Chapter 16
Job Changes

In This Chapter
  • Keeping up with changes in the workplace
  • Understanding when a voluntary job change makes sense
  • Coping with an involuntary job change
  • Considering the classroom
  • Keeping a positive attitude during job changes

A job, or perhaps a career, used to be something that was fairly constant in the life of an average person. Men and women prepared for jobs in school or through on-the-job training. They’d find work with a good company and settle in—barring any unforeseen circumstances—until retirement time rolled around.

That scenario is practically unheard of in 2001. These days, we train for jobs differently than we used to. We not only switch jobs, but entire careers—three or four times. We job share. We work from home. We work from home while keeping an eye on our kids or grandkids. We have more options than we used to, and we know it.

In this chapter, we’ll look at the ways in which the workplace is changing, and how we may fit into this constantly shifting picture. It’s important to examine, because, after all, few factors affect our finances more than our jobs.

The Changing Workplace

The workplace in America is changing, and will continue to change as we move further into the twenty-first century. Many of these changes are due to technological advances, and others result from shifts in the numbers of workers, and their ages, ethnicities, educations, and so forth.

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You can request a copy of “futureworks” by calling 202-219-6001, extension 123.

The U.S. Department of Labor released a report called “futureworks,” which examines the changing face of the American workplace and workforce. Some of the highlights of the report are listed as follows. Please note that all percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole numbers.

  • The population of the United States is expected to grow by nearly 50 percent in the next 50 years. By the year 2050, the population will increase from about 275 million now to about 394 million people, due largely to immigration. This indicates a much larger pool of workers than we have presently.
  • Because immigration will account for two thirds of the population increase, the face of the American workforce will change dramatically. The white population is predicted to drop between 2000 and 2050 from 73 to 53 percent, while the Hispanic population will increase from 10 to 25 percent. The black population will remain fairly steady, rising only from 12 to 14 percent, and the number of Asians and Pacific Islanders will jump from 3 to 8 percent.
  • Baby boomers, who collectively have dominated the American workforce for the past 20 years, will reach retirement age (65) between 2011 and 2029. The average age of the workforce will rise as the boomers get older, and their retirements will precipitate many changes. Increasing numbers of younger workers will be affected by the demands of working while caring for elderly parents (those elderly parents will be us).
  • More Americans are graduating from high school than ever before, and more are going to college. Almost 83 percent of all people who are 25 or older have completed high school, and 24 percent have graduated from college. That’s way up from 30 years ago, when only 54 percent of people in this age group had completed high school, and fewer than 10 percent had graduated from college. While education overall is on the rise, however, the numbers vary dramatically among ethnic groups. Asian Americans had the highest high school completion rate in 1997 at more than 90 percent, while graduation rates for blacks and whites were just about the same at 86 and 88 percent respectively. Hispanics, however, saw a high-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. It’s clear that the level of education a person has greatly affects his potential for earning. The disparity in education rates between ethnic and racial groups indicates future disparity in earning levels.
  • Women continue to work more, while men are working less. While in 1950 only one third of all women held jobs, 60 percent were working in 2000. On the contrary, the percentage of men working fell from 86 to 75 percent during the same time period. In addition, women are more likely to work full-time in the future than they have in the past, and all year long, rather than just during the months when their children are in school. And increasing numbers of women are starting their own businesses, of which about 60 percent are run from home.
  • The number of manufacturing jobs in the United States will drop dramatically in the next several years, while the number of service-related jobs will increase. The number of agricultural jobs will decrease significantly. Industries and businesses that are looking at big growth include child care, health care, and residential care facilities.
  • While the highest-paid jobs will continue to require the best educated workers, the majority of new jobs will require an Associate’s degree or less. This will give unskilled workers more job opportunities, but their wages won’t be high.
  • E-commerce will continue to impact the American workplace, and will give more people with disabilities a chance to find jobs that employ computer technologies. It’s estimated that total e-commerce will top out at $1 trillion by 2005.
  • Computer technology will continue to cause swift and extensive workplace changes. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that by 2006, nearly half of all workers in America will be employed in industries that either produce, or extensively employ information technology, products, and services. Computer technology also allows workers to operate from places other than the traditional office. Many workers already do at least some of their job from home, while others use computers to file reports and keep in touch from remote locations.

Go Figure
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average worker holds 9 jobs by the time he’s 32 years old.

As you can see, there will be many changes in the American workplace during the upcoming years. We’ll need to be aware and keep up with the changing workplace in order to remain competitive workers until we retire.

Voluntary Job Changes

If you’re intrigued by all these changes occurring in the work place, you may have considered changing jobs yourself. Gone are the days when you expected, and were expected, to work for the same company—often doing the same job—for years and years. And it’s increasingly easy to prepare or train for a new job while you’re working.

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If you’ve decided to change jobs and may be without one for a period of time while you look for a new one, try to increase your savings by 20 percent for at least several months before you leave your current job. This will give you a financial buffer in the event that you’re unemployed.

Colleges, business schools, and technical schools cater to working adults by creating programs that offer classes at times other than normal working hours, or through Internet communication. And workplaces experiencing shortages of skilled workers are more receptive to hiring workers who are middle-aged or even older, than they may have been previously. We can change careers several times, moving around to find jobs that are more challenging, better paying, or just more fun.

So maybe you’re thinking of changing jobs. Perhaps you’ve even been offered a different job at a higher salary. Congratulations. Before you jump at it, though, take a few minutes to think about the suggestions and points listed as follows:

  • Look closely at the benefits and decide what options are most important to you and your family. Do you require an excellent health care plan? Are you looking for a 401(k) plan where the employer matches generously, short and long-term disability benefits, or supplemental life insurance that you can purchase through payroll deductions?
  • Is a new employer perhaps so anxious to get you on board that he’ll offer some additional perks such as extra vacation days, a signing bonus, or stock options? It can’t hurt to ask.
  • Keep an eye toward retirement. At this point in your life, you’ve got to think long term. Make sure the company you’re looking to join has a good pension or 401(k) plan, and check out other retirement benefits that might be in place.
  • Does the company offer benefits such as profit sharing, dental and vision coverage, or free memberships to a gym or health club? Will it pay some percentage of your kids’ college costs? Can you buy additional vacation time? What’s the sick leave, personal days, and bereavement policy like?

Voluntary job changes can be exciting and rewarding. Make sure, however, that a job change makes financial sense, both in the short and long runs.

Involuntary Job Changes

While voluntary job changes can be stimulating and ego-boosting, involuntary job changes usually are pretty much of a drag—at least initially. American workers learned this en masse following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on our country.

While Americans enjoyed a pretty good stretch of low unemployment in the late 1990s, the twenty-first century has not started out as fortuitously. The U.S. economy already was faltering before the attacks, which resulted—in addition to mass death and destruction—in widespread layoffs and unemployment.

It’s unclear how quickly our economy will recover, but it’s a sure bet that many, many people will face the challenges of unemployment for months to come.

And, although the American employment situation has become unexpectedly grim, there have been periods previous to this that have made U.S. workers wary about their job situations. Extensive downsizing occurred in the early and mid-1990s, many of the cuts affecting middle management types, who were then forced to take lower-paying, less skilled jobs.

Even then–U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich advised Americans during that period to rethink the issue of job security and accept that layoffs would occur.

“Job security is a thing of the past,” Reich said. “People are going to have to get used to the idea of involuntary separations—sometimes four, five, or six times during a career.”

Fortunately, the involuntary separation rate has dropped since those mean, lean years of downsizing in the 1990s, but, make no mistake about it, workers are still being unwillingly moved out of jobs, especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

It’s not easy to leave a job in which you’re comfortable. You know the routine, you know your co-workers, and you know where everything is. If you lose that job and are forced to move on, you’re likely to suddenly feel that you’ve gone back to square one. You have to learn a new job in a new company, not to mention ask somebody to show you how to use the copier and point you in the direction of the coffee room.

Go Figure
Department of Labor statistics indicate that of all displaced workers, those who are in their fifties or older have the most difficult time finding new employment.

Being forced to find a new job is nowhere near as comfortable or desirable as polishing up the old resume because you’ve willingly decided to launch a hunt for the perfect post. Still, losing a job doesn’t mean that you’re not a good worker, or a good provider, or a good person. Stuff happens, and involuntary unemployment is one rather unpleasant part of that stuff.

If you find yourself looking for a new job because you have to, rather than because you want to, don’t despair. The following are some tips to remember if you suddenly find yourself without a job.

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The Department of Labor funnels money to states to help pay for retraining for people who have been displaced for their jobs. To find out if you might qualify, check out the Web site of the department’s Employment and Training Administration. You’ll find it on the Internet at

  • Work with an outplacement counselor to see what other jobs are available. Many companies provide a counselor to help laid-off employees find another job. If your company doesn’t provide this, ask if it will pay for you to hire a counselor privately.
  • Take advantage of any sort of retraining program your former employer may offer. Many companies will pay for training for employees who are laid off. Some even provide offices for employees to use as a base for job hunting.
  • Negotiate the best severance package you can get. If your employer needs to downsize, and you’re in a fairly high-paying position, he may be willing to give you a nice severance package when you leave.
  • Network, network, network. Come on, you’ve been around for a while now, and surely have met lots of folks along the way. Don’t hesitate to use your contacts to get an idea for what jobs may be available, to meet other people who may be able to help you, or even to get introductions to people in authority within their companies. Statistics show that more people find jobs through other people than through job ads. Remember that people generally really like to help others when they can.
  • Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find another job right away. And don’t take the first job that comes along if you know it’s not right for you.
  • Be creative. Remember that traditional jobs, those in which you show up at the office every morning at 8:00, take a quick lunch break, and head for home at 5 or 6 P.M., are not the only kind of employment opportunities out there. Perhaps you have skills that would allow you to work from home, or another location. Maybe you’ll decide it’s time to start your own business (much more about that in Chapter 18, “Going Out on Your Own”). Don’t trap yourself by limiting your job search to the kinds of job you’ve always had.

While involuntary job changes can be difficult, most people who undertake them do so successfully. Keep a positive attitude and try to focus on the things in life that mean the most—your family, friends, and place within the community.

Heading Back to the Classroom

If you find yourself unexpectedly without a job, you may feel that you need to find another one as quickly as possible. Or depending on circumstances, you might be inclined to look into a completely new area of work.

If you choose the latter, chances are you’ll need some sort of retraining. You might decide to head back to the classroom. If you don’t have a college degree, you may decide that now’s the time to get one. If you have a Bachelor’s degree, you might want to tack on enough extra credits for a Master’s or Ph.D.

Thinking about heading back to the classroom after 20, 25, or 30 years in the workplace can be daunting, but if you decide to head back, you’ll certainly be in good company. So many older people have gone back to college that they’re no longer called “nontraditional students.” The U.S. Department of Education reports that nearly 40 percent of all college students are over the age of 25.

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If you do enroll at a college, find out if there’s a reentry program or support services for adults. Many schools offer these types of services, which are designed to provide counseling and help meet the particular needs of older students.

If you’ve been laid off and are considering going back to college, try to negotiate education expenses as part of your severance package. Or check with the school you’re considering to find out what grants, scholarships, low-interest loans, or tuition payment plans might be available. You also may be able to get some tax advantages if you’re enrolled in college.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to attend courses close to home, so that commuting expenses are the only added expenses to the tuition costs. If you’re going back to get a teaching certification or accounting degree—or even a complete change of career—compare the costs of area colleges. Be sure to find out how much each one charges per credit hour, and how many credits you’ll need to get the degree you want.

In Chapter 8, “Paying for College,” we talked about the HOPE Scholarship Credit (the tax credit for the first two years of post-secondary education) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (this credit is available for a unlimited number of taxable years). If you find yourself back in the classroom, be sure you take advantage of these tax advantages. Lowering your taxes can help to pay tuition costs. Other types of grants, aid, and loans were also discussed in Chapter 8.

Check with personnel at the college you’re interested in attending to see if you might take a standardized test, such as the CLEP or DANTES, to give you a head start. These tests measure knowledge you’ve already attained, and many institutions grant credit to students who successfully complete these standardized exams. And, be sure to ask if the school in which you’re interested offers credit for life or work experience. Some colleges allow students to demonstrate that they’ve mastered the principles of particular courses through their prior experiences.

As you know, technology has had a tremendous impact on education during the past several decades. One result of these technological advancements is the opportunity for distance learning.

Go Figure
Adult college students typically have higher overall grade-point averages than students who attend right after high school.

Distance learning is any learning that takes place while the instructor and student are geographically removed from one another. Distance learning can be accomplished by mail, video, interactive or cable TV, or satellite broadcast. The most popular method, however, is via the Internet. There are real advantages to distance learning, such as being able to manage your time and schedule, and, in some cases, being able to work ahead.

Another area worth looking into is an external degree program. This applies to people who have accumulated college credits over the years from one or more institutions, but haven’t obtained a degree. An external degree program may allow you to transfer a portion of your course work, reducing the time it would take you to get a degree.

Whether or not to go back to school is a big decision that will affect your time, your family, and your finances. It may, however, be a smart move if you’re looking to move into a different job area.

The Least You Need to Know
  • The American workplace is changing quickly, and will continue to change as we move further into the twenty-first century.
  • Changing jobs voluntarily can provide a great opportunity to refresh your outlook by trying something new.
  • Involuntary job changes are difficult, but can result in positive changes in the long run.
  • Returning to college offers many opportunities and challenges for older students.
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