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The Best Careers for Over 40
In days gone by, a worker often landed a job as a young adult and remained in the same position or with the same company until retirement. For most Americans, those days are gone. Many workers find it necessary to change careers at some point in middle age. The best midlife career changes occur after careful thought and planning. While career changes often seem daunting to people over 40, today’s marketplace offers a range of rewarding jobs and more entrepreneurial opportunities than at any other time in history.
You Are Not Alone
At least once a year, a news organization or government agency releases a report stating the average number of times workers change jobs in their lifetimes. A 2015 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study estimated that the average baby boomer worked in nearly a dozen jobs before the age of 50.
If you are at a career crossroads, you are not alone. People often change jobs due to layoffs, company bankruptcies or unwanted relocations. And 21st-century challenges have led many people to switch careers at the dawn of middle age. Common reasons for changing careers include automation, globalization and burnout.
Some people enter their careers as starry-eyed young adults, but end up losing interest by their late 30s because of office politics, long hours or unreasonable employer expectations. Other people make loads of money in the early years of work life, but later long for a different type of career based on their passions.
Regardless of why you might want or need to switch careers, middle age can be the perfect time to make a major life change.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Your financial situation can make or break a career change, especially in middle age. Switching to a new career often means starting over at the bottom of the ladder. You may earn a lower salary than the one you make now. If you know your new career will lead to less income, you might need to downsize your lifestyle before making a move. And if you have a family, you need to make sure everyone is on board with your decision, otherwise your exciting career change could lead to family strife.
Consider the value of your company benefits before you make a drastic career change. Does your current job provide you with health insurance, paid leave and valuable perks? Can you continue benefits such as healthcare while you retrain for a new career or enter into a job search? Will your new career provide benefits such as health insurance as you grow older?
Carefully analyze your retirement accounts before making a career change. Will your new career afford you the opportunity to make equal or greater contributions to your 401(k) account? If you have trouble finding a job in your new career, will you need to dip into your 401(k), sell stocks or spend down your savings?
Be honest with yourself to make sure you have what it takes to succeed in your next career. For example, if you plan to become a firefighter, do you have the physical ability to meet the job requirements? If you want to open a restaurant, do you have the culinary and management skills to attract customers and keep the business afloat during its early years?
Whenever possible, make sure you have a contingency plan in case your new direction goes awry. Can you return to your current job if your new endeavor fails? Will your current skills become outdated or obsolete if you do not continue in your current career? If you have a good relationship with your current employer, ask them if you can return if your new career hits a snag, or talk with other people in your industry to see if they might hire you if the need arises. These are just a few of the considerations you should take into account before making a midlife career change. With a little preparation, you can smoothly transition into the next phase of your work life.
Jobs for People Over 40
Looking for a new job often feels daunting for people over 40. While some employers look for workers fresh out of college, others see older workers as a greater asset thanks to their experience and wisdom. Certain types of jobs seem almost tailor-made for workers making midlife career changes, because they rely upon well-developed characteristics such as patience, interpersonal skills and maturity that many employers associate with older workers.
Folks who have felt imprisoned in an office cubicle often enjoy transitioning to a career that allows them to work closely with people. Dental hygienists clean patients’ teeth, instruct patients on how to care for their mouth and teeth, and perform preliminary oral examinations in preparation for a dentist’s extensive checkup.
To become a dental hygienist, you must earn an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, which typically takes about three years. Dental hygienists must also obtain a license from the state where they practice.
In 2017, dental hygienists earned a median income of around $74,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A median income represents the center of an occupation’s earnings scale. Hygienists at the bottom of the scale took home more than $50,000, while top earners made more than $100,000.
The BLS expects the dental hygienist profession to grow by at least 20 percent until 2026.
Setting out on the American highways is a dramatic and potentially rewarding transition for people who have grown weary of the traditional 9-to-5 workday. Within a few weeks, you can complete your training and hit the road as a tractor-trailer truck driver. Truck drivers cover local, regional and national routes, depending on the company they work for, delivering goods that support America’s consumer marketplace.
Most employers seek truck drivers who have at least a high school diploma. Many truck drivers receive their training through four- to eight-week courses offered by community colleges, technical schools or truck driving academies. Once they complete their training, they must obtain a commercial driver’s license before getting a job as a professional truck driver.
According to the BLS, truck drivers earned a median salary of around $42,500 in 2017. However, some truck drivers for large corporations such as Walmart and PepsiCo take home as much as $86,000 per year, according to Bloomberg.
Jobs for truck drivers should increase by around 6 percent from now until 2026.
Kindergarten or Elementary School Teachers
If you love spending time with children, instructing elementary school or kindergarten kids in basic education such as reading and mathematics may be the perfect job for the second half of your working life.
To work as an elementary school or kindergarten teacher, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree. And to work in a public school, you must obtain a teaching certificate or license from the state in which you teach.
In 2017, kindergarten and elementary school teachers took home a median salary of more than $57,000, according to the BLS. Low earners made around $37,000, while teachers at the top of the pay scale earned nearly $93,000.
The BLS expects job opportunities for kindergarten and elementary school teachers to increase by around 7 percent through 2026.
College and University Teachers
Leaving the marketplace for a teaching job at a college or university is a natural transition for many highly experienced professionals. Working as a post-secondary teacher enables you to pass along your knowledge to the next generation of corporate or public sector leaders, while giving you the opportunity to share your opinions and observations to a wider audience through publication of books and essays.
Colleges and universities often seek teachers who have earned a Ph.D., but many offer positions to candidates with an impressive combination of experience in the field they want to teach, coupled with a master’s degree.
College and university teachers took home a median income of around $76,000 in 2017. Post-secondary teachers at the top of the pay scale earned more than $170,000, while their colleagues at the lower end of the scale made around $39,000.
The BLS projects college and university teaching positions to increase by around 15 percent until 2026.
If you have grown tired of staring at a computer screen for eight hour every day, transitioning to the world of massage therapy can provide a more rewarding way to earn a living. Massage therapists do much more than pamper resort or spa guests; they also help clients overcome injuries, relieve chronic pain, lower stress levels, and improve their overall health and fitness level.
Most massage therapists receive extensive education that includes coursework in physiology, pathology, anatomy and kinesiology, along with practical training in massage techniques. Laws vary from place to place, but most state or local codes require massage therapists to hold a certificate or license before entering into practice.
Massage therapists earned a median income of around $40,000 in 2017, according to the BLS. High earners made nearly $80,000.
The popularity of massage therapies has led to greater need for therapists, with employment opportunities projected to increase by more than 25 percent through 2026.
Becoming a fitness trainer lets you earn a living through your love of fitness and exercise, while helping other people reach their fitness potential. Fitness trainers work one-on-one with clients to help them design and implement a personalized training program that can improve muscle tone, take off weight, and improve circulation and cardiovascular health.
Employment qualifications for fitness trainers vary by employer. Some employers seek trainers with years of practical experience, while others look for formal education in physiology, anatomy and kinesiology, or a combination of education and experience.
In 2017, fitness trainers earned a median income of around $39,000, according to the BLS. Trainers at the top of the income scale took home nearly $75,000, while low earners made around $20,000.
The demand for fitness trainers should increase by around 10 percent through 2026.
Veterinary Technologists and Technicians
Animal lovers can elevate their interest to a professional level by seeking a career as a veterinary technician or technologist. Veterinary technicians and technologists work closely with veterinarians to conduct tests on substances such as animal bodily fluids and tissue. Their work helps veterinarians diagnose illnesses and develop a course of action for recovery.
Veterinary technicians must complete a two-year course from a technical school or community college, while veterinary technologists must pass a four-year program from a similar educational institution. State laws vary, but most states require veterinary technicians and technologists to obtain a certification or license before entering practice.
In 2017, veterinary technologists and technicians earned around $33,000, according to the BLS. Technicians and technologists at the high end of the pay scale made nearly $50,000, while their counterparts at the bottom of the scale took home around $23,000.
From now until 2026, the BLS expects demand for veterinary technicians and technologists to increase by around 20 percent.
Entrepreneur Opportunities Abound
If your plans call for starting your own business, take advantage of 21st-century trends and technology. Online marketing tools and new ways of point-of-sale retailing make it easier to avoid the high costs of establishing a brick-and-mortar business. But do not hesitate to step back into old-fashioned business trends when they re-emerge in a hip new fashion.
Online platforms such as Ebay, Etsy and Amazon Handmade enable you to sell goods to national and international customers. Most online platforms charge listing fees and commissions on sales, but many do not charge a membership fee. Online sales platforms work particularly well for sellers who have already created a product line and for people with a marketing, sales or advertising background.
Food trucks offer a lower-cost startup option for new restaurateurs. By forgoing a brick-and-mortar location and working with a smaller staff, you can concentrate on marketing your business and creating a winning menu. In most cities, food trucks face the same health regulations and business license requirements as other eateries, but their portable nature enables you to operate from a regular location or at special events such as fairs, festivals and entertainment venues.
Today’s flea markets sell more than baseball cards and antiques. From coast to coast, flea markets feature goods from skateboards to arts and crafts, and provide opportunities for food vendors to establish a client base. Some flea markets only a charge a fee to rent a space, while others charge rental fees and commissions on sales. If there's no flea market in your area, start one. Costs associated with operating a flea market include space rental, insurance and advertising.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: National Longitudinal Surveys
- Forbes: 4 Important Things To Consider Before Making A Midlife Career Change
- Forbes: Why It's A Great Idea To Change Careers When You Are 40
- Vista College: 10 Best Jobs for a Midlife Career Change
- AARP: 10 Careers Worth Going Back to School For
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Dental Hygienists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Postsecondary Teachers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Heavy and Tractor-trailer Truck Drivers
- Bloomberg: Where Have America’s Truck Drivers Gone?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Massage Therapists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Fitness Trainers and Instructors
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Veterinary Technologists and Technicians
- Forbes: Food Trucks: 25 Of The Coolest
- Fast Company: How A Brooklyn Blogger Built A Flea Market Empire Overnight
Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.