The Future of Employment


successful person, isolated on beige background

As most who read these blogs know, I’m very interested in how the working world is changing. We have seen the big picture of this change for some time – it has called for individuals to take more responsibility for their employment and their on-going education so their skills and knowledge remain valuable to employers.

What has been a recent ah-hah for me has been the recognition that traditional employment may be on a major decline for most mid-skill and many high skill individuals leading to an employment scene where most workers are on limited term or part-time jobs in the future vs. the traditional full-time employment of the last era.

Now, I’ve been interested in freelancing and contract work because of its numbers growing steadily and it is a major change for people who have only been traditional employees. But I really hadn’t thought about it becoming the norm. Here is my thinking:

  • The American workplace is not creating enough good jobs for mid-skilled individuals. Witness the estimated 75,000 jobs created in the most recent jobs report. Furthermore, Laura D-Andrea Tyson (Haas School of Business, Berkeley) wrote last September “60 percent of the net job losses (during the Great Recession) occurred in middle-income occupations … In contrast, these occupations have accounted for less than a quarter of the net job gains in the recovery.” (Economix blog of NY Times, 9/20/13) This she reports is typical of post recession job creation, what is not typical and creating the pain is that better jobs have not followed as the recession receded. Autor and colleagues point out this is a longer trend than just since 2008. (see for a paper on it) What is happening is a major restructuring of employment and the societal changes that will go with that (see Tyler Cowen’s recent book Average is Over for one of the latest people to come to that conclusion.).
  • Downsizing has long been an accepted management strategy (in the 80s for manufacturing and since the 90s for everyone else) and there is no reason why that practice should suddenly fall out of favor. What this does is continue to cycle workers through unemployment allowing their wages to fall or their employment status to change when they re-enter the workforce.
  • Contract workers and freelancers have been integrated into the organizational workforces where there are relatively large numbers of traditional employees fairly easily. Many researchers who looked at the change from the perspective of the old way of doing business have identified “problems” they expected from this combination of employment types such as contract workers feeling isolated and/or full-timers not being willing to take direction from contractors because of their lack of internal status. This might have slowed the move to contract workers but there is very little evidence that any of these potential negative repercussions being significant.
  • Contract workers have identified that one of the big pluses for them is the ability to “tell it like it is” in relation to work they are doing because of the relatively light concern they feel for “organizational politics.” This actually works to the employers’ advantage because it makes for higher quality decisions and products. This along with the flexibility it provides employers both in overhead and getting new skills in the door quickly make contract workers more of a sale than in the past.

This is not horrible news. Workers have not had the comfort of job security for a long time and this will just make that lack of comfort more transparent. How will things change? Individual workers will:

  • Get a better view of what their knowledge and skills are worth to employers. They will also have a better view of the working world and how they contribute or could contribute to profit. This broader perspective should lead more to make better career development decisions.
  • The Affordable Care Act will eventually lead to more health care security for individuals of prime working age.
  • There will be an opportunity for Financial Planners who can help with retirement savings and better investment decision-making. Something that has been missing in our system since defined benefit pensions went into serious decline in the United States.
  • All workers will have a better sense of what kinds of services the government provides individual workers. Now much of that is not a big part of the traditional employees’ consciousness because the deductions are automatically taken out of their pay checks by their employers. This could lead to a reworking of the whole worker security net.
  • What individuals do during their careers will be more able to evolve with their personal interests because they will not have long-term organizational commitments that overwhelm their personal interest. There will also be an opportunity for more coaches and “personal educators” who help individuals make their career shifts.

If average is over as Tom Friedman and now Tyler Cowen have said repeatedly, individual workers need to recognize this and give it more than lip service. As a culture the U.S. has traditionally been very enterprising. It is time for the majority to re-inhabit that reality.

Frontline Report – Networking Interviews

I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of books on various job search topics and often say to myself, “I bet this is mostly a rehash. I’m not going to spend time on this topic – I already know how to do that.”

Well, I just found a book that I think is worth reading even for career counselors who think they know how to do networking interviews. The book is the Twenty Minute Networking Meeting by Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D. and Nathan A. Perez (available on Amazon and elsewhere).

Why this is from the front-lines ?

Ballinger and Perez are members of a search firm that provides top-level executives to companies. They see a lot of individuals who are networking! The book is written in the spirit of giving back because they see so many executives who are not doing a good job of building their networks during job transitions. And if executives aren’t doing it well, that is a sign most are probably not making this technique work well for them! Also, they point out that the basics of this well-respected job search skill have changed – note, for instance, that what used to involve an hour now needs to happen in 20 minutes. Otherwise, Marcia observes the individual loses the attention of the person he or she is networking with.

The Three Most Important Points:

  1. Prepare-Prepare-Prepare — The book is focused on building your network when in career/job transition. It struck me that there are many other types of interviews within the job search process (job interviews, informational interviews, negotiating after the ask, etc.) How to prepare for each of these probably needs to be updated!
  2. Emotional Challenges — As I read through the early parts of the book which recapped myths about networking and made the argument that 20 minutes is the appropriate timeline, I kept thinking, will they write about managing the emotional difficulties so many people have after being downsized/rightsized/pushed out or whatever. Ballinger and Perez approach this topic from a new direction: They start by describing how someone wants to appear when networking (i.e., someone who is positive and competent and focused and would be an asset to a company in need). They make the point that frustration, passivity, and confusion are not on the list and suggest that if that is where you are you should postpone networking for a bit longer.
  3. A Structure Check List — The book describes in detail how the person doing the networking should structure the conversation. This involves researching the person who has agreed to meet with you and devising questions related to their experience and where you might want to go in your career. Such questions might be about experiences or programs the individual has been involved in or his/her view of the industry or function you share, etc. They also include thinking about possible ways you can help the person being interviewed. The discussion here provides excellent direction for this crucial part of the interview and certainly replaces the old approaches, “Tell me what you do.” Or “Let me tell you everything about me.”  For me, this was the real “meat” of the book and was well worth my time and expense.

This is an exceptionally well-written book about a skill that everyone needs in the working world today. Workers are more mobile and as individuals grow and change old connections may no longer provide the information you need so constantly building a network is crucially important.

This book provides a report from the front-lines about how to structure the all-important networking interview in the early 21st century.

Late Career Options

We have known for some time that increasing numbers of individuals will need to work longer for income and more people will want to work longer to stay more involved. That said, many also want to slow down and/or take more time for other facets of their lives and many get somewhat bored by the work they have done for 30-40 years and want a change. Bottom line this means increasing numbers of people will want to consider some other kind of work or employment situation options in late career.

Of course there have always been some people who worked throughout their later years but the larger numbers of people expected to attempt this transition means that we are essentially looking at a new phase of career planning. Freedman makes this point in his most recent book The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife. Furthermore, the latest installment of the research series Civic Ventures has sponsored with MetLife reports that those making successful transitions to encore careers began thinking about their transitions in their 50s ( This makes a lot of sense, particularly because of all the changes in employment dynamics in the last twenty years. But, as with the transition itself, this kind preplanning in your 50s is also likely to be new to most people.

To get started thinking about how to approach facilitating this preplanning/doing stage, I want to sketch out the major late career options I believe people should consider and what kinds of planning-thinking-preparing they might profitably do in their fifties.

Major Options for Late Career Transitions

  • Direction Changers – From the positive perspective, these individuals are eager learners who seek to move out of a work situation where there is not enough new stimulation. On the negative side, these could well be people whose work opportunities have been declining because of technical changes.think about new possible work interests and devise ways to explore them
  • People who want to cut back in some way to make room for other activities and/or to lower their stress. There are three main options for cutting back or becoming more flexible in today’s working world and each involves learning how to behave in a new work arrangement.
    • Negotiating a part-time arrangement with their current employer. This keeps much the same but allows for the flexibility to schedule other activities and can reduce stress. The new behaviors involve negotiating the deal and, for many, communicating as if they were working full-time. (see my blog last time for a more detailed explanation)
    • Contract work gotten through staffing firms – a 2006 report (the most recent survey on this group I have found) reports that 80% work in full-time assignments with regular working hours. The flexibility in this kind of work often involves “downtime” between assignments which would allow for other activities, assuming that the individual does not need additional income. Also, the stress may be less if it has been rooted in “organizational politics.” Contract workers report a prime benefit is not dealing with “organizational politics.”
    • Freelancing (which I define as any self-employment in which individuals get their own clients/customers) – here the flexibility is more likely to involve limiting the hours you spend weekly or monthly so the flexibility can be a little more spread out. That said it is important to realize that most self employment involves variable work flows so there can be both surplus work and times that are too lax.

    Now having sketched out the options, let’s work backwards and think how people might approach thinking-planning-preparing for transitions to each of these options while in their 50’s.

© marinini -

Preplanning/Doing Ideas for People in their 50s:

  • Direction Changers
    • Think about new possible work interests and devise ways to explore them
    • Get any new knowledge, skills, and education needed
    • Build connections and understanding of the new work environment
    • Build personal resources for the transition — the recent Civic Ventures study ( ) of those who had made transitions to encore careers reported that 67% experienced gaps in their income during the transition and of that group 79% said the gap was more than 6 months
  • Flexibility and Time Seekers
    • Think about what kind of flexibility and time commitment would be ideal and use this decision to direct at least the first round of information gathering
    • Get familiar with the dynamics of the employment option(s) that seem most likely – What are the major sources of work opportunities? How might your work skills and knowledge be “repackaged” to be attractive to potential customers? What new connections can be made in advance?
  • People wanting a new direction as well as flexibility probably need to do all of the above and expect the longest of the transition periods

As I look at this, it is a tall order for people in their 50’s who are already very busy and involved? I know I didn’t do this kind of thinking-planning-preparing. What do you think? Will only the people who are driven to change their working lives do this kind of thing? How will that change the process?

Ideal Part-Time Jobs Likely?

I think that many people dream of the opportunity of working part-time at a challenging job at least for a while. They want to continue to be challenged, just not so much! Ideally, this would be with their current employer. Such a job would certainly be easier than becoming a freelancer. But this defies the belief strongly held in most organizations that serious work requires a full-time commitment. So how realistic is this option?

I saw a McKinsey survey of employers published in 2011 that asked what they expected to see in the next five years – the number one employment expectation was more part-time work (36.5% of respondents marked it, see page 46). There are many possible meanings behind this response – were they thinking more part-time workers to save money or is this to accommodate an aging workforce? I decided to read what I could about what was happening in the “real world” in terms of challenging part-time work (vs. the world of survey answers). I found Putting Work in Its Place by Peter Meiksins and Peter Whalley (2004, ILR Press) (Sorry! no more links to Amazon due to MN taxing internet) a study that also outlined some guidelines for anyone who wants to try to implement this employment option.

First, some details about the study. It was done on IT people, technical writers, and engineers who were working 30 hours or less a week. They did extensive interviews of 127 people (65 who still had corporate employment and 62 who were independent contractors). Because of this group’s highly specialized and sought after skills, they were likely to be able to negotiate special employment deals for themselves. This group, then, could be considered pioneers in this type of employment and their experiences would map out what others will face at least in the next few years.

Meiksins and Whalley found that these deals tended to be negotiated over time and each one was unique. Mostly the part-timers were people who could argue special needs (e.g., child care or retirement) and who would be hard enough to replace that they could negotiate a different employment deal. Finally, the beauty of the part-time job turned out to be less about the time savings but rather that they had more freedom to schedule those hours as they wanted.

work and life balance

The major strategy guidelines for obtaining such work outlined by the authors were:

  • Do not assume that an organization’s policy faithfully reflects what is possible but do find out what that policy is.  Look for others who might be part-time; find out how they did it and what they learned in the process.
  • Recognize that this is likely to be a long negotiation process.
  • The immediate manager is crucial so find one that is open to thinking about work in new ways – transfer if you need to.
  • Build your reputation for high quality work, on-time, and under budget so heighten your value as a worker. Also consider other reasons they would want to keep you even at part-time such as the difficulty replacing you and/or the fact that you are part of a protected group that is hard to recruit.
  • Think in advance about how you would design the work you want to do so that it gets done on schedule and with as little inconvenience to customers and co-workers as possible. Figure out how to be available to co-workers on a practically full-time basis so the work flow doesn’t suffer.
  • Use situations socially assumed to justify going part-time if possible as part of your rationale (child care, partial retirement, additional education, the chance to excel at some other activity).
  • Develop a reason why it is not to the company’s advantage that you become an independent contractor because this possibility is likely to come up during negotiations.

Although it is hard to design and implement part-time work status in most organizations today, there have been some successes. For example, some retirement deals specifically make going part-time a possibility. Also, for some the answer becomes job-sharing. An excellent example of such a real life success is written up by my friend and colleague Monica Schultz on the WorkLifeLab website,

My conclusions after reading this book and thinking about trends in the working world is that that part-time work at a full-time employer may look like an ideal option but in reality it is not as part-time as it looks and negotiating it is a major challenge. Furthermore, its unlikely that organizations will be working to make this option more available in the near future given our job creation problem. So, if you want part-time work, think about freelancing or contracting where you can limit the work; don’t depend on an employer to do it for you.

Bonus Box – What the Affordable Health Act Might Do for Careers:
It may be a great liberating force. While the data doesn’t show a correlation between having more independent employment and not having health insurance, I think that not being able to get health insurance is one reason many traditionally employed people do not even consider freelancing or contract work. And of course being able to get affordable insurance should help the unemployed as well. There was a good NYTimes article that laid out the main components of the new system that can help anyone with these concerns at
The main points are:
• If you are single and make $45,960 or less, or a family of 4 making $94,200 you will be able to get subsidies to help pay for insurance. See for details
• Some low income (e.g. unemployed) will get free government coverage through Medicaid if their state is expanding its Medicaid program see for a list of states and their status.
• There will be four levels of insurance (bronze, silver, gold, platinum) and all must cover a set of required services. Fees will change depending on age and smoking status as well as level.
• Much more info can be found on
• Open enrollment is October 1 – March 31.


Transition Guide: Changing Job Sectors

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with a group of scientists who were completing their post-doc academic positions and considering changing sectors. By changing job sectors I mean moving to another major type of employer such as for-profit business, non-profit organizations, or government.

Talking and working with these scientists reminded me that changing job sectors adds to the information people should get to accelerate their transitions. Yes, it takes time and effort to get this additional info but it also allows savvy switchers to shape talking points and resumes to better fit the sector they want to join. Jump

Wouldn’t it make for a better jump if the fish had more information about where the new fish bowl was and could shape her efforts accordingly?

Because changing sectors is part of many transitions and is often a forgotten component of the change, it makes sense to highlight what information to get and how to use it to speed a transition.

Seek Information on Sector Decision-Making:

There are two major questions about decision-making sector switchers should ask in their early networking. I’m going to highlight some general characteristics but individuals should get information for themselves because the process will help them think through how to use what they learn to reformulate their specific work experience. Read on to see what I mean.

Question #1: Tell me about some important and contested decision made in your organization recently. What happened and what were the issues under discussion?

Decision-making is at the heart of every work organization and is important to everyone who works there. Of course every organization has its own unique organizational culture and individual’s perspectives will differ but ask these questions of workers in a number of organizations and general patterns will show up. For example, government tends to rely on process and rules to make decisions while non-profits tend to consider many different variables almost equally (e.g., the social need they serve, the funders, the capabilities of individuals in the organization).

Shaping Tactics: People can sometimes reframe their accomplishments to fit with the decision-making style of the new sector or they can more clearly articulate how the work they want to do now will fit the new sector? For example, they can focus on effectiveness and efficiency when describing past efforts if moving to business or explain how they want to solve a problem they have seen in how individuals or organizations follow regulations if looking for a government position.

Question #2: Tell me about the process that was used to hire the last new worker for your organization.

Here, again, every organization and many individual searches are unique but there are some commonalities by sector. Non-profits, most of which are small or medium-sized and have very lean internal systems, tend to spend very little time on the search process itself. They often choose people they already know – mostly to save time. Governments on the other hand tend to have very detailed processes and to follow them very precisely. Business tends to be somewhere in between preferring to hire someone who is known as competent but also having specified processes that they must use (particularly in bigger organizations).

Shaping Tactics: Candidates often can shape their time to focus on activities most useful for the job search by understanding their desired sector. For example, volunteering in two or three non-profits so their work becomes known. Or, if they are moving to government, they may want to spend time reworking their resume every time they apply for a job to use the exact terms called for in the job description. People breaking into business want to network in business so they become known.

Use Your Knowledge of Sector Stereotypes to Improve Your Impression:

When I was in college, stereotypes were considered “bad.” But now experts say that stereotyping itself is not bad because we use them as a way of coping in a fast-paced world. But what is bad about stereotyping is that sometimes people do not recognize when someone’s behaviors don’t fit a stereotype and discard it. Often workers in one sector have less than positive stereotypes of workers in other sectors and certainly see those people not fitting into their sectors. Individuals changing sectors want to signal that they are not the stereotype for their old sector and will be a better fit in the new.

Shaping Tactics: Think about you current sector’s stereotype. Business people are brusque and focused only on money. Scientists are preoccupied, concerned with being precise, and use words very few people understand. Academics don’t understand much about the “real world.” How can you signal that in some ways you do not fit the stereotype and so might be a good fit in your desired sector?

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Always remember, people need to be honest about themselves. No one wants a job that they will not enjoy because they presented themselves as something they are not. That said, changing sectors, like most major career transitions, is about reframing and rejuvenating. Try on some new views of yourself and your work. See if they fit for you!

Making NEW Connections: Networking 2.0

Most people think they know about networking – you just have to get out there and do it, right? Wrong!

The nature of networking has improved – the experts now view it as a targeted exchange of information that is valuable to all parties. But how do you do this networking 2.0, particularly if you are making a major career transition?  There is no getting around it: building new connections is a major challenge during career transitions. There are two big questions: Where to start? And how to begin meaningful conversations?

Where to start?

Individuals need what I call an interest anchor to set their new career direction and ideally that interest anchor is specific enough to lead to information resources. A specific interest anchor might be one of these or a combination:

  • a function (e.g., compensation or quality or training),
  • a sector or industry (e.g., health care, retail, or education),
  • a customer/client type (e.g., retirement aged people, kids of a certain age, or women), or
  • a product/service (e.g., genetic testing, hard drives, or cereal)

Articulating your work interest into these categories provides an easy bridge to information and groups for people moving into a new work focus. Why? Because this is the basic approach to organizing information in most of the working world. You can go to a library and ask a librarian about professional associations and magazines, or industry publications about such things as quality in health care or just quality or you can ask for a listing of companies or non-profit organizations that work with older adults or kids 6-12. This is how such lists are categorized.

You could also ask the same kinds of questions on the web. If you don’t find something fairly quickly seek help with the search words from the librarian. Research librarians are particularly good at knowing which search words work best, so use their professional expertise!

Information is valuable to people who can use it! This is your beginning value added to the networking equation.

How to begin meaningful conversations?

(c)ecco Fotolia

(c)ecco Fotolia

When you have targeted the groups you are likely to share work interests with, you should build your potential to make meaningful connections quickly by figuring out how you can further target people in the groups with your particular interests and make a good impression at the same time.

One prime way to do this is to do some reading either at the library or on the web about what is happening within your interest focus. Look at articles and ads both because they tell you what is important within the focus now. This is also a great experiment to check out a new career direction. If you find that the topics you thought would be interesting aren’t, you can refocus your interest and refine your target groups based on a better understanding of what you are interested in.

Specifically, these resources provide you with three types of information you can build on:

  • names of professional or industry groups who may meet in your region
  • details about “hot topics” people are talking about and working on in your general interest areas – What problems they are solving? What new things they are experimenting with? And what challenges they are discussing?
  • names of individuals and work organizations who are doing interesting work in areas related to your interests – these people and organizations do not have to be local to be of interest because they can provide you with information or lead you to look for similar organizations in your locale.

Now convert this information into questions that will help you understand the issues and the work better. This can help you know what information and what credentials will add value to what your new contacts are working on.

A “good” question is a great way to start a conversation because it shows interest and some knowledge, and it is a compliment to the other person because it signals that you are interested in what they think. You are not claiming to be an expert – you are asking questions to get a conversation started. So, you might say,

  • “I was reading about what XYZ company is doing with ABC process, have you used that process at your company? Did it solve the problem with _______?” (If they don’t have that problem then ask what their major challenges are.)
  • “I have been reading that ZZZ is an issue of particular concern these days in the XXX function. Do you find that to be true at your company?”

 Building on your new connections

If your conversations are productive and meaningful you have reason to exchange contact information and you can follow it up with some additional piece of information on your topic of discussion.

You might also suggest a joint learning process – perhaps doing a program on the issue for a professional organization or writing something up by gathering more information or joining a special interest group on the web, etc.

The beauty of finding “hot topics” in your interest area to start conversations about is that these are things that are currently important to the work and about which people are still seeking answers. They open all kinds of opportunities to talk to others, write articles or develop programs for small groups so you can learn together. This builds your reputation within that targeted group of people who are likely to know when jobs come open and be willing to speak up for you as a competent and committed worker.


Integrating Technology Into Careers

Arrow with word Solution breaks word Crisis. Concept 3D illustration.Observers of the working world are telling us that the use of technology is about to explode and that automation will do away with a huge number of jobs in the next few years. In fact they explain that it is the increase in the use of automation that is a main contributor to our lack of job creation post recessions. For example, see the recent articles on the AP site. And for a very readable explanation for why there will be huge acceleration in technological use read Race Against the Machine by Brynjolfsson and McAfee.

I don’t “buy” the extreme gloom and doom technology scenario that calls for the end of career opportunities. While technology innovations may be available it takes time for companies to discover the right technology for their needs and make the resources available to convert. Furthermore, I believe individual workers are needed for the economy to exist so humans are always going to be an important part of it.

I do think it means that we all have to be more focused on keeping up to date with how technology is changing career opportunities. Experienced workers can no longer assume that their experience alone will give them the edge needed to stay happily employed until they choose retirement. Let’s consider two major groups or career opportunities for building more resilient careers in the face of massive technological change.

Option Group #1: Integrating Technology into Work Organizations

When new technology is introduced:

  • Workers must be trained in the basics of the new technology
  • Frontline workers need to discover the new technology’s quirks and what the technology won’t do that the customers expect or need and develop “work-arounds” to solve those disconnects
  • Old records/systems must be converted to the new system
  • New possibilities for serving the customers must be considered and implemented if warranted

These career possibilities and the technological knowledge they require fall along a continuum so you don’t have to be a techie to integrate technology into your career. Playing various roles facilitating technological change is a great way to build a new career specialty.

To identify work opportunities, look for new technological advances in your work at your current employer. Embrace them! Learn about them! If nothing seems to be happening at your employer, look for ads on your professional association’s publications or website, read articles about innovations in your work at other employers and identify the technology being used. Go on the web to learn more! What technologies attract you for what they might help you accomplish?

Option Group #2: Move to the Web

There is a whole new set of career opportunities that are web based and use the software and hardware that make up the web. This is an area of career opportunity growing quickly! Again, you don’t have to be a programmer for many of these jobs but you do need to know how the web works. I’m only going to highlight two major types of jobs here that I believe are reasonable for an experienced worker who has not focused on technology in the past.

  1. Writing for the web: specifically blogs and other web page narratives. Writers who have an expertise/knowledge of an area have an edge over other writers because good content is the way a site moves up on search engines (known in the business as Search Engine Optimization – SEO). That said, you also need to learn to write for the web. A great starter resource is  The same would be true for graphic artists, researchers, and analysts working for websites. A place to get started would be or
  2. Start your own site: Web sites offer access to a worldwide audience which can be a real plus for small, focused business ideas. The costs to get a web business started are relatively small as well. You can start by moonlighting and then grow it if you choose. The learning curve for most experienced workers who have only used the web as an occasional consumer is significant so starting part-time can make sense. See or to get started thinking.

If you have the time and a passion for something that is a specialty of your work or has only been a hobby in the past, you may be able to make it into a very profitable business in a couple of years. List your interests/passions and begin looking around on the web for the how-to sites and special interest sites. Can you think of some approach or subset of the interested population that has not been the focus of attention yet? Could it be a website? See to watch an entrepreneur develop his businesses and read blogs about the various business models on the web. The beauty of moving to the web is there are plenty of educational resources about the web that are free.

Reframe your work experience to help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of various technologies to help workers integrate with the technology more effectively or begin experimenting with developing a web-based business related to a particular passion you have. Career opportunities around integrating technology into our world are about to be a major contributor to jobs!



If you would like to read more about this, I have a short article coming out in the Career Planning and Adult Development (CPAD) Journal this summer. a quarterly publication of the Career Planning and Adult Development Network.

Affordable Career Change: Part 1

Many people today are looking to change careers. Some are simply not finding jobs in their past career areas. Others want a change. Still others are edging toward retirement and want to gear down and can’t quite see how they can do that pursuing the same career.



Career and Technical Education: Five Ways that Pay is a study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce provides some great, detailed information about middle income job possibilities that could provide affordable career change options. The report is free to the public. The jobs this report focuses on have an average annual income of $35,000 with 40% of them earning more than an average of $50,000. None of them requires more than an Associate’s (i.e., 2 year) degree and the annual average cost of that at a public institution is under $7,000.

I discovered this report from reading an article by Jon Marcus for CNNMoney in February 2013. Both his article and the report itself focus on how younger people can use this option to help them get jobs that would allow them to more easily afford college. BUT, these jobs are also options for people changing career direction regardless of age.

This is going to be a two part blog. In part one I’m going to provide highlights from the report and talk about how to make good decisions about whether to explore this option more. In part two, I will talk about the training necessary and how to gather information to help you make that decision.

What Are the Jobs?

The beauty of this report for me was the detailed information by job title. Just move to the Appendix near the end of the report to get the list. In the past there has been no relatively easy way for people to know what kinds of jobs are available with less-time-intensive but more specific educations. Now you have a starter list of 70 jobs plus each occupation’s estimated growth and average income. This is a great start in thinking about options!

Making a Good Decision

I imagine that many are thinking I didn’t get my college education to go backwards! But, in today’s world that judgment is dated. Think about it: We all know that the working world is changing – one of the major ways it is changing is to become more technical – these jobs provide experienced workers with the chance to catch up with their technical educations and to show potential employers they are active learners ready for change. They also show potential employers commitment to a new type of work.

Other things you need to consider in deciding on a new career direction are:

  • What are your interests? Remember you are going to spend time, energy, and money learning not just to get the initial job but afterwards as well. I believe that interest trumps whatever the “experts” say might happen in the future. The experts are primarily using trends and in this time of great change, trends are not very useful predictors. Furthermore, employers like people who are interested in what they do; that motivates them to make the hire!
  • Can you see ways you might integrate the knowledge and skills you already have with the new direction?
  • If you are edging toward retirement – what are the physical requirements of the jobs that interest you? Do you think you be up for it in ten years?
  • How available are the jobs you are considering training for in your preferred locales? This gets back to how the geography of jobs is changing – see that blog for info on how to answer this question.
  • Also, remember to try to meet at least a couple of people actually doing the job to see what the job is really like vs. what you imagine it to be!

There are two or three major ways for workers not currently doing that kind of work to get the needed education. That is good news but knowing what education is needed for which job and how to find it in your locale is still a bit of a challenge. That will be a big part of Part 2 of this blog. Stay tuned if you are still interested!

Affordable Career Change: Part 2, Updating your education

In part one of this two part blog, I talked about the possibility of making a major career change by retooling for a mid-income, often more technical job. These jobs need some post-high school education/training but not more than an Associate (2 year) degree. The big news in part one was a starter list of 70 job titles along with estimates of job growth and average annual incomes. I also discussed what kinds of things workers should consider when choosing an option. The focus of this blog is on finding the educational programs to make the switch.

Now the reason little is known in the U.S. about these options for career change is we have downplayed this type of career path in favor of everyone getting a college degree – even our statistics ignore this category of work preparation. This is a major theme in the report (Career and Technical Education: Five Ways that Pay. The authors of the study call for much more data gathering in the future but for now what the lack of information means individuals exploring these options must find and access educational options on their own. The focus of this blog is to provide some ideas and starting points for digging out good information that will make for a good decisions.



Digging for Educational Options:

Hopefully you have picked a couple of options that are attractive to you given what you know so far. Now you need to assess the quality of the educational options for getting the skills and knowledge you need. The Georgetown University report highlights two major ways that individuals who are not currently employed in organizations where the work occurs can get the education they need: certifications by professional organizations and certificates or Associate (i.e. 2 year) degrees from Community Colleges.

The Georgetown report attempted to develop a list of criteria by doing statistical analysis of their national level but could not come up with any. For example, you would expect that longer educational requirements would mean more income on the job but that correlation failed to materialize. Given the lack of data, you want to focus on which programs seem to have the best reputation in your area and that means talking to people. This is much better than relying on the advertizing of the people/institutions offering the programs themselves.

A step-by-step plan for your search is:

  1. Look at job openings for your selected positions specifically for the kinds of education that are required. You can look at openings anywhere in the U.S. because you are only looking at is educational requirements.
  2. Find out the professional associations for these occupations. You can do this by asking a reference librarian at your local library as most libraries have reference books that list associations by occupations. Visiting with a librarian and telling him/her about what you are looking for will really speed the process for you! Another option is to go to which is the web site for Association Executives. They have a directory titled “Gateway to Associations” under Community on their site.
  3. Look at the Association websites for your occupation for educational programs and also to get general knowledge about the current issues and concerns related to the occupation. Also see if there is a local chapter and then call an officer to see if you can visit a meeting as a guest.
  4. Now go to some association meetings and engage people in conversations about their training and who they believe is doing the best job preparing people for this kind of work in your region. This is also a great way to make connections in the field that can lead to a greater understanding of the work and information about job openings.

Now on to the larger decision of deciding how much time and money you will invest in order to achieve your goal of a new career.

balance between time quality and money

Financially there may be help for you. Specifically, ask about financial aid via the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program (TAA). Unfortunately funding for these programs has declined as a share of the federal budget since 1979 but there is still funding available. Also, as about Pell funds if your program is part of an academic institution. And, ask your state government if there is funding for graining programs in the work you are interested in; this is sometimes done for high growth occupations or when there is an expected upsurge in need for certain types of work. These are all resources highlighted in the Georgetown study.

So, this career change option is not without its challenges but there are no easy deals anymore. All of us are needing to continually re-educate ourselves for the working world. But this is an affordable first step and can set you on the path to new opportunities! Education is a path to rejuvenation!


Freelancing Vs Contracting: The Differences

The paths to employment are really changing as we go through this long period of relatively low job creation in the U.S. Many people are re-entering the work force via what used to be known as “alternative” or “contingent” work. These old labels are not very descriptive anymore. Employers increasingly are using these short-term workers to do work at all levels. Furthermore, this type of employment is less and less “alternative” with at least 30 million workers involved. A better description now would be “more independent” employment.

The reasons for this change are a story for another day.

What I want to do here is contrast and compare these two options. First some definitions. “Freelancing” I define as individuals going out to get their own work and “contracting” I define as individuals working at short term jobs they get through staffing agencies. The definitions of these terms vary among writers so I wanted to be clear what my definitions are. Making a wise choice — freelancing vs contracting —  speeds an individual’s transition and helps determine what resources they should use.


Free to work the way you want.

Free to work the way you want.

Successful freelancers are likely to value their freedom and independence highly, easily package their work into a project format and know how to find customers for their services. Finding customers is often the biggest barrier to freelancing, but there are many ways to do that these days. For example, someone might already have a lot of contacts among potential customers or might already understand the larger environment of the work and be able to identify who might need his or her services making targeted contacts relatively easily. has a blog entitled “101 ideas to get more freelance work and generate new client leads.” It is generally full of useful information for those thinking about freelancing.

Another reason to consider freelancing is if an individual wants a more flexible schedule and/or to work at home. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, much freelancing work is done somewhere other than the employer’s work site.  Finding jobs on the web often leads to high flexibility in time and location. is another interesting site where individuals who want to freelance using the web can explore their options.

Freelancing also lends itself to working part time more readily than contract work  — an American Staffing Association survey found that 80% of contract workers worked full-time during their assignments ( ).

Where an individual would like to work in the future can also impact the decision between freelancing or contracting. Much of the work that freelancers do now is with small and medium sized businesses and is likely to lead to contacts and experience useful in small and medium organizations.


Contracting: A 3 Party Deal

Contracting: A 3 Party Deal

Big employers are tending to do all their short-term hiring through staffing agencies – it makes it simpler for them but it also blocks out a lot of freelancers who are unwilling to jump through the staffing agency’s hoops. So, individuals who want to work for larger organizations might want to focus on working as a contract worker.

Since the staffing agencies find the employment and offer a wage to job candidates, they take a lot of the decision-making a freelancer does out of the equation. It is great for people who don’t have much knowledge of their work opportunities and/or the going rate for their type of work. For this service, it is likely that the individual pays a price although I have found no credible information comparing wages between freelancing and contract workers. Studies have reported that higher-skilled worker’s say their wages are higher than they got in traditional jobs but they may only be comparing take home wages.

Sixty percent of the contract workers surveyed in 2006 by the American Staffing Association reported that they chose contract work because it would lead to permanent employment, 65% reported improved work skills, and 60% said that the experience strengthened their resume. Of those respondents to the survey who were now working in permanent positions, 43% said they had gotten permanent employment from their staffing agency employer and 53% said they had gotten permanent employment on their own.

How they are alike:

More independent employment means that workers do not automatically get vacation, sick leave, or benefits, and they are not eligible for many of the government specified aids for permanent workers (e.g., unemployment benefits, social security, or protection from some kinds of discrimination). But these are benefits that you can provide yourself, if you are successful and decide to continue in this more independent type of employment. Also freelancing can provide part-time income and an opportunity to learn how to be more career-resilient for full-time employees. This is a goal of many employees today.

Although it may make sense to specialize in freelancing or contracting, also remember that freedom abounds with more independent employment: it really isn’t freelancing vs contracting. Individuals can do both if they want!

Next Steps:

Of course the next question is what are my first steps into this career frontier. For that information download my Starter Sheet on resources for contracting and freelancing (see the box below).

Starter Guide – For Freelancing and Contracting
For more information generally see the section on more independent employment on the Reports page