Change for the better

He was experienced, good at his job and making good money in sales and marketing for 3M, but after 20 years Jack Vitacco was bored and started wondering if he could reinvent himself in the field of education, preferably in something dealing with business.

He did — and now he's living his dream job as small business development director for Southern Oregon University, counseling business people out of his office in the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center.

What Vitacco did is called "career transformation" and it can be scary and require more higher education and a move to another part of the country, as you'll learn by attending the Career Transformation Fair all day Saturday at the Higher Education Center, 101 S. Bartlett St., Medford. It's $10 and is open to the public, with registration at 8:30 a.m.

"I was worried, anxious, afraid, all that, and wondering if I could make a career change in my late 40s, early 50s," said Vitacco, who will lead a panel on Stories of Successful Transition.

"I felt stuck (in the old career). I got a lot of rejections as I sent out resumes and did interviews. I was frustrated. But I was drawn to the academic environment. The turning point was talking to a career counselor at a community college.

"I went in there hat-in-hand and, after hearing my background, she slapped me upside the head and said, 'let's assess your skills,' " which, Vitacco notes, were strong in public contact, communication, motivating people and bringing postive change — all on a foundation of business savvy.

Vitacco switched from looking at himself as a salesman or marketing consultant and did the "big mind flip" of seeing himself as an experienced professional with a rich set of skills that can fly in many work environments.

Five years ago, after earning a masters degree in marketing at SOU, Vitacco landed his present career, one he finds enjoyable and rewarding. His advice to those contemplating career transformation?

"Ask yourself what are your interests, what gets you excited and passionate. Assess your skills and match your interests to careers. Identify skills you lack and go get 'em."

As for the "head game" of career transformation, Vitacco says, "Get off the self-pity. Talk with a career counselor or coach who can help you identify your skills and where they apply. Take aptitude tests. Do a lot of self-help reading around work. And then act. Don't be afraid to fail."

Jay Cox, who had a long, successful and high-paying career in accounting management, one day decided that "at the end of each day, I just didn't like it, but I liked numbers and I liked being in school for some reason." Cox, a Gold Hill resident, went back to SOU for a master's in teaching and hopes to land a job teaching high school math, although it will mean more than a 50 percent pay cut.

"That was the hard part, walking into a pay cut like that," says Cox. "It goes through my head a lot, but the pay does not make the difference if you're not happy. It feels like I'm going back to square one and you have to be ready to step off the cliff, so to speak. It's hard to make that first step." The economy means "there's a good chance jobs won't be waiting," he notes, adding that, as a two-career family, the support is there for the career transition.

Previous fairs have been labeled "career fairs," but this is the first one focusing on changing your career, said Ainoura Ousessenbeck, work force analyst for WorkSource Oregon Employment Department — and that's in large part because of the down economy that is making people analyze "skill sets" acquired over their years of work.

It's important, she adds, to look at her projections of jobs that have a future here.

Her projections over the next decade give highest marks to nurses (and a range of medical careers), food preparation and service, retail sales, cashiers, office clerks, medical secretaries, accounting, truck drivers, janitors and more.

In the middle are dishwashers, telemarketers, gas station attendants, bartenders, teachers and dental hygienists. At the bottom of her list of 110 jobs are property managers, construction managers, rehab counselors, truck mechanics, recreation workers, hair dressers and more.

The high water mark in the construction industry, she notes, will not be coming back soon — and those who got training and experience in that sector might need to look outside the area to find jobs. The Career Transformation Fair features panels and workshops on job resources, resume writing, on-the-job training, handling transition, self-employment, technology careers, online degrees, interviewing and careers in health care and retirement. Events are 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The event is sponsored by SOU, Rogue Community College, the WorkSource Oregon Employment Department, The Job Council and the Mail Tribune. To register in advance, go to or call 541-552-6899.

Vitacco, who offers small-business counseling, can be reached at 541-552-8300.

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