopes paralegal work will give her more job security. “The job market has changed, so you must change with it to survive,” she said. Ed Hagan’s midlife odyssey began when he left a telecommunications company at 51 after growing weary of the never-ending reorganizations and downsizings. But getting e-mail messages from his supervisor at 2 a.m. was the last straw. The unforeseen He first thought that finding another position would be no problem for someone with his experience. Two months later, 9/11 occurred and the economy crashed. “Suddenly, there were no jobs for middle-aged managers,” he said. So he became a real estate agent and supplemented his commissions by working at an athletic club. “Although I realized it usually takes several years to build your business, I thought I’d give it a try,” he said. “The money was minimal.” Then Mr. Hagan borrowed from the equity in his house and, with a former associate, opened a drive-through coffee shop in San Antonio. After three years of struggling to turn a profit, they closed the business and moved on. He next enrolled in an alternative teacher certification program and applied for a job in Dallas after graduating. He began teaching social studies at a middle school in February and will return this month for his first full year. “Financially, it was a mistake to leave my telecommunications job, though I was able to climb off the roller coaster,” he said. “The upside has been that I had the experience of starting a business, and I’ve ended up in a rewarding career. It’s been a fair trade.” Boomers aren’t likely to collect the gold watch their parents did after a lifelong career, said Ms. Harkness, the career counselor. “There’s no such certainty anymore,” she said. “Boomers who want or need to work into their 60s will have to carve out their own futures.”

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