Sonoma County workers changing careers as economy improves
Ken Haynes gained new career skills managing a Santa Rosa dental lab’s operations for more than two years. But looking back, he said, “my heart was just not in it.”
The Montgomery High School and Sonoma State University grad became intrigued with property management and began talking to people who knew the field. Then with the help of a career counselor, he revamped his résumé, took a sharp turn on his career road and got hired last fall as a property management assistant at Keegan & Coppin / Oncor International in Santa Rosa.
“This is exactly what I wanted to do, and my life has completely changed,” Haynes said last week. He credited career counselor Dena Lash, who “inspired the confidence in me that I could do this.”
Most Americans aren’t satisfied with their jobs, according to surveys by the Conference Board Inc., an international business research organization. Experts say that as companies have increased hiring over the past five years, more such workers may be inclined to consider a career change.
“When the economy’s better, people are more willing to take risks,” said Rich Feller, a professor in counseling and career development at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
In 2014, only 48.3 percent of Americans were satisfied with their jobs, The Conference Board reports. That compares with a high of 60 percent in the late 1980s. The last time a majority of workers expressed satisfaction about their jobs was 2005.
For such workers, career counselors offer this advice: Figure out what you’d rather be doing in your work life. If needed, turn to a career coach or counselor for assistance.
“I help people get clear about what they want and then put a plan together to get it,” said Susan Cook, a career counselor in Santa Rosa. She often asks clients, “Aside from the money, what is it that you really want in your next work opportunity?”
The counselors and other experts suggest a new era in the workplace has brought less job security and that in turn calls for a new mentality on the part of employees. Their advice for all workers: Don’t get comfy. Gain new skills, and watch for new opportunities. And, when needed, find satisfaction in using your innate strengths and talents in ways not tied to a 9-to-5 job.
“It’s the shift from the employee perspective to more of an entrepreneurial perspective,” said Cynthia Stringer, a Santa Rosa career coach.
Stringer, who also teaches classes for Sonoma County Job Link’s employment development program, recommends workers keep building themselves up through education, volunteering and networking.
It’s hard to know whether more workers are changing careers, largely because the government doesn’t track such movement, despite perceptions to the contrary. (The Wall Street Journal in 2010 noted the oft-cited figure that the average American will have seven careers, but it reported that the source of that pronouncement remains a mystery.)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states on its website that it never has tried to estimate such a number because “no consensus has emerged on what constitutes a career change.”
The bureau does track how long workers stay with the same employer, a length that in recent decades has decreased markedly for middle-aged males. For men aged 45 to 54, the median job tenure declined to 8.2 years in 2014 from 12.8 years in 1983, according to a report using the bureau’s data by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a public-policy group based in Washington, D.C.
For that same period, the median tenure for female workers of the same age rose to 7.6 years from 6.3 years, while the tenure for all workers 25 and older rose slightly to a median 5.5 years.
Feller, a past president of the Oklahoma-based National Career Development Association, said technology continues to decrease the need for labor and has pushed more people to become private contractors.
“I’m quite convinced there’s a major shift toward independent work,” he said. For a decade, he has written about the “nervously employed,” the large number of workers whose jobs are marked by accelerated demands to perform and to retool their skills and who live with the specter of one day being let go.
Pam Hayne, an employment and training counselor at Sonoma County Job Link, which provides employment assistance to job seekers, said she has encountered many underemployed workers since the recession. And hourly wages still haven’t recovered from the downturn.
“Fifteen (dollars) is the old $20,” she said.
But of late, job postings have become more numerous, so much so that a few clients recently sought her advice about choosing between competing offers. As such, the times are better for those considering a career change.