Some people leap into a second career they've always dreamed about, whether it's opening a boutique or joining a nonprofit group. Others, however, know they're ready for a change—but aren't sure what to change into. If you're seeking a more rewarding career but don't know where to look, a good place to start is where jobs are available. These are some of the top job-growth areas where midcareer changers are likely to find work that's both meaningful and challenging.
Healthcare. The Department of Labor lists a variety of home and personal care healthcare jobs as fast-growing occupations. You don't have to be a surgeon or ICU nurse: There are hundreds of areas of specialization, such as music therapists for autistic children and Alzheimer patients, and occupational therapists for the elderly.
You'll find useful details about healthcare jobs in the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook and the American Medical Association's annual Health Professions Career and Education Directory. Other helpful websites include Health Professions Network, which features different allied health professions, and Health Care Workforce, which has a long list of links to other job-listing sites in the field.
Given the pressing need for workers, it's not unusual to find streamlined training, including train-while-you-work positions, according to Ellen Freudenheim, author of The Boomers' Guide to Good Work. You can also find flexible schedules and opportunities to run your own business, which can be an alluring antidote to the incessant demands of laboring in some huge organizations.
Lisa Eaves of Washington, D.C., for example, was a hard-charging and highly ranked technical support manager at the lending giant Fannie Mae, where it was not unusual for her to be tied to her beeper 24-7. She earned nearly six figures but felt burned out by the time she reached her late 30s. She looked into acupuncture and Chinese medicine, to see if it would help deal with stress. Then she enrolled in classes, got a degree, and opened a part-time practice as an acupuncture therapist—all while still working at her day job. Finally she left Fannie Mae to run her practice full-time. After two years, she's earning more than before. There are caveats: She has to pay company expenses herself and keep reinvesting. "But I don't have to work all the time," she says. "I love how I spend my days, and I get to make all the decisions."
Education. There's a shortage of teachers from pre-school to 12th grade across the country. If you have a bachelor's degree in any field, you could qualify for an alternative teacher prep program than enables you to begin teaching with salary and benefits within a few months' time. Alternative Routes to Teacher Certification is a free booklet from the Department of Education. The National Teacher Recruitment Clearinghouse offers resources for career changers interested in becoming teachers. There's also the National Center for Alternative Certification, a clearinghouse for shortcuts to certification funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Be forewarned: Helping the next generation blossom can be trying in the public school system, with teaching challenges posed by special-ed students and gifted kids sometimes sharing the same classroom. Teaching at a private school aimed at students with higher ability levels is an alternative, but it might require more education requirements. There's also a need for tutors and corporate trainers. The median salary for a high school teacher is about $50,000, but there's wiggle room. Go to salary.com for specific salary ranges by ZIP code.
Eldercare. You might already be informally providing this type of help for your own parents—from shopping to cooking meals to offering personal care and companionship. If you're suited to it, there's plenty of need for paid workers at assisted-living homes, memory-care centers for Alzheimer's patients, and traditional nursing homes. Plus, venues for eldercare keep multiplying as specialties evolve.
The aging population is also driving up demand for nutritionists, physical therapists, speech and language specialists, and activity aides, who help design programs to encourage socialization and provide entertainment and relaxation.
Patience and a sense of humor are prerequisites, and the work can be repetitive and challenging—sometimes physically. A good place to learn more is the National Family Caregivers Association.
Pay varies widely, starting in the mid-20s and going much higher. In Philadelphia, for instance, a homecare nutritionist might pull in $77,000 annually, and a homecare chaplain, $55,000.
Clergy. With widespread worries about war and terrorism, it's not surprising that religion is a growth area these days—it's the underpinning of American culture, in many respects. Most clerics spend the bulk of their time ministering to parishioners in their homes. There are, of course, those inspirational sermons from the pulpit, and regular duties like officiating at baptisms and weddings and consoling people in times of grief. Most clergy, despite the image, don't take a vow of poverty: Median salary is $78,690, according to salary.com.
Educational requirements vary according to denomination. Many require a graduate degree. Others will admit anyone who is called to the vocation. To learn more, speak to a clergyperson of your faith.
Diane Rhodes heard the calling when she was in her 40s and snapped up an enticing early retirement offer from AT&T, where she had worked for nearly three decades. "I was proud to work for the corporation," she says, "but I had the feeling that maybe I was being called to something else—something more."
She spent the next year dabbling in administrative jobs at her church, then enrolled in a theology school and began working as an executive assistant to the dean of the seminary. Five years later, she graduated summa cum laude with a master of divinity degree. In 2005, Rhodes was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood, where her salary is well under $30,000, about a third of her former salary. But she has no regrets: "I am so privileged to be present at the tender moments of life. I do these things, but I receive so much more."