Increasing numbers of Long Islanders are switching careers after the economic downturn, which wiped out jobs in certain industries and limited opportunities in others, according to surveys and career experts.

Long Island is particularly ripe for such a trend because its highest-paying employment sectors had some of the biggest job losses and continue to contract. Many mortgage specialists, bankers, government, manufacturing and construction workers are retooling for new careers in fields such as health care and professional services like accounting and law, surveys and experts said.

"Some people are feeling that because of the shrinking market they have to change careers," said Linda McLaughlin, a senior consultant at Right Management, a career-consulting firm in Melville. "Others are simply saying, 'I am at a point in my career that I want to explore other options.' "

"More and more people are open to the possibility for a complete career change," said Kimberly Bishop, a Manhattan-based career management expert and the author of "Get Down to Business and You'll Get the Job!"

Baby boomers are a particularly active group, as are recent college graduates. Boomers, whose savings have suffered because of the poor economy, "don't want to stop working or can't stop working or just don't want to retire," Bishop said. And recent college grads "went into the workforce and realized, 'Gee, this isn't fulfilling personally or professionally.' "

 

Change for all ages

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Experts say the career change wave on LI is sweeping across all ages and demographics.

For many, that means hitting the books again. In fact, one way to ensure a smoother career transition to a growing field is to get a degree or go for training.

"The opportunity is often available if you go back for the required course or another degree," said Beverly Daniel, president of CareerGrowth Group, a Manhattan-based career-coaching firm with three offices on Long Island.

In just 11/2 years, enrollment in SBI Campus' medical assisting certificate program jumped from five students to 55, said Eric Ricioppo, president at the Melville career-focused institution that debuted the course in September 2009, one of many the school offers.

Former bank officer Jennifer Popielaski, 40, of Port Jefferson Station, using grants and loans, enrolled in SBI's medical assisting program in 2009, after losing her longtime job in 2008. "I would go on job interview after job interview" for banking jobs, said Popielaski, a single parent. "I just kept getting turned down."

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So in September 2009 she enrolled in SBI's program, and a year later she was hired at a local doctor's office -- though at a lower salary than she was earning after more than 20 years in the banking industry.

Data directly quantifying career transitions here or nationwide are hard to come by. But what is available shows more employees on the move between companies, often to very different industries.

A career-training index that the New York State Labor Department compiled for Newsday shows that about 79 percent of New Yorkers who completed state-sponsored training programs between July 2010 and April 7 chose careers in different industries from their previous jobs. Long Island's numbers were slightly higher at nearly 81 percent.

 

Turning toward health care

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Like Popielaski, refugees from a variety of industries are finding opportunities in health care, the fastest-growing employment sector on Long Island. Employment in the medical assisting category she switched to is expected to increase 24 percent between 2008 and 2018, from 4,360 to 5,410 jobs, according to state Labor Department data. By contrast, the number of loan officers is projected to plummet 18 percent, from 2,880 to 2,370.

Other surveys also indicate more employee mobility. Of some 3,000 people whom Chicago-based career consultant Challenger, Gray & Christmas has counseled, a fourth-quarter 2010 survey showed that 21.1 percent had changed industries, up from 18.6 percent in the first quarter of the same year.

In a 2010 poll by Right Management, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, 84 percent of 1,413 workers surveyed said they planned to look for another job this year, up from 60 percent in 2009.

 

A downside: less pay

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Still, the harsh realities of today's job market can be sobering, such as the possibility of making less money in a new career. Between 2009 and 2010, workers nationwide who lost full-time jobs and became re-employed full-time earned, on average, 5 percent to 7 percent less, said Gad Levanon, associate director of macroeconomic research at The Conference Board, a Manhattan-based business-research group. Plus, adding in the cost of retraining can sometimes be daunting.

But Long Island's economy is offering more opportunities for career changers these days. The unemployment rate here has been trending down and is now at 7.1 percent after peaking at 8.3 percent in February 2010 during the recession.

And having multiple careers, once a sign of an indecisive job seeker, now is becoming more commonplace, Bishop said. "That has changed both from what the candidates expect and as well as what companies look for."

With Ted Phillips

 

PROFILES

Mary Ann Jones, 45, Manhasset

Then: Magazine director

Now: Holistic nutritionist and certified health coach

Why? Layoff, plus growing interest in healthier eating, as her youngest daughter has Type-1 diabetes.

Prep work: Studied on her own and in a support group for moms with children with diabetes. Six-month certification program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan.

Big break: Twitter. Allowed her to “network with other health and wellness professionals, access additional resources and get ideas about marketing my new business ... Twitter is an amazing way to get a wealth of information quickly.” (Her handle – name she goes by on Twitter – is @thrivemanhasset.)

Salary: Health coaches make on average $122 an hour (Institute for Integrative Nutrition)

Advice for others: “Be fearless. Just dive in. Connect with like-minded people. Be open to new possibilities.”

 

Ray Malone, 58, Miller Place

Then: Investment consultant

Now: Lawyer

Why? He said he became disillusioned while working for a bank because of pressure to sell risky investments to elderly clientele.

Prep work: For four years he went to Touro Law School part-time while running his own full-time financial consulting business. He graduated in 2009.

Big break: In October2010, he opened an office. Because of the economy he found a steady flow of foreclosure and bankruptcy work. Skills he acquired in financial industry made digging into complex documents easier.

Salary range: $55,000 to $80,000 for first-year associate on Long Island.

Advice for others: “The new choice need not be related in any way, shape or form to any previous employment but should certainly be one that can capitalize on the myriad of skills, experiences and interests that we all possess.”

 

Jennifer Popielaski, 40, Port Jefferson Station

Then: Bank officer

Now: Medical assistant

Why? Laid off in 2008, after more than 15 years at a bank. 

Prep work: In 2010 completed a yearlong certificate program at SBI Campus in Melville, which she funded with grants and loans.

Big break: Turned internship in doctor’s office into a job there.

LI average salary: $33,520 (state Labor Department)

Advice for others: “Like the Nike commercial: Just do it.”

 

Steven R. Maybloom, 44, Huntington

Then: Financial adviser

Now: Graduate student

Why? Laid off in August 2009.

Prep work: Finishing up master of science program in energy management at New York Institute of Technology, paid for with scholarships and loans; has taken numerous green-energy certification courses through state Labor Department.

Big break: Still looking for a job but completes master’s in May and completing internship for power management company.

Advice for others: “It takes a balance of retooling: making sure you have the education and skills and to really use the networking part.”

 

Julie Dade Howard, Huntington

Then: Nonprofit fund-raising consultant

Now: Digital medical records trainer

Why? The economy hurt charity-group fundraising. By contrast, federal stimulus money and health-reform mandates are spurring hospitals to digitize medical records.

Prep work: Transferrable skills. She used her expertise in training and knowledge of computer software.

Big break: She heard about an opening for a digital medical-records trainer at a large metro area hospital. She got the job a couple of months ago. “I don’t have years of experience [in medical field], but I have other elements they were looking for, and it was a good match.”

Salary range: $55,000 to $120,000 annually

Advice for others: “It’s understanding what your strengths are and how they can be transferred to another area.”