Upskilling : Change Your Carreer in Your 40s

Made redundant from his job as an RAC patrol officer after 25 years, Mark Holmes wondered whether, at 47, his only future was on the scrap heap. Today, less than two years later, the father of two from Aberdare, Wales is a qualified vehicle standards assessor for the DVLA and believes one word has changed his life - upskilling.


“Upskilling is all about having the courage to change career direction, looking where job trends and opportunities are and getting the training to take advantage of them,” Manchester redundancy counsellor Susan Willis says.

“It’s not an easy option. The older we get, the more difficult it often becomes to go back
into training and into the discipline of lectures and exams, which we hoped to have left behind
long ago.”

But as Mark says: “I knew I needed new skills if I was to get back into work and Wales has a Skills Gateway for adults, which put me in touch with a retraining provider. I hadn’t studied at that level for 20 years, but I knew the effort would be worth it - and it was.”

Upskilling is currently the buzzword among redundancy counsellors and with good reason. According to the latest government figures, over 50 per cent of redundancy victims said
they would use their changed circumstances to reassess their goals to include planning a new
career or seeking further qualifications. But experts warn upskilling for a new career is not a decision to be taken lightly. And before you make any irrevocable decisions about a future
career, you would be wise to ask yourself these questions:

Would you be good at it? Are you dedicated and enthusiastic about making a major life change? How easy would the transition be?Would you have to move your house and family?

Can you do some work experience in this new area before making any drastic decisions? If you start afresh, where will you be in five years’ time?

How long would it take to qualify in your new career? What costs are involved and are grants available? Would you train full or part-time?

What are the opportunities in the job or profession you’re thinking of entering? Is it likely to be hit by any future economic downturn, which could make you vulnerable to redundancy again?

“A basic career change is a challenge that can sometimes be a blessing in disguise and can act as a wake-up call to people who were unhappy in their jobs, but didn’t have the time or courage for a major rethink,” Liverpool employment consultant Jenny Forrest says.

Many companies now offer laid-off employees outplacement assistance as part of a redundancy package that includes sessions with career consultants to assess whether upskilling would be the right move for them.

The government is also backing the idea of a fresh start via Local Enterprise Partnerships, which encourage people to make a career change and seek further qualifications. Over 200,000 people have enrolled on LEP schemes and if you sign up for a full-time course such as an NVQ or a BTEC, you may be eligible for an adult learning grant.


Bristol career management consultant Robert Wood says that often redundancy victims need skilled help to point them in the direction of a successful new career.

“ You may think it makes sense to look for a job like the one you previously had, but you might be more suited to something else entirely, although you may not realise it until someone with an impartial perspective points it out,” he says.

For instance, investment banker Hugh Pearce was earning £90,000 a year until he was suddenly made redundant. He remembers: “I decided I’d had enough of the stress of banking and wanted to do something completely different. I’d always liked working with animals and wondered about a career in zoo management.

“I did an Open University degree followed by work experience under a government training scheme. I found I loved work ing in zoos. I now have a permanent job. It was tough starting from scratch in a completely new career, but the satisfaction is far greater than in anything I’ve previously done.”

When Kate Stevens was made redundant as project manager of an internet company, she decided she wanted to be a teacher and after upskilling at college went on a Future Leaders programme, which trains teachers for senior roles. She is now deputy head of a London girls’ school.

“I always felt I should be doing a job in which I could actually make a difference and thanks to being made redundant, now I am,” Kate says.

Property market analyst Clive Mason admits that in some ways he was relieved when he was made redundant last year. It meant he was free to pursue a long-held ambition to work in environmental science.

“I am now at university studying environmental economics,” Clive says. “ With a wife and small son, money is tight, but we are managing and I think we are happier than when I was earning a big salary and being depressed every Monday when I had to go back to work .”

No one pretends that upskilling is easy. At 44, London single mum Ella Bennett recently completed a six-month government funded course in computer technology after being made redundant by a travel agency.

“It had been 25 years since I’d had to take an exam or a test of any sort and I was worried about whether I could hack it,” she says. “ Week one was the worst, I think. Meeting a new group of people, most of them younger than me, was scary.

“I had been using a computer for years, but I hadn’t a clue about the technical side and it was really difficult with so much information to absorb, particularly as the youngsters seemed to have no
problem learning all this stuff. “Exams were a nightmare, particularly for the advanced course - if you made the slightest error, it was a fail. I was on the verge of giving up several times, but I stuck at it and now I have a really interesting and well paid job in the industry. It’s so much more rewarding than booking other people’s holidays.”


Once you’ve trained for a new career, studies by the Federation of Small Businesses claims that small and medium-sized enterprises are often your best bet for a job. They take on more redundancy victims than any other UK companies. They also hire more women, older work ers and part-timers - nearly 40 per cent, compared with 20 per cent in companies with 500 or more staff.

“Our policy is, if possible, to take on people who have retrained after redundancy,” Roger Thorpe, managing director of a specialist IT company in Plymouth, says. “Up to now, it’s work ed very well. They have a determination to succeed in their new careers, which is great for us.”

Robert says: “Upskilling is about looking for where there are areas of skills shortage - that’s where the job trends and opportunities are.

“Keep your eyes open and look what’s on offer. Even if you haven’t actually been made redundant, it’s a wise move to update your skills and look for opportunities to develop new ones. In these uncertain financial times, you never know what might be around the corner

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