Many 50+ move into new jobs

Published 6:17am Saturday, March 24, 2012

Call Cass County Council on Aging in Cassopolis and it’s likely the voice of Wendy Sanders on the other end of the line. She’s been the COA receptionist for a year.

As the number of workers age 50 and older soars, from 20 percent of the workforce in 1996 to 31 percent today, older employees might be carving out new careers, seeking different lives with more meaning or less stress.

In her previous life, Sanders had plenty of stress as a federal housing discrimination investigator for HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in Chicago.

Or they might be at a crossroads imposed by change, which Southwestern Michigan College or Lake Michigan College helped sort out for a longtime Whirlpool machinery operator interested in trying health care or a maintenance technician interested in stepping up to mechatronics.

Manufacturing isn’t dead, either, with lucrative jobs for CNC programmers in high demand. But the jobs often are shunned by younger workers.

When Sanders and her husband retired, they built a house on Paradise Lake.

Compared to her old life, answering the phone part-time at the COA is close by and “stress-free,” Sanders said.
She also coordinates out-of-county medical transportation for trips as close as Niles or Kalamazoo and as far as Ann Arbor.

A fulltime volunteer

Instead of working for a paycheck, Tom Celie became a dedicated volunteer.

“That’s how I created my second career,” Celie said.

“It keeps you young.”

Celie lives at Little Fish Lake in the Cassopolis-Marcellus area and has been a Cass County road commissioner since 2009.

When the accountant and controller retired after 35 years with National-Standard and Tyler Refrigeration (of Carrier Corp.) in Niles, he began by driving Meals on Wheels one day a week for COA, for which he has also assisted with tax preparation and is now a board member.

At the COA, Celie is also active with Handy Helpers, a program which provides repairs and builds wheelchair ramps.

Celie also serves on the Medical Care Facility board and volunteers with SCORE, the nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground and grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.

Through SCORE, Celie is involved with the Niles Entrepreneurial and Culinary Incubator opening in May in the upper level of Leader Publications’ building in the former Pickwick Club with the help of $20,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

“It does keep me busy,” said Celie, “but it’s fulfilling.”

He admits he surprised himself with what has blossomed from a simple desire to give back to his community while broadening his horizons and continuing to learn.

The fastest-growing jobs projected by 2018, according to AARP, include home health aide  — 460,900 new jobs, $20,460 2008 median wages, short-term on-the-job training required — personal and home care aide — 375,800 jobs, $19,180, short-term-on-the-job training required —  and medical assistant — 163,900 jobs, $28,300, moderate-term on-the-job training — along with 175,100 computer software engineer positions requiring a bachelor’s degree to command $85,430.

SMC dean living his encore career

Tom Buszek, 58, the dean of the division of workforce education and business solutions at SMC’s Niles Area Campus in Milton Township, is a good person to speak with about second acts because he’s sort of following that script himself.

With a background in manufacturing, including employment with Frito-Lay, Buszek spent 17 years in human resources before joining SMC full-time 10 years ago.

Buszek came to this area from Detroit in 1984 and had been teaching on the adjunct faculty.

“Now I’m a dean,” he said.

Mechatronics, filtering down to the Van Buren Tech Center by fall, combines mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer engineering, software engineering, control engineering and systems design engineering to design and make useful products, though originally it referred to merely mechanics and electronics.

Buszek said employers in this area aren’t gigantic like a Ford or General Motors, but with more automation, still need multitalented individuals who can integrate robotics and maintain such systems which replace traditional factory jobs.

He is reminded of a college open house in December where a student’s laid-off father got interested in such a program for himself, since a maintenance background can be a launching pad.

“There are opportunities like that for adults who are nontraditional students,” Buszek said.

CNC machinists demand unabated

Buszek said demand for computer numerical control (CNC) remains strong, so it could be a “good career move for older workers” with an aptitude for problem-solving, math and computers.

“We just had our advisory committee meeting and heard it again,” Buszek said, adding, in the past three years, as bad as the economy has been, he couldn’t recall any CNC machinists being laid off. He said some employers are considering passing on jobs unbid unless the demand can be met.

“Manufacturing is far from dead,” he said, and, within two years, a good job would be available paying $60,000 to $75,000 within five years.

“If we had a graduating class of 20, all could be placed.”

Short-term  training

Deborah Gillespie, training coordinator for community and business services in workforce development at Lake Michigan College’s M-Tech Center, noticed the career-change trend working with Whirlpool manufacturing employees who had been running machinery for 15 to 25 years.

While some wanted updating in computer skills, there was a segment which expressed they “wanted to give health care a try,” Gillespie said.

In response, LMC has introduced a number of short-term training preparation courses in such areas as pharmacy technician, certified nurse aide (CNA), patient registrar and electronic health.

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  • whitefishpointdreamer

    Excellent article! Some folks are forced into that second career because their long-time employers moved out of the area or closed completely. Some folks have the luxury of choosing a new career because they find their interests continually evolving. I’m in my second career now and already envisioning what my “ACt III” will be. I truly believe that lifelong learning is one of the keys to a happy, successful, and meaningful life.

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