Whether by choice or out of necessity, Americans are working longer. According to a survey conducted by retirement-planning website RetiredBrains.com, 86% of business professionals plan on working after they become eligible to retire, and many of these will seek out new career paths as they extend their working years. These second careers, or "encore" careers, provide continued income during retirement while allowing individuals to pursue work that is personally fulfilling, and takes advantage of their knowledge, energy, talent and time. Here, we take a look at a few important considerations when planning a second career.

Identify Your Skills and Interests
Many people who embark on a second career do so not just for the money, but for the opportunity to stay productive and do something they are passionate about. Identifying your skills is often easier than narrowing down your true interests and passions. Because you may be in your second career for the next 10 or 20 years, however, it’s important to spend the time and make an effort up front to figure out how you can combine your skills and interests into work that is rewarding.

Ideally, you should begin planning your second career while you are still working. This will give you time to really think about and plan your next act while you still have the security of a paycheck. Art Koff, Founder of RetireBrains.com, advises that it is important "for someone interested in pursuing a second career is to give this serious consideration while they are still working. [This includes] checking with their current employer as to possible avenues that might be open to them, as well as maintaining their contacts and even expanding their network, giving them a maximum number of opportunities after they 'retire.'"

When searching for your passion, it may be helpful to reflect on what you enjoyed doing as a child, and what career "dreams" you had as a young adult. Think about what you would do if money were no object (imagine you’ve won the lottery - what would you do?) Allowing yourself to dream a little can help point you in the right direction toward finding a way to combine your skills and interests.

Education and Training
Your existing skill set may not match your interests, and you may have to learn new skills through education and training. Professional programs, graduate schools and community colleges cater to people with work and family obligations, and offer evening, weekend and online classes to provide students with the flexibility they need. You may be able to complete the necessary coursework while still working in your current field, enabling you to "hit the ground running" when you switch careers. As an added bonus, you may be eligible for tuition reimbursement through your current employer. Check with your employer for details, and be sure to find out what happens if you leave within a certain period of time (for example, you may have to repay the tuition reimbursement if you leave within the year).

In addition to updating your skill set, you may need to revitalize your resume, focusing on relevant work and experience. If it has been a while since you've written a resume, you may want to consider a resume coach who can help you construct a well-organized resume that showcases your expertise, experience and accomplishments.

Where the Jobs Are
It can be helpful to consider fields that exhibit strong job growth when refining your second career. According to Encore.org, a non-profit website that provides information for people pursuing encore careers, most job opportunities fall into five categories:

According to a MetLife Foundation and Encore.com survey, 30% of people in second careers are working in education. Despite budget cuts in many school districts, math, science, special education and ESL jobs are still available. Other roles in the K-12 setting include adjunct teachers, coaches/mentors, content advisers, project coordinators and tutors.

Health care
The healthcare industry is expected to expand significantly over the next two decades as boomers age and increase demand: estimates indicate a 22% increase between 2008 and 2018. Emerging jobs such as community health worker, chronic illness coach, medications coach, patient navigator/advocate and home modification specialist add depth to the more traditional careers available in healthcare.

Although "green" jobs may be difficult to find, they represent an area of growing interest for people pursuing second careers, and changes in the production and consumption of energy may lead to an increase in the number of jobs available. While many green jobs require specific technical skills, there are job opportunities for professionals without specific environmental backgrounds, such as those who have worked in project management, architecture, engineering, accounting, human resources and marketing.

Thirty-seven percent of the federal government's full-time work force will retire by 2016, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Because of its aging workforce, the government is facing labor shortages in key skilled positions, including administrative roles, the medical and health field, and security and law enforcement. To browse government jobs, visit www.usajob.gov or your state's employment website.

While many non-profits have struggled since the financial crisis of 2008, the country's 1.5 million non-profit organizations employs about 10% of the workforce in the United States. As one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the last 10 years, non-profits provide job opportunities for a wide variety of workers, including accountants, artists, attorneys, carpenters, computer programmers, designers, educators, electricians, event planners, fundraisers, human resource professionals, managers, marketers and many others.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) refers to the growing number of individuals who are 50-plus and turning to small business ownership as "encore entrepreneurs." According to the SBA, 15% of workers between the ages of 50 to 64 are self-employed, and that figure increases to 25% for workers who are 65 and older. Entrepreneurship provides the opportunity to turn a lifetime interest or hobby into a personally rewarding and potentially profitable career. Visit www.sba.gov and search for "encore entrepreneur" for tips on starting and running a small business, as well as financing options.

The Bottom Line
A second career can provide opportunities whether you are worried about outliving your retirement savings, or you want to stay productive and do something meaningful later in life. After decades in the workforce, many people have the knowledge, energy, talent and time to devote to a new career that can provide both a paycheck and a purpose.

The best time to start planning your second career is before you retire; that is, while you are still working in your "first" career. This will give you the time you need to plan, research and make important decisions regarding your second act. Being proactive about the process, rather than expecting things to just "fall in place," can help ensure a productive and fulfilling second career.

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