VocationVacations: Find the work you love

After Brian Kurth got laid off in 2001, he traveled around the country for six months, and that’s how he learned something significant about people.

It didn’t matter if he was having a beer in Boulder or hiking the Grand Canyon. When Brian asked strangers about their work, a part of the answer tended to be the same.

“People apologize for what they do,” the Madison native observed, and when pressed, they’d talk about their dream of doing something else for a living.

Brian eventually settled down in Portland, Ore., began tracking dream jobs and now provides people an opportunity to get a taste of other careers. This year’s debut of VocationVacations already has gained the attention of Time magazine, CNN, USA Today and the Associated Press.

For about $500 to $10,000 (not including transportation or lodging), a customer can spend one or two days with someone well-versed in another line of work – innkeeper to PGA golf pro. It is one-on-one mentoring; the student learns about and experiences the work.

Of the two dozen vocational choices/locations, three are in Wisconsin. More about that later.

Brian, in his 30s, has had plenty of his own career adventures. A triple major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (history, political science and international relations), “everybody else thought I’d go to law school, but I knew it wasn’t for me.”

He worked in retail management in St. Louis, helped set up an office retail store in the Baltic country of Estonia, was a manager for AT&T in Chicago, Ameritech in Budapest and SBC in Texas. The layoff was from Telenisus, an Internet security company near Chicago.

VocationVacations “was conceived on the Kennedy Expressway,” during a traffic snarl that got Brian to thinking that ‘there’s got to be more.”

The job of horse trainer was the first dream job for which he found a match. The mentors were Rich Ovenburg and Mary Folberg of Four Mountains Ranch, near Portland. Today the vocations range from film events producer to wedding coordinator; in the works are several other options, archeologist to ocean fisherman. European mentors are being sought, too.

The list is unlikely to include occupations that can be taught by enrolling in a traditional curriculum. Prospective mentors must have a product or service to sell, and a website that potential students can study – before making a commitment – to better understand the business.

The goal is to give outsiders a realistic look at the work of others. Brian says it’s fine for somebody to conclude that the work is not for them. “What we want to hear is that we’ve fulfilled their curiosity,” he says.

For more about his venture, go to www.vocationvacations.com or call (971) 544-1535.

Next week, Christopher George of Slinger will head south to Monroe and spend a day with Kris Kalav at the Joseph Huber Brewing Co., one of the Wisconsin participants in Vocation Vacations. Christopher, a project manager at Bank One in Milwaukee, heard about the opportunity through National Public Radio.

“It’s a way for me to test drive a career,” he says. The expectations? “I’d just like exposure to what a brew master does all day, and what it would take for me to go down that road.”

Christopher has been a home brewer for almost three years. Kris, who is Huber’s brew master, knows what it’s like to change careers: He’s also been a cellular biologist and has operated a sustainable fish farm.

Want to learn more about his work at the brewery, which has been around since 1845 and produces the Blumer (soda), Huber and Berghoff beer lines? It’s $599 for the privilege to work aside him, or Joe Karls in Green Bay.

Joe left the corporate life to become brew master at Hinterland Brewery. The Maple Bock there has been deemed a world champion; it is one of seven handcrafted beers made for Hinterland’s restaurant and lounge customers.

Lisa Lathrop of Madison is the third Wisconsin business in VocationVacations. She owns and operates the Wisconsin Cheesecakery, which produces appetizer to dessert cheesecakes. It’s a challenging menu: Some selections are decadent; others are for vegan dieters.

Lisa stepped up plans for the business after her job with the state Department of Revenue was cut to part-time hours. She also has restaurant and hospitality experience that ranges from accounting to waitressing.

It’s $499 to spend the day with her, and she is a newcomer to the lineup of mentors.

Brian, the matchmaker, says this is only the beginning of his enterprise. The next steps are a VocationVacations television show and the production of guidebooks that prospective students can use as a resource. Plans for both are in the works.