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When Tom Anstead was laid off from Arthrex in 2020, the product manager was left with two choices. He could look for a job at another medical device company, which would mean a move out of the area. Or he could set off on a new career path.

The single dad of two kids decided a relocation wasn’t the right option. “It seemed like moving to a new place and trying to get a new support system, new schools and new friends was just too much to try to do,” says Anstead, 49. “The more I thought about it, I needed a more dramatic change.”

So, he’s shifted from devices to distilling, with plans to open his new Devil’s Isle Distillery in Bonita Springs in early 2021 (see sidebar). “I’d always wanted my own company and to make my own products,” he says. “And I decided that if I was going to start a company, I wanted to do something I could enjoy long term and be creative with for a long time. It’s scary, but at the same time I didn’t feel like I had a lot of options open to me, so it seemed like almost perfect timing in a way.”

Anstead’s not alone in making a major career switch during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are those who, like him, were forced into it because of a layoff. And there are other people who just feel inspired or compelled to make a change in light of all the upheaval of the past year.

“Anytime there’s a catalyst, whether that’s one prompted by a change in the world, a change in a company or a catalyst in our own lives, it always prompts the question of, ‘Is this all there is?’” says Darcy Eikenberg, a Bonita Springs-based leadership and career coach.

Darcy Eikenberg

She said getting clarity about what you want is an important first step in making a transition. “People might say, ‘The hospitality industry is collapsing, so I need to move away from that,’” says Eikenberg. “But what do you want to move toward? It’s always more of a positive energy to move toward something than to be running away from something.”

Shannon Olson is in the midst of doing just that. She was contemplating a change already before being laid off from her job in international higher education in 2020. Now the

48-year-old Naples resident is figuring out how her skills could translate to other areas. “It’s been challenging, but it’s also a time for reflection and creativity,” she says.

The need for health insurance limits some of her possibilities. And the salary level that comes with her years of experience can make her a less attractive candidate than a younger worker with less experience willing to work for lower pay.

Shannon Olson

“I got to the point where I felt like I had earned my place at the table, and then the table’s gone,” she says. “I think it’s time for a paradigm shift around ‘What do we value in our culture?’ I think we would all perform better if people weren’t basing career decisions on medical coverage, because then we would find the right workers for the right positions.”

For workers in their 40s and older, Eikenberg said it’s important to be able to quantify and articulate what you can bring to an organization, and to do so via personal relationships, not just a resume. “You’ve got to take responsibility to be able to understand where you add value and how you are showing up,” she says. “Very often the difference between 30, 40 or 50 doesn’t really matter unless someone lets it show up.”

Sometimes a total career change does mean starting at a lower salary level and then working your way back up. Lee Health, for example, has numerous certified nursing assistant (CNA), medical assistant (MA) and customer service representative jobs it needs to fill. Folks who previously worked in a field such as hospitality will find that some of their skills would transfer over to this new realm, perhaps allowing for a quicker climb up the ranks.

“It might feel like going a step back to entry-level, but all of those positions also have career paths,” says Jennifer Thayer, workforce planning and development program manager in the human resources department at Lee Health. “You’re never too old for the calling, and it’s not uncommon for nursing to be a second career for some individuals. And I don’t mean to sound clichéd, but if you’re thinking about a true career transition into health care, the sky’s the limit.”

Health care isn’t the only local industry with lots of job openings. Naples-based Pro-Tec Plumbing & Drains has created a new technician apprenticeship program to train plumbers to help the company keep up with demand. It’s open to anyone of any age, although the physical demands of working as a plumber can make it a better fit for younger workers.

“I think the trades, in general, are just a good thing to attach yourself to, especially in Southwest Florida and Naples,” says Brian Finger, Pro-Tec’s general manager. “We turn away work. We could hire 20 plumbers right now and in less than a month, after a few phone calls, we would have enough work to keep them busy.”Career changers often come with enthusiasm for a new industry and other benefits for the companies that hire them. “During the interview process, you should be able to pick up on the fact that this isn’t just a warm body but someone who’s really interested in their type of work,” says Edith Long, executive vice president of Integrity Employee Leasing, a Punta Gorda–based professional employer organization that works with companies of all sizes. “And I’m always a believer in bringing in someone you can train and mold to how you want them to be.”Being open to new ideas will benefit both companies and career changers during a time like this. “In a time of great change and ambiguity, there are a lot of companies that are waiting for someone to figure something out,” says Eikenberg. “Rather than waiting for your perfect job to open, if you hear about a problem that you could solve, make an offer. In a market like ours, finding the pain, following the problem and offering to be the solution is a great way to create opportunities.”


Photo Credit: Getty; Courtesy Darcy Eikenberg; Courtesy Shannon Olson
Published: February 2021

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