March 16, 2010

Switching careersUncertain economic times and layoffs have more and more Mainers looking for new fields.


— By . KIM

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John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Thurs., July 10, 2008. Stacey Breault started a catering business called Chefa's that she runs out of her Buxton home.

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John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer: Friday, July 11, 2008. Tom Ackerman runs Classic Connections, a travel service specializing in hunting and fishing trips, seen here rigging a salt water fly rod in his boat parked at his home in Topsham.

Staff Writer

Stacey Breault's job as a refund investigator at Anthem was not a perfect fit. Her days were spent on a computer, when her interests were cooking, entertaining and working with people.

After a merger put her job in jeopardy, Breault resigned, went back to school and opened her own catering business. It was hard reaching the decision, but she has no regrets.

''I'm having so much fun,'' said Breault, a 32-year-old Buxton resident who started her business, Chefa's, in recent months. ''I like to get out with the people. I love it when I can go and talk to everyone.''

More people are considering big career changes like the one Breault made, in these economically uncertain times. Some are looking for new fields after a layoff and others are seeking just-in-case alternatives in anticipation of troubles ahead.

Mainers surveyed in June by Pan Atlantic SMS Group, a research and marketing company, identified jobs and employment as the most important issue facing the state, with 22.3 percent of those responding saying it's their top worry. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

Career changing isn't tracked by the federal or state government, but those people who offer vocational training programs and other career services in Maine say demand is up. Traffic has spiked over the past year at the Maine Labor Department's CareerCenters in Portland and Lewiston, according to managers there.

''We're seeing more people who are starting to explore other options, who are still employed but are concerned about what's happening with their company,'' said John Bouchard, manager of the Portland center. Many are in the mid-career phase of their lives, with a good deal of experience in a particular industry, he said.

MaryLaFontaine, the Lewiston manager, has noticed that clients are coming from a wider variety of industries and jobs. She said there's also been an increase in small layoffs, which don't attract headlines but add up across the economy.

There's also strong demand right now for job training through a new scholarship program, which provides training for high-demand, high-wage occupations to applicants who meet income guidelines, said Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman.

The program, which can support 165 people, received so many applicants that the department had to stop accepting them within a couple of weeks, she said. The process may reopen in the coming weeks.

''I think there's incredible interest on the part of Mainers looking to upgrade their skills,'' she said. ''I think people are looking to up their skills in order to increase their marketability and their economic stability.''

Likewise, Southern Maine Community College is expecting more students this fall, though it's too soon to have enrollment figures, said Mark Krogman, associate dean of students. Health care programs are in high demand, with some, like nursing, running long waiting lists.

''Traditionally, community colleges do well in times of economic downturn,'' Krogman said.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that younger baby boomers -- those born between 1957 and 1964 -- had 10.8 jobs between the ages of 18 and 42. The federal government does not track career changes because of the difficulty of deciding what constitutes a career change rather than a job change.

And many of those come during times of economic unrest.

The frequency of job changes are a reflection of the loss of job security, said James Hughes, an economics professor at Bates College. The notion of a lifetime career has diminished with the decline of organized labor and company pension plans, which encouraged long tenure among workers, Hughes said. Workers are now increasingly mobile, and employers often expect employees to move on to advance their careers, he said

''The whole 'company man' idea -- there was something to that in the '60s and '70s. But now you would be hard pressed, in the service sector particularly, to be at the same firm your whole life,'' he said.

The clients of Drake Inglesi Milardo seek the services of the Portland-based human resources consulting firm for various reasons. They may be unhappy in their jobs, looking for the right college major or deciding what to do upon reaching retirement age, said Catherine Mossman, vice president of client relations.

There are also those who are worried about job stability.

''When things happen in our economy and our society that shake things up, people tend to step back and really evaluate their lives,'' she said.

One client of the firms, Tom Ackerman of Topsham, was a company man at L.L. Bean for 16 years and rose to the level of hunting and fishing product manager. He had entrepreneurial aspirations and said his work with the career consultant helped him articulate his desire to help people enjoy the outdoors.

Ackerman started Classic Connections, a travel service specializing in fishing and hunting trips after leaving L.L. Bean. He then landed a job as a booker for ESPN's ''The New American Sportsman,'' which led to a three-year stint as the show's host. He is now the host of ''Escape to the Wild,'' a Versus show that surprises labor union members with outdoor adventures.

Ackerman, 55, said he's found meaningful work in bringing people outdoors to see bald eagles or take in the beauty of a river.

''I know I'm doing what I should be doing,'' he said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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