If you would like a change of direction in your career, or have been struggling to get a job for a while, retraining or further education could be the answer. But you will need to invest time and (quite possibly) money: training or education can be a significant commitment and it’s worth weighing up all the pros and cons before you take the plunge.
Nicola from North London retrained as a fire-fighter after hearing about an open day through Women Like Us. “I can’t believe this has happened to me aged 41. My life has completely changed – it just goes to show that you are never too old to make a big change! Getting through [the five part assessment] would be such an achievement – the money is great and the shifts would suit my family (four days on, four days off). As a single mum with three children I have had a very enjoyable life but it hasn’t exactly been easy – I’m just proud of myself for taking part and giving it a go.”
If you think a return to education or training, whether full or part time, could be right for you, here are five key things to consider:
- What do I really want? The first thing to do is take a step back and weigh up all your options. It’s a good idea to speak to an advisor (try the National Careers Helpline), attend a workshop (for example, a ‘career MOT’ from Women Like Us) or even sit down with a friend or family member to go through the choices available to you. Decide exactly what it is you want to do. If you can’t choose, limit yourself to two or three options. It might be worth setting yourself a headline goal (the job you really want), and a back-up plan (what you will fall back on if you haven’t got your dream job after, say, a year of trying).
- Will retraining or further education really help me get the job? Once you have decided on the job or role you want, you may find there is a number of different career paths open to you. It could be volunteering, work experience or simply finding a great coach or mentor could get you on the right track, without having to worry about an investment in retraining. Alternatively, you could have your heart set on a certain role and know you need specific qualifications to get there. Bear in mind that some careers (journalism or television production, for example) are hopelessly over-subscribed and even a first rate qualification is no guarantee of a job – so do the maths beforehand: are you likely to be severely out of pocket afterwards or does it still make sense for you to complete the course?
- What type of training do I need? If you know what job you want, take a look at any relevant vacancy to see the required qualifications. If you wish to pursue a professional qualification, such as journalism, medicine or accountancy, the relevant industry body should give details and list accredited courses on its website. Or it could be you want to do something practical, like an apprenticeship. The National Careers Service has a good list of the many different types of training available. If you need to upgrade basic skills such as reading, writing or IT, Learn Direct runs a range of courses in the core skills needed for most jobs. If you’d like to go to university but left school without qualifications, you can still go on to higher education after completing an access course. Many establishments are happy to waive some entry requirements for mature students if they think you are right for them. And don’t forget it’s always possible to study at home through correspondence or remote learning, for example through the Open University.
- How will I fund myself? We know the days of a job for life are over, and these days portfolio or slashie careers are increasingly popular, While it’s perfectly legitimate (and healthy!) to have a long term career goal/ dream like setting up your own restaurant or becoming a film director, you will need to have a way to pay bills in the meantime. Even if you have decided on a career where you are likely to find work easily (accountancy, for example), you will still need to fund yourself during the training period. You may choose a part time course and find a part time job to fund your way through. Alternatively, you might be eligible for a bursary, a grant or simply some help with childcare costs. The National Careers Service has a comprehensive list of the types of funding available .
- How will I get the workplace experience to complement my training? In a competitive job market, qualifications may get you an interview, but they won’t necessarily give you the edge when it comes to the short-list. If you are going for a specific career, think strategically about how to get some good experience alongside your qualification. Volunteering or work placements are a great way to do this. If you play your cards right, you may find that becoming a student again will give you a certain access that you wouldn’t have had as a freelancer – many vocational courses offer work placements as part of the qualification. This is perfect because it will give you the chance to get a foot in the door. As a mature student, you will have life experience and a disciplined attitude that many younger applicants may not!