CAREER-OBSESSED Americans have a new must-do: the vacation to try on their next job for size.
Sensing that the next crop of retirees won't be content with the golf course, entrepreneur Brian Kurth has launched a travel service, VocationVacations, that lets clients test-drive new careers.
So far, Kurth has put together packages that put clients into horse training, brewery and winery operations and wedding-event planning. Others offer insights into cheesemaking, broadcasting and running a bed and breakfast. About a dozen customers have lined up to spend $600 to $1,200 on the so-called vocation vacations.
Can't you just see vacation-rich Europeans rolling their eyes? How much must we spend to earn? Next month, Christopher George will take a day off from managing projects for a Bank One call center near Milwaukee to assist at Huber Brewing in Monroe, Wis.
Unsure whether his job will still exist in a year because of the bank's merger with J.P. Morgan Chase, George looks at the vacation as preparation for a potential career change.
"I decided to see about combining a hobby with a career," said George, who received a home-brewing kit as a birthday gift from his wife a couple of years ago.
So far, he's made 13 batches of brew and won mixed reviews from buddies. "The ones who like specialty beers love mine," he said. The Bud Light crowd, not surprisingly, doesn't.
George's biggest concern about brewing beer for a living full-time? Keeping himself challenged.
"You're just adding malt to water, boiling, adding hops, straining and then fermenting. You add the yeast and bottle it. One of the things I worry about is whether the monotony of the brewing will get to me."
"Now opening my own brewery some day would be the kind of challenge I'm interested in; running the business, building it up."
George expects to rub elbows with the Huber staff and perhaps find a mentor to help guide him along his new career path.
"This is doing something where at the end of the day you have a product you created," he said. "You can measure your success quite easily by whether it sells and people enjoy it," a quality lacking in many office jobs, he said.
Kelly Kirkendoll-Shafer, 35, recently completed one of VocationVacations' trips, spending a couple of days shoveling out stalls at a horse-training ranch in Oregon on a break from her free-lance copywriting business.
For now, the Fort Worth resident is keeping her day job.
"It was a reality call and a lot of work," she said. Ever the planner, Kirkendoll-Shafer is filing away the experience as an idea for later in her career, after the kids are grown and her schedule lightens.
What makes people spend thousands of dollars and precious vacation time thinking of their next job? Chalk it up to the new economy and the death of the old one-job, one-career model.
It's the same mindset that grabs many accomplished professional women who step out of the work force for a while to rear children. Many spend a fortune on networking and career groups, all aimed at keeping their place on the corporate ladder should they return.
"People are trying to manage their careers on their own because they have to," said Marcia Bench, a career coach who advises potential career changers to try out new opportunities part-time before making the leap.
"I think this is a great idea, though it shouldn't take the place of the family vacation. I'm a huge advocate of work-life balance," she said.
Kurth, himself a corporate refugee who came up with the travel-service idea while sitting in commuter traffic on Chicago's Kennedy Expressway, admits the idea isn't for everyone.
"It's for people with disposable income who want to make a career leap and for the 50-something baby boomers who don't really want to retire," he said.
E-mail Janet Kidd Stewart at email@example.com.