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

The pandemic has pushed 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.

It is never too late to start again and retrain for a new industry. Claire Ladkin was inspired by a jar of lemon curd to found a tech start-up at the age of 58, bang 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 daughters 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, 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.”

What to consider before embarking on a career change

There is nothing worse than dedicating time, money and energy to retraining only to find that it’s not what you thought it would be, either in terms of enjoyment or income. 

“It is essential to hear from people who work in the field you’re interested in – reading interviews, watching videos, going to open days (on or offline) – so that you know what activities make up most of their working day, what the challenges are and how others deal with those challenge,” Selina Barker, career change coach and author of Burnt Out tells the Big Issue. 

Barker recommends trying out a new vocation first, even if in a small way, to test the waters. A foundation or taster course, workplace shadowing or work experience could all give you essential insight into what the new career could be like day-to-day. 

Secondly, take a look at the labour market. Many sectors are seeing severe shortages of workers, with the Recruitment and Employment Federation reporting over 270,000 new jobs adverts posted in the first week of November alone. 

The biggest growth in adverts was for prison officers, scaffolders, dentists and vets, while the NHS is facing a staffing crisis across the service. This means that employers in these sectors – desperate to hire – might be more likely to sponsor training programmes, offer apprenticeships or training to people committed to working with them in the future.

What support is out there for over 50s looking for work? 

The government has recently announced a new £22 million  package of support to specifically help over 50s get in to work.

“Jobseekers over the age of 50 will have more one-to-one support at job centres to help them get into, and progress in work, boosting their earnings ahead of retirement” the Department for Work and Pensions has announced. 

As part of the package, the government has expanded it’s offer of a mid-life MOT for people in their 40s and 50s who are thinking about retirement. It is designed to help them take stock of their finances, skills and health, to be better informed when making decisions about their future.

You can take the mid-life MOT course with the Open University here

If you’d prefer to be guided through the course by a real person, you can visit your local job centre where a member of staff will help you to examine your retirement planning, identify how to overcome barriers to employment, and explore avenues to boost your earning and saving potential.

Take an online course to prepare for your next move

“Online courses provide an affordable, flexible and feasible means for anyone to gain and develop their skills,” says Dev Sangha, founder and chief executive of Learnisa

Learnisa scans more than 40,000 online courses across the market to recommend the most suitable for 1,800 occupations.

“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 continues.

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.  

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. 

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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.” 

Retrain in later life with 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.”

Employers are looking for people with transferable skills prepared to retrain

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.

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

Career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:


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