JOHN BELL IS a 62-year-old fi­nan­cial ad­viser who started his work­ing life as a po­lice of­fi­cer, de­toured into the civil ser­vice to work in crime pre­ven­tion and switched gears af­ter the 1987 mar­ket crash when ev­ery­one was clam­our­ing for fi­nan­cial help. In his 50s, he started think­ing about his pre-re­tire­ment plan.

“If you’ve got a five in front of your age, you’re pretty much cooked in the bank­ing and cor­po­rate world,” he says. “You’re per­ceived as not hav­ing enough run­way left.”

So he bought two fi­nan­cial ser­vice prac­tices east of Toronto in Whitby, Ont., which he will sell within the year and em­bark on his fourth ca­reer – as a long-haul truck driver.

With Cana­di­ans liv­ing longer, widespread labour-mar­ket uncer­tainty, a lack of pen­sion plans, not to men­tion grow­ing piles of per­sonal debt, it’s no sur­prise that baby boomers are either un­able or un­will­ing to re­tire. In­deed, a 2017 Sta­tis­tics Canada re­port on labour mar­ket par­tic­i­pa­tion and ag­ing con­cluded that, by 2026, four of ev­ery 10 work­ing Cana­di­ans could be 55 or older.

This has given rise to what some call the “sec­ond-act in­dus­try,” with ca­reer coun­sel­lors, cour­ses and schools clam­our­ing for the hard-earned dol­lars of out-of-work, un­der­em­ployed or just plain un­happy mid­dle-aged work­ers who want to rein­vent them­selves. And as a re­cent New York Times ar­ti­cle on the “snake oil” of the sec­ond-act in­dus­try pointed out, all these books, cour­ses, work­shops and coun­sel­lors that tar­get the mid-life ca­reer changer are de­signed to max­i­mize rev­enue, to the tune of as much as US$50,000 at the high end.

Like any­thing, switch­ing ca­reers in mid-life is not with­out risks, and top of the list is pro­tect­ing re­tire­ment funds or as­sets. The prob­lem is boomers, who are highly ed­u­cated, nat­u­rally grav­i­tate to­ward school and get­ting more ac­cred­i­ta­tion, says Ann Sut­ton, a ca­reer coach with a Mas­ter in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion who runs Cat­a­lyst High Per­for­mance Coach­ing and Man­age­ment Con­sult­ing in Ajax, Ont., where she sup­ports mid-life work­ers who want to switch jobs – in­clud­ing Bell, her hus­band.

“The idea of a course be­comes very ap­peal­ing,” says Sut­ton. “It’s a great way to avoid net­work­ing for a year be­cause you think you’re go­ing to up­grade your skills and in­stantly get some­thing.”

In Canada, there are many paths to a new ca­reer via the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, from con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion classes to eight-week cour­ses to one- or two-year post-grad­u­ate cer­tifi­cates or de­grees. One of the most ex­pen­sive op­tions is the 13-month ex­ec­u­tive MBA, which will set you back more than $110,000 at the Univer­sity of Toronto’s pres­ti­gious Rot­man School of Man­age­ment.

“When I’m coach­ing peo­ple, go­ing back to school is never my goto for them,” says Sut­ton.

A 2015-2016 re­port on stu­dent loans from Em­ploy­ment and So­cial De­vel­op­ment Canada pro­vides the lat­est data on how many mid­dle-aged stu­dents re­sorted to fed­eral gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance to pay for full-time stud­ies that year: though they rep­re­sent just

un­der two per cent of al­most 500,000 bor­row­ers, there were 8,388 loans with a value of $56.2 mil­lion to peo­ple aged 45 and older. The same year, there were an­other 20,000 stu­dents aged 45 and older who regis­tered for the gov­ern­ment’s Re­pay­ment As­sis­tance Pro­gram, which means that they were hav­ing trou­ble pay­ing back their loans and qual­i­fied for re­duced pay­ments.

Suzanne Cook, a geron­tol­o­gist and York Univer­sity ad­junct pro­fes­sor who owns a busi­ness called Carpe Vi­tam, works mainly with those near­ing re­tire­ment who are seek­ing what she calls re­di­rect­ion.

“We have this won­der­ful gift of longevity,” says Cook, the leader of the 2017 Re­di­rect­ion Project, who sur­veyed al­most 300 peo­ple and in­ter­viewed four in depth for a doc­u­men­tary on later life ca­reer de­vel­op­ment. “This is the happy part – yay, we’re all liv­ing longer! – but it’s what we do with these years.”

She has heard anec­do­tally sto­ries about peo­ple who hired ca­reer coaches or took cour­ses that didn’t pay off. “You need to do the re­search and not just take what some­one says for granted,” she ad­vises. “It’s com­pet­i­tive to get stu­dents into these pro­grams, and you may get mis­in­for­ma­tion.”

Both Cook and Sut­ton em­pha­size the need for re­search and net­work­ing – talk­ing to hir­ing man­agers, look­ing at labour mar­ket pre­dic­tions for oc­cu­pa­tions and even in­ter­view­ing alumni of pro­grams you are in­ter­ested in – be­fore mak­ing any big changes.

Be­fore de­cid­ing on his fourth act, Bell did ev­ery­thing both Sut­ton and Cook rec­om­mend: he thought hard about what he loved to do (drive), re­searched the job out­look (he says truck traf­fic on On­tario’s busiest high­way, the 401, is pro­jected to dou­ble in the next seven years) and spoke to a truck­ing com­pany man­ager about cre­den­tials, salary and work­ing hours.

The av­er­age truck driver makes about $70,000 a year, while an owner-op­er­a­tor can make $150,000 a year, though they must buy a $180,000 ve­hi­cle or lease one for about $3,800 a month. The col­lege course he needs is eight weeks long and costs $8,300. An air­brake li­cence is $400. “That was a bar­rier to en­try,” Bell says. “If I didn’t like it and I put out $8,300, then the re­turn on in­vest­ment is not good.” But when the truck­ing com­pany told him the provin­cial gov­ern­ment would pay for his train­ing, that sealed the deal.

“There’s such a de­mand for truck driv­ers,” he says. “If you’re on un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, they’ll pay 100 per cent (of the course), but if you’re work­ing full-time and re­train­ing, they pay 85 per cent. I said, ‘Sign me up.’ ”

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