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How to retrain for a new job when you’re over 50

The pandemic is encouraging more people in later life to reassess their interests and skills and retrain for new industries. Here's how you can choose a new career path.
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It is never too late to start again and retrain for a new industry, according to Claire Ladkin, who was inspired by a jar of lemon curd to found a tech start-up at the age of 58 in the middle of the pandemic.   

When she turned 50 she felt like she had been “sitting on her hands” for years. Before she had children she had a career in advertising, but with her three girls reaching adulthood, she decided to  switch to working in an area she loved. 

“I have always been motivated by a mission to eat real food made in kitchens, not factories, and am a sucker for a farm shop, food market or honesty box,” she says.

“Two years ago I bought a jar of lemon curd, made by volunteers to raise money for Square Food Foundation, a wonderful food organisation I admire. Every time I went to the fridge, I felt good about it, and started thinking, what if it was easier to buy home-cooked food made by talented local people?”   

She also wanted to give an opportunity to people, especially women, whose circumstances or caring responsibilities make it harder to earn money in conventional ways.  

Her new online platform, All About The Cooks, allows people to discover food made by talented home cooks in their local area. So far there are almost 40 home cooks signed up in Bristol, including many furloughed chefs, and expansion into other UK towns and cities on the cards for the next year.  

Switching jobs later in life has meant she has a pragmatism she’d have lacked 20 years ago when she had three daughters aged under 10. “I feel wiser and better equipped to support our cooks. I am freer, have more energy and more focus.”

The pandemic has encouraged more over 50s to retrain

Ladkin is part of a movement of mid-career workers reassessing their interests and skills, retraining and shifting jobs to move with the times. The disruption of traditional industries by tech started the process – the job for life looks increasingly outdated – but the pandemic has rocket-boosted it.  

Before the pandemic, a third of UK workers were aged 50 or over. But data released by the ONS this month showed workers over 50 are more likely than those in other age groups to report working fewer hours than usual over lockdown. Over a quarter of furloughed employees are aged over 50, and three in 10 of them think there is a high chance they will lose their job when the scheme ends.

Stuart Lewis is founder of Rest Less, a digital community for over-50s. He says: “We already know that workers in their 50s and 60s are more likely to remain unemployed for longer than their younger counterparts and when they return to work, they are more likely to take a pay cut.” As a result, more older workers are looking to retrain to get back into the workplace, or try something different in the latter stages of their careers. 

“In a survey we conducted amongst our job-seeking members last summer, 71 per cent said they were either thinking of, or were in the process of, retraining.”

Retrain with later life work experience or apprenticeships

That includes taking on work experience and apprenticeships. Placements have a reputation for being focused on young people, but many don’t have age limits.

“Employers like Co-op place great emphasis on age diversity in the workplace when it comes to their recruitment practices,” says Lewis. “For example, one of their funeral care apprentices was a 68-year-old who took up the role after a 30-year career in the police.   

“Just last week we heard from a member who has worked at a senior level in the maritime sector for most of his career but having spent months trying to find a new role, he is now retraining in journalism and publishing and has secured some unpaid work experience with a charity.”

Online courses and bootcamps are booming

Nearly seven million people, 21 per cent of working-age adults, do not expect to be working in the same industry by 2030. One in 10 working-age adults are rethinking their career paths, according to a report the Future of Learning by FutureLearn, the platform for online learning courses, while 40 per cent of respondents in the UK who are not yet retired said they are likely to take an online course within the next five years in order to grow their skill set and get ahead in their career.

FutureLearn has seen an almost 350 per cent increase in enrolments on tech and coding courses from 2019 to 2020 and a 200 per cent increase in business and management courses. 

Catalina Schveninger, chief people officer at FutureLearn, who coaches mid-career workers on their next move, says there are many more opportunities than there were to formally reskill yourself on a budget and without spending years going back to university. 

 “There is an openness to online education now by employers, with a lot of training companies offering badges to validate the fact you have completed a course,” she says. “Bootcamps, such as those that teach coding, are so popular now. There is a lot of choice for people to requalify and reskill that doesn’t necessarily involve higher education.” 

You can take an online course to consider how to retrain

Dev Sangha, founder and chief executive of Learnisa, agrees. Learnisa scans more than 40,000 online courses across the market to recommend the most suitable for 1,800 occupations.

“Online courses provide an affordable, flexible and feasible means for anyone to gain and develop their skills,” he says. “Some course providers state that almost 90 per cent of their learners report career benefits such as a pay rise, promotion or a new job.”

He recommends starting with courses on switching your career such as: Finding A Job; Recovering From A Layoff; and Learning To Be Promotable, offered by LinkedIn, A Job Seeker’s Guide To Resume Writing And Interview Skills and The Ultimate Job Search Course via Udemy, and Becoming Career Smart: How To Sell Yourself, by Deakin University at FutureLearn. All are searchable through Learnisa.  

It is a myth that only tech savvy young people are in demand

If you’re thinking about how to retrain, don’t be put off by the perception that tech skills are what matter most, and that it is only younger people who have what businesses are after. “It’s a myth,” says Schveninger. “Employers want soft skills, though I think titling them soft skills is wrong, suggesting they are unimportant or fluffy or can’t be measured. A lot of those in mid-career have the things that are most desirable, being team players, getting stuff done, being organised, inspiring, having the ability to connect people, and with 20 years’ experience in doing this. A lot comes from self-confidence.”

Employers are looking for people with transferable skills prepared to retrain

Also don’t be put off if you look at a job advert and think you don’t tick all the boxes. Realistically employers tend to think 60 to 70 per cent of boxes ticked is a good match. “Recruiters and companies have become much more inclusive in their thinking,” says Schveninger. “They do not want to put diverse talent off, job descriptions are getting shorter, and there is focus on transferable skills.”

LinkedIn is still the first port of call for recruiters and companies looking for talent, think of it as your public CV. It is not just about job titles, it is about bringing your experience to life. “Summarise your experience, but also highlight in the about section that you’re looking for your next career move or are open to having conversations,” Schveninger says. “If you volunteer in your local community, or train the hockey team of your daughter’s school, these things are really important and give a rounded view of who you are, not just your professional life. Recruiters find social media very helpful, and they often will look beyond LinkedIn, for example at your Twitter or any blogs. Medium is a good, free place to write and sell yourself and interests. 

“Keep yourself up to date all the time and hone your USP. Life-long learners will be the winners.”  

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