Employment

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

Whether you’re looking to get back to work after a period of unemployment, caring responsibilities or poor health, – or you’re simply fed up with your current job – it’s never too late to find a new career path

people choosing different paths to retrain

Illustration: The Big Issue Background Image: Shutterstock

With shortages of labour across the UK economy, the government is desperate to encourage people over 50 to return to work. This means there are more opportunities to retrain than ever, making building a new career later in life easier than ever.

Claire Ladkin is one entrepreneur who proves it’s never too late to start again and retrain for a new industry. At 58, she was inspired by a jar of lemon curd to found a tech start-up, 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.

Her new online platform, All About The Cooks, allows people to discover food made by talented home cooks in their local area. The platform creates an opportunity for people, especially women whose circumstances or caring responsibilities make it harder to earn money in conventional ways. 

There are many ways to embark on a new career, from apprenticeships to returnerships, and even mid-life MOTs. Here are some of the options that could be the key to the next chapter of your working life.

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 prison officers, scaffolders, dentists and vets in high demand. The NHS, too, is facing a staffing crisis across the service, and has recently announced new training schemes to get into healthcare, including the first ever doctor apprenticeships.

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 into 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. 

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As part of the package, the government has expanded its 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.

What are returnerships?

If you’ve been out of work for an extended period of time – maybe you’ve decided that early retirement isn’t for you after all, or you want to get back to work after a period of caring or illness – or simply want a career change, a returnership could be for you.

Announced in March, returnerships will receive £63 million in government funding to create an additional 8,000 skills bootcamps places in 2024-25 in England, and 40,000 new sector-based work academy programmes (SWAP) across 2023-24 and 2024-25 in England and Scotland.

Launched specifically to support people over 50, returnerships bring together three initiatives; apprenticeships, skills bootcamps and SWAPs. Skills Bootcamps are flexible, free courses that are designed in partnership with local employers to help fill local job vacancies. The courses last up to 16 weeks and allow you to gain the in-demand skills employers are looking for, plus the offer of a job interview at the end. 

While often associated with younger workers, an apprenticeship is useful for someone of any age or career stage looking to gain valuable skills, retrain or re skill. And lastly, SWAPs offer up to six week-long placements that combine training and work experience in a particular industry, such as care or construction, for jobseekers who are claiming either Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). They are specifically designed to build confidence, improve job prospects and enhance CVs.

Take an online course or bootcamp to retrain in something new

“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% 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.  

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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 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.” 

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% 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.

Big Issue Group has created the person-centred recruitment service, Big Issue Recruit to support people facing barriers to employment into sustainable jobs. To find out how Big Issue Recruit could help you into employment, or help your business to take a more inclusive approach to recruitment, click here.

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