Taking Off with Vocation Vacations

by Al Rider

One day in 1999 a marketing executive for Ameritech was stuck in traffic, immobilized during rush hour on Chicago's Kennedy Expressway. That's where it first hit him that he was also "stuck" professionally, slowly burning out in a lucrative but meaningless job that was getting him nowhere. He realized that he was an entrepreneur enmeshed in a "Dilbert" kind of corporate world where he was not at home. He vowed right then to at least try to follow his personal career dreams. This led him to volunteer some time working with a professional dog trainer, just to see what that alternate career field would be like. Friends envied his courage and told him so, spurring him on to make some calls in their behalf, lining one of them up to try fashion modeling and another for a short stint in a micro-brewery. They loved it.

That experience led Brian Kurth to found a new company, now based in Portland, Oregon, that just might breathe some energy into the whole career development movement: He calls it VocationVacations. Launched in January 2004, VV has grown from a single person with an itch to try a new career into a nationwide network of career professionals and motivated job-changers and entrepreneurs.

Clients come to VocationVacations to buy a package that lets them experience an alternate career field of their choosing for a few days, as the guest of a professional mentor who shows them the ropes. Kurth says it's like taking a vacation from one's regular job - hence, the name.

In the past two years, Kurth and his team have placed clients for 2- to 3-day experiences in everything from acting to yoga instructors. "Vocationers" is what clients are asked to call themselves as they give their dream jobs a try: working on a fishing boat, crafting designer chocolates, making cheese, training horses, managing a bicycle shop, farming, doing floral arrangements.

Many clients who would never have thought to see a career counselor have found VV through the Internet, and approach the experience as they would a vacation trip to the mountains or the beach. Others come on referral from career development professionals, whose clients need to test the waters a bit before making the risky leap from say, teaching or law, to running a B&B or a boutique bakery.

The VV staff has set up a screening process at intake, to match each client with an appropriate mentor. There is also a de-briefing and evaluation procedure after the experience to help "vocationers" think through what steps they might take next.

The VV team envisions itself as a partner with the career counseling and career coaching industry, offering to set up quality, hands-on career experiences that can turn dry, analytical vocational assessment results into living, breathing, self-motivating possibilities.

Kurth's Portland-based staff recently set up a database that already contains hundreds of established career coaches and counselors from across the country who register at no cost, and then can offer VV's services to their clients in a kind of vendor relationship. Counselors who refer their clients to VocationVacations administer the preliminary screening and post-event evaluation instruments in their office as a part of their ongoing professional service. VV pays the counselor a modest honorarium for performing that part of the program. There is no charge to the counselor; the client pays for travel costs to get to the designated mentoring site and the VV fee that pays both the mentor and the counselor.

Clients who come directly to VV with no professional referral often find that they are motivated by the experience to make a career change but don't know how to do it. For those individuals, VocationVacations has established a nationwide network of credentialed, independent career practitioners to whom they make referrals. VV has also built a complementary network of "scouts" all across the country - people in a variety of fields who are on the lookout for potential professional mentor placements, and who receive a finder's fee for doing so.

Over 80 career fields are already offered on the VV website, with about 50 more in the development stage at the moment. And whenever an individual client or a career counselor needs to find a place to try out "fashion design" or "sports management" or whatever the interest, VV's team of scouts go to work to locate and set up an appropriate venue. Customer demand drives the product mix.

The Travel Channel has worked with Kurth to launch a reality-type TV series, beginning on April 27, 2006 titled "This Job's a Trip." Each show will feature two very different people test-driving the same new job for three days. There will be no winners or losers, no humiliating put-downs, just the human interest of watching fellow adults try a new career adventure on for size.  The show is expected to bring a whole new level of visibility to the career development profession.

In a recent conversation with Brian Kurth, the founder of VocationVacations made clear his passion for helping people to live their lives to the fullest, and his desire to put the career development profession on the map. As a marketing executive, Kurth sees it as his calling to make career exploration fun, and more accessible to the large number of people who, like him, find themselves stuck on the freeway of life with no apparent exit ramp.

Alan Rider, MCDP, is a private practice career advisor and trainer and was a departmental Associate Editor on the staff of CAREER CONVERGENCE. He can be reached at Email: the_riders@hotmail.com

For additional information on VocationVacations, including ways to become partners, go to: www.vocationvacations.com.

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