It's not unusual for people to change careers one or more times throughout their working lives. With the Social Security full retirement age now at 67 for people born in 1959 or later, it's not unusual for people to expect to spend well over 40 years in the workforce, and significantly longer for some individuals. That is a really long time to stick with one career, so it's not difficult to see why change is likely to occur.
Career Change Facts and Figures
Baby Boomer Changes
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) longitudinal study released in July of 2012, people who were born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.3 jobs between the ages of 18 and 46. Almost 50 percent of the different positions were held before the participants turned 25, with an average job tenure of just under 4.5 years.
Information is not available on whether these positions represent career changes, as BLS does not attempt to estimate career changes due to the difficulty of defining what really constitutes a change of career.
Gen X Expectations
Those born between 1965 and the late 70s are often referred to as 'Generation X'. New York Life indicates that this generation is serious about work, but started the trend of changing companies and careers frequently.
According to a fact sheet compiled by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network, individuals in this generation expect to change jobs and careers more frequently than their older counterparts and the vast majority (nearly 75%) say that it's likely that they'll return to school during their working lives.
Job changes aren't just for the Baby Boomers and Gen X folks. Their younger counterparts may actually move around in their careers even more. Jeanne Meister of Future Workplace reports that her organization's 2012 Multiple Generations@Work survey revealed that 91% of respondents born between 1977 and 1997 (often referred to as Millennials) expect to change jobs every three years.
Number of Careers
While BLS doesn't track career changes and, as the Wall Street Journal reports "no one knows for sure the true average number of careers," professionals who work in career development provide estimates based on their professional experience. In a What'sNext.com article, Mary Lindley Burton of Burton Strategies indicates that she has worked with many clients who expect to change careers between four and seven times.
Desire for Change
While not everyone who wants to change careers will actually make the decision to go through with a switch, a significant portion of the American workforce would like to do so. According to a 2013 Harris poll, "Only 14 percent of U.S. workers believe they have the perfect job and more than half want to change careers."
The survey's results indicate that age seems to play a factor in the desire for change. Close to 80 percent of those under the age of 20 indicated a desire for change. For those in their 30s, the percentage dropped to less than 65 percent and to less than 55 percent for those in their 40s.
Actively Seeking Change
There is a difference in wanting to change jobs and actually doing something about it. In 2009, Monster.com conducted a poll of job seekers throughout the U.S., Europe and Canada about their thoughts on career change. The results indicated that 49 percent of respondents were actively seeking to change careers through their job search efforts, while a total of 89 percent would be open to changing to a different industry.
Hesitancy to Change
The 2013 Harris poll mentioned above also shed some insight into the reasons that people who want to change careers choose not to do so. Of those who would like to change careers, 57 percent indicate that a lack of financial security is a significant barrier. Forty percent report not knowing what career they would want to change to, while 37% report insufficient qualifications to change.
Back to School
According to UCanGo2.org, "adults age 25 and over make up more than 40 percent of college students," many of whom are seeking higher education to "support a career change." As Huffington Post states, "getting additional education in midlife...can be an excellent way to move into a new career."
For some, the decision to go back to school may be because their original field is becoming obsolete, while others may simply have realized that they were not happy in their previous occupation. Still others are returning to the workforce after years away and need new skills in order to be marketable to employers.
Change for Good
Encore.org is a nonprofit focused on helping people who want to transition from the corporate world to the nonprofit sector as a way of making a positive mark on the world, leaving it better than they found it. The organization's focus is on what they refer to as 'encore careers' for people past the mid-career stage who want or need to continue earning an income while doing work that is meaningful on a social and personal level.
Not everyone is ready to retire at retirement age, but continuing to work in the same full-time capacity as before reaching this age isn't always desirable, or even possible. The concept of semi-retirement, which involves transitioning from full time careers to part-time work, is becoming increasingly popular among seniors.
U.S. News & World Reports cites an HSBC Bank/Cicero Group study which revealed that 32 percent of respondents aged 55-64 hope to semi-retire in advance of fully retiring from the workplace. Respondents cite a combination of social, emotional and financial reasons for continuing to work a reduced schedule past retirement age. Even if work duties stay largely the same, going from full-time to part-time employment constitutes a significant career and lifestyle change.
Consider Change Carefully
If you are thinking about changing careers, be sure to consider your decision very carefully. Think about the reasons you are dissatisfied in your current line of work before deciding to leap to a new field and take the time to evaluate your true interests and talents. Doing so can help you make the wisest possible decision for your current stage in life.
Even if you land on the perfect career for today, however, there is no guarantee that you may not decide that you'd like to change again in the future. As the Career Center for the University of California at Berkley points out, "People continue to change throughout life and so does the job market."