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Study predicts better days ahead for older workers.

-Dr. Kathy Johnson, PhD, CMC

In a half a century it can be said that these may be the toughest times for older workers, but a new study forecasts that in less than a decade, these workers will be in demand once again.

According to a study done for the MetLife Foundtion and Civic Ventures, a San Francisco think tank, by 2018, boomer retirements and smaller pools of younger adults could result in at least 5 million job vacancies.  The fields of education, health car, government and nonprofit wirk will account for about half of th openings it says.

“These jobs will go begging and the economy could suffer if older workers don’t adopt them as their encore careers,” says Barry Bluestone, an economist at Northeastern University in Boston who prepared the study. As the economy recovers, spot shortages in some sectors could appear even sooner, he adds.

The report, accompanied by three papers on new jobs in health care, education and the green economy, is based on analysis of current census data, federal labor statistics and a labor market assessment tool developed by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern.

Labor economist Richard W. Johnson of the Urban Institute agrees that the job picture will be brighter for older workers in the coming years. “I would say within five years we’ll start seeing strong demand for workers in some of these social service jobs,” he says. “We would have to include older worker participation to meet this demand.”

Still, five to eight years may seem like a long time to a desperate older job seeker who needs income now. The national unemployment rate for workers 55 and older reached 7.2 percent in December, the highest in more than 50 years. On average, workers 55 and older are remaining unemployed for nearly 36 weeks.

But second careers often last as long as 25 years, says Civic Ventures CEO Marc Freedman. “As terrible as the current downturn is, this study is a reminder that you need to think about a longer time horizon. How are you going to invest your own human capital so you can take advantage of emerging opportunities?”

Although community colleges, online degree programs and other organizations are developing initiatives to help older workers transition to new careers, more needs to be done, says Freedman. “We desperately need more inexpensive and expedited pathways to help people move from aspirations to action on their encore careers. Until then, you’re on your own.” Encore.org, a nonprofit group specializing in second careers, offers a list of educational resources.

A rare sector that added jobs during the recession, health care dominates the list of hot second careers. Demand remains strong for traditional positions, such as home health aides, nurses and medical assistants. But a changing health care landscape and an aging population are also creating new jobs in support, education and advocacy to patients. Experts say there is already a need for chronic illness coaches, community health workers, patient navigators and home modification specialists.

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