NAPLES, Fla. - When she had her midlife crisis, Sandra Kauanui was a successful Baltimore businesswoman, operating a financial investment tax business with 40 employees and her own local cable TV show.
Kauanui wanted something more. So she sold her business and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees to fulfill her lifelong dream of teaching. Now she’s the director of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Entrepreneurship Program.
Dick Metchear, a lighting consultant for the PBS series “This Old House,” sold his three Boston lighting businesses and moved to Naples to spend time with his dying wife in the 1990s. But when the retiree spotted metal lights corroding from reclaimed water sprinkler systems at DisneyWorld, he came up with a solution: stone lights. Now, the 76-year-old North Naples man operates Stonelight LLC in Bonita Springs, churning out custom-made concrete bollards with hidden lights for security, lighting pathways and helping turtles during nesting season.
Both are part of a growing trend of baby boomers returning to new careers after retirement, partly due to the economic downturn. A study shows about 31 million people ages 44 to 70 want “encore careers” that blend personal meaning, continued income and social impact.
Nearly half of those, 47 percent, changed careers between the ages of 50 and 59, while 3 percent switched at age 60 or older, according to the study by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work and social purpose. The study found those in encore careers usually work another 11 years and retire by 69.
“I had a midlife crisis and I sold my business, but I said there’s no way I was going to retire,” said Kauanui, adding that as a child, she dreamed of teaching. “I said, ‘This is my lifelong dream and I can afford to do this.’
“I’ve been teaching 13 years now and love it,” she said, adding that she also volunteers. “It gives me an opportunity to make more changes and do more things and give back to the community.”
Kauanui, who is in her 60s, is among the 19 percent in the study who opted for a career in education. She’s also among the 28 percent who wanted to achieve a lifetime dream and the 21 percent who want to make a difference in the world. The study showed 20 percent decided to work for nonprofit groups, 22 percent for businesses, 15 percent in health care, and 6 percent in government agencies.
Although some wanted to achieve dreams, 28 percent of retirees found new careers because of their insufficient income and 25 percent because of dwindling savings.
Retirement was no longer possible, said Victoria Funes, AARP’s associate state director for community outreach.
“The cost of health care is a big expense for retirees,” Funes said. “It’s extremely expensive, sometimes prohibitive. That also pushes them to stay in the workforce longer.
“Their options many times are driven by health and financial stability,” she said. “That cuts down on the flexibility of reinventing yourself. … Study after study shows the longer we remain engaged, the more mentally sharp we stay. You feel needed.”
According to AARP, health care, office work, retail, home health-care, food preparation workers and servers, and customer service representatives are growing fields for seniors. A top employer nationally for seniors is Lee County Electric Cooperative, which won an AARP award.
The Civic Ventures study showed 20 percent of boomers enrolled in local education or training courses, 23 percent turned to volunteer programs to gain work experience, and 13 percent volunteered at churches.
In Collier County, SCORE Naples has helped seniors find new careers or start new businesses. SCORE’s retired executives volunteer to share their business knowledge.
“Given the economy, a lot of people who come to our workshops have been laid off or want another career opportunity or to start a business,” said George Ahearn, chairman of SCORE Naples. “Giving back to the community is something we do. We can take our wisdom and share it.”
Linda Knight, who is in her 60s, lost her administrative assistant job at WCI in Bonita Springs in 2009. She spent eight months looking for another similar job, but there were none. That was the same hurdle met by 79 percent in the study who experienced a gap of six months or more; 36 percent were jobless more than two years.
So she turned to SCORE, which helped her start Knight Administrative Solutions LLC a year later.
“I found there was a need for administrative technical support, but people didn’t need workers full time,” Knight said, adding that she spent $1,500 to set it up. “I just want to help other people become successful. That’s my goal. I talk to them to figure out what’s working for them and what’s not. Everybody works differently.”
SCORE’s Ahearn said she was so good, SCORE hired her as its administrative coordinator three days a week, on top of her four other clients.
Vincent Izzi, 67, of Bonita Springs, retired in 2009 after working for