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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 www.wdsc.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.