Switching Careers: Retraining for hot jobs

With employers shedding a surprising 85,000 jobs in December, experts fear many will be looking for work for years to come. For some, the answer may be to take a detour and switch careers.

But before you make a move, do your research and consider what makes a good fit for you, recommends career coach Marshall Brown.

"Eighty percent of the job search time is networking," Brown says. "That's how people are finding jobs these days. They are digging deep into their networks."

That's how Scott Hartung, a manufacturing engineer, landed his next gig after the electronics plant he worked at closed. An internship at a hospital became one step toward his new career as an IT consultant.

Hartung and Tyler Sutton, a retail manager who segued into chemical processing, share their stories of retraining.
Scott Hartung: Connecting with networks

Hartung thought he had made the right career choice when he graduated in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering technologies from Lake Superior State University in Michigan. At the time, manufacturing jobs were plentiful, he recalls.

But eight years later, the Petoskey, MI resident found himself out of work when his employer, which specialized in building circuit boards, was bought by an Indiana-based company. That company moved all but the medical division overseas. Hartung was tapped to help his new employer relocate the medical arm to Indiana.

"It was kind of depressing," says Hartung, now 33. "The most challenging part was not knowing what was around the corner."

Luckily, he had some idea of what he wanted to do next. After years managing the machine maintenance team, he realized he liked information technology. But he also did his research and discovered that several hospitals in the area were hiring certified IT personnel. The job prospects nationwide "seemed to be staggering with the expected employment rates and wages," he said.

Thanks to Michigan Works Association and the Trade Adjustment Act program, he enrolled as a full-time student at North Central Michigan College in March 2008 and was able to graduate with an associate's degree in computer networking a year and a half later at a cost of about $7,500.

Last September, he landed a job as an IT consultant at Chesley Consulting. It helped that he had interned at a local hospital familiar to the founder of Chesley.

"I don't think I would have had a remote opportunity at this job without going back to school," says Hartung. "It gave me the opportunity for the internship at the hospital. And people at the hospital knew people at this company."

Tyler Sutton: Returning to his roots

When Sutton was laid off by a major sporting goods company in 2007, he had 20 years of experience in retail management under his belt. But rather than look for another retail position, he took a hard look at his prospects and opened his mind to retraining.

Sutton, now 45, took an aptitude test at Michigan Works Association and qualified for Michigan's No Worker Left Behind program. He was also encouraged to consider chemical processing as a new career.

"Jobs in high demand in Michigan were chemical processing, nursing, welding and truck driving," recalls the Bay City resident. "Truck driving would have taken me away from home a lot. I ruled it out for me because I have three kids and a wife. My wife was working full time and my kids were doing well in school so I didn't want to upset that stability."

Sutton ultimately chose chemical processing because "I like chemistry and physics." He had graduated with a bachelor's degree in physiology from Michigan State University. In addition, the likely employers, Dow Chemical and Dow Corning, were in nearby Midland.

The couple economized, learning to live off his wife's salary and their savings, so he could go to Delta College in University Center full time in fall 2007. Sutton, who placed out of half of the courses because of his undergraduate work, was able to graduate one year and $3,000 later with an associate's degree in chemical processing.

"Half my class was around my age so that made it more comfortable," says Sutton. "But before getting into school, I was nervous. It's a new career. It had been over 20 years since I had been in the classroom. I had a lot of anxiety. But instructors like Joel Justin, Matt de Heus and Dr. Lee were phenomenal. They gave a lot of support. All three gave me letters of recommendation and sent them to Dow Corning and Dow Chemicals."

That, along with his degree, helped him score a job at Dow Corning. Sutton says he has no regrets. The new career is "great. At Dow Corning, people are like family. I look forward going to work every day."

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