The Challenges of Launching an Encore Career

Emily Brandon

Many people dream about launching a second career in a field they have always wanted to try. But the transition into an encore career can be a long and costly process.

Most people earn a significantly lower amount of money (43 percent) or no money at all (24 percent) during the transition from one job to the next, according to a recent MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland. The online survey of 253 adults between ages 44 and 70 who are currently in encore careers found that over half (57 percent) of these older workers had to tap their personal savings to make ends meet during the transition.

"That transition is not necessarily a very easy or a sure thing," says Jim Emerman, executive vice president of Civic Ventures. "The financial hardship of the transition, while not really surprising, really jumped out at us as one of the big challenges."

It often takes a significant amount of time for older workers to launch second careers. Three quarters of the survey respondents currently in encore careers experienced an employment gap of longer than 6 months. And a third (34 percent) of these older workers were unemployed for two or more years before they found another job. Some people used that time to volunteer (23 percent) or retrain by taking college courses (20 percent).

When Lisa Roger, 53, a former software engineering project director, was laid off in 2009, she faced a substantial reduction in income for about 14 months. She had to use her savings, collect unemployment benefits, and sign up for COBRA continuing health coverage to make ends meet. During the transition she participated in the Encore Hartford program in Storrs, Conn., a fellowship that helps experienced professionals transition to the nonprofit sector. She eventually found a new job as a family self-sufficiency services manager for the Norwalk Housing Authority. "Today I don't make nearly the salary that I did as a software engineer and I am ok with that," Roger says. "The work is incredibility rewarding. I know I am making a difference." The new job has caused her to reevaluate her retirement plans. "I used to feel that I was going to retire at a really early age, before 65," Roger says. "The career that I am in now, I see myself going beyond that because it is so rewarding."

Older workers are motivated to make a career change by a variety of financial and personal reasons. Insufficient income (28 percent) and inadequate savings (25 percent) were among the top reasons for making the switch. But realizing that some lifetime goals have yet to be fulfilled (28 percent) and a desire to make a bigger difference in the world (21 percent) also play a large role in decisions to move on to something new. Sometimes the transition is sparked by health problems (15 percent), an empty nest (11 percent), or hitting a specific age such as 50 (12 percent). Some people also speak of a spiritual calling into a new line of work (12 percent).

Most people switched into new jobs at for-profit businesses (22 percent) or nonprofit organizations (20 percent). Education (19 Percent), health care (15 percent), and government agencies (6 percent) are also popular second career choices. "Some people will work longer in their current jobs, whatever they are, and other people will want a change," says Emerman. Often the new job comes with shorter hours and a more flexible schedule. People in encore careers work an average of 30.5 hours per week, the Civic Ventures survey found.

Almost half of people who made a career change (47 percent) did so between ages 50 and 59. Only 3 percent of those surveyed changed careers at age 60 or older. The typical person in an encore career expects to continue working for an average of another 11 years and eventually retire at an average age of 69. They have an average of 24 years of work experience.

Many individuals need to keep working for the income (69 percent) and benefits (30 percent). Other people launch second careers to stay active and productive (58 percent), pursue a new challenge (6 percent), and because they simply enjoy the work (31 percent). Some older workers also want to give something back by helping others in the community (35 percent) and staying involved with other people (19 percent).

"People are living much longer and they are healthier, and so they want to stay engaged. People need and want and are able to work longer," says Emerman. "If people are out of work now or worried about their current job, the idea of a next career that combines continued financial security with personal satisfaction and something that they are passionate about is very strong."

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