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Work @50+ 2008

“Boomers Go to College,” a 2007 study conducted by AARP Oregon and the Portland Community College, finds that older individuals are “motivated learners.” They have differing attitudes and needs, however, when it comes to higher learning. Because of that, some institutions have created customized programs for older students. In August 2007 Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based think tank and social-program incubator, teamed with the MetLife Foundation to provide funds to ten community colleges across the country so they could develop programs to help older workers gain the skills needed for careers in education, health care, and social services. These Encore Colleges, as Civic Ventures has dubbed them, offer specialized curriculums and teaching methods designed for boomers and seniors, as well as mentoring programs and career counseling.

Traditional colleges and universities aren’t the only game in town, either. You may also want to consider a trade school, where you can learn such diverse pursuits as cooking, court reporting, and website design. In many instances, trade schools provide the desired knowledge and skills in weeks or months rather than years. Tom Standard decided that after 20 years as a chef, often logging 80-hour workweeks, he wanted to go in a completely new direction with his career. His wife, Amy, suggested he try something in computers, “since he spent most of his downtime in front of a monitor.” The Arlington, Va., resident enrolled in a six-month course at a technology trade school. He’s been working “very happily,” he says, as a systems analyst “with a more normal life” for the past six years.

If you’re interested in resuming your education, check with the institution you plan to attend to see whether it offers special mentoring, tutoring, career-counseling, or academic-advisory services for older students. If it doesn’t, administrators can probably refer you to a school that does.

Test the Waters

Once you’ve completed all the steps described here, you should have a pretty good idea of where you want to go. But what if you’re still not sure? Here are some ways to gain insight into the career you’re considering before actually taking the plunge. They’ll also help you get your foot in the door for a position you’ve decided you want to pursue.

Job Sampling What better way to learn about a job or career than to take it for a test drive? VocationVacations (866-888-6329), a Portland, Ore., organization, offers an array of opportunities to sample real jobs at real companies and nonprofit organizations. You can pay anywhere from six hundred to a few thousand dollars to try your hand at just about any calling, from wedding coordinator to animal therapist, from trucker to riverboat-tour guide. You spend two or three days doing the actual work.

Internships and Volunteer Positions A part-time (or full-time, if you can financially swing it) internship or volunteer opportunity is a good way to get an idea of what a job involves. Both also give you an inside track to possibly securing paying work in that field.

Networking Seek out and talk to someone who is actually working in the field you’re interested in. Most professionals will be glad to give you some insight into their work. And ask your friends, family, and former colleagues to help you by putting you in touch with people they know who share your interests.

Social-Networking Sites More and more people are tapping into websites such as LinkedIn—an online network of professionals from around the world representing 150 industries—to build professional networks. These sites allow you to share information with people who have your same interests. Other services, such as, let you create or edit an online profile and search for job leads. Recruiters often use these sites to spot promising job candidates.

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