Here the baby boomers go again, bucking tradition as they bear down on retirement. They’re leading a push into so-called encore careers — paid work that combines personal meaning with social purpose.

As many as 9 million people ages 44 to 70 are in such careers as the second or third acts of their working lives, according to the think tank Encore.org. But that number is poised to multiply. Another 31 million older workers are interested in finding encore careers, based on a 2011 survey by the nonprofit.

The demographics of 78 million baby boomers should ensure this careers shift accelerates, says Encore vice president Marci Alboher.


‘‘This trend has the potential to be a new social norm much the way that the dream of the golden years, of a leisure-based retirement, was an aspiration for the generation before,’’ she says.

Alboher discussed the phenomenon:

What steps lay the groundwork for an encore career? Start by thinking about your interests. What issues matter enough that you would want to volunteer your time or talents? Let yourself dream a little. Identify people who have reinvented themselves in a way that’s helping their community or the world. Make a coffee date with one of them and ask how they made the transition.

What fields offer the most opportunities? Health care, education, green jobs, government, nonprofits. Health care is really the number one field to look at in terms of both needs and opportunities. With an aging population and the changes that are coming in our health care system, there are needs and opportunities for all kinds of work.

How useful are career coaches? They can help if you’re stuck and think you could benefit from working one-on-one with someone and being held accountable. But this professional help doesn’t come cheap. Rates can range from $80 to $200 an hour.


Many community colleges offer free or low-cost coaching or career exploration courses.

Do these careers usually involve a big drop in income? Not necessarily. For people coming from high-level jobs in the for-profit sector, they very well may be facing a cut in pay. But for people whose primary career was focused in the social purpose arena — at a nonprofit, or in social work or education — many of these encore reinventions don’t involve a pay cut at all.

How big a barrier is age discrimination? It exists. But if you feel like your age is getting in the way of what you want to do, it could be simply that you don’t have the proper skills.

And that could be related to the fact you haven’t brushed up your skills in the last 20 or 30 years. I always encourage people to think about what can they do to make sure that their skills are current.

Dave Carpenter writes for the Associated Press.