It's never too late to change career. Photo Credit: Charlotte May
It’s never too late to retrain and choose a new job that you find fulfilling.
Since 2020 many people have profoundly changed their view on work. Millions of people were forced to put their careers on the backburner during the lockdowns, and many felt empowered to value life outside of work, their mental health, family, or passions more highly. Since then, many people have looked to retrain in a career they find more fulfilling, or that can earn them a more stable income to weather difficult times.
Brexit encouraged many migrants from Europe to leave the country, and the pandemic led to many people over 50 taking early retirement. This left many sectors facing a severe shortage of workers.
For around two years the UK has faced approximately 1 million job vacancies going unfilled at any given time. With so many fewer people to apply for jobs, there’s never been a better time to get your foot in the door.
With employers desperate for recruits to fill vacancies, employees are getting more power in the workplace. Employers are “having to try really hard to attract people and keep people,” explains Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, so are more likely to offer subsidised or sponsored training to new employees.
There has been an increase in job adverts for prison officers, scaffolders, dentists, with the hospitality sector, too, investing in training up new talent.
The NHS in particular is facing a staffing crisis that has caused serious delays in treatment of patients. Midwives, doctors and paramedics are in high demand, so if you’ve ever considered working in medicine – your NHS needs you.
What to consider before embarking on a career change
“It can feel overwhelming knowing where to start when contemplating changing careers,” says Hannah Salton, career coach and author of Graduate Careers Uncovered. But the important thing is to get started, and don’t worry if you take a few wrong turns along the way.
When deciding where and how to retrain, the first step is to “get to know yourself, identify what interests you, and start talking to others,” says Salton.
“Networking is such a useful tool for career change, and it doesn’t have to be scary. Strike up conversations with friends, friends of friends, and former colleagues to get to know more about different organisations and roles to help you work out what you want to do next.”
A pitfall some people fall into when thinking about changing careers is that their past experiences won’t be valued by a new employer, or that they won’t come across as dedicated enough.
But Selina Barker, career change coach and author of Burnt Out says this is rarely true.
“When someone retrains later on in life they are often the most committed amongst trainees because it was a big decision to take the step to retrain, plus you’ll be bringing lots of valuable life experience with you” she told the Big Issue.
How to retrain for a career in hospitality
The hospitality sector (accommodation and food services) has recovered well from the pandemic downturn, and is currently growing at record high levels, according to the ONS. Between June and September last year, 56,000 people joined the hospitality industry, and pubs, restaurants and bars still need more hands on deck.
Choose Hospitality was launched to “stimulate interest in the wide-ranging benefits of a career in hospitality,” according to The Caterer, which is supporting the initiative. It offers resources for anyone interested in a career in hospitality. It even has a jobs board specifically for hospitality roles.
According to recruitment site Reed, the average salary for a restaurant manager is £38,000, and can easily exceed £40,000 in London.
Being a restaurant manager is more about having the right soft or people skills than academic achievements. You rarely need a university degree to work as a restaurant manager, though an undergraduate degree in travel and tourism could help if you want to do work looking at the industry as a whole, such as tackling pervasive issues including pollution or harassment.
A Level 3 diploma in hospitality supervision and leadership or Level 4 diploma in hospitality leadership would teach you some of the skills you’ll need in this job and can be taken at many colleges. If you are aged 19 or over and do not already have a Level 3 qualification, you can study towards it for free at one of these colleges and training providers.
The Institute of Hospitality offers a range of online courses including casual dining, Banqueting, fine dining, wine service and coffee service. At an affordable fee of £25, it could be just what you need to make your CV stand out.
How to retrain as a prison officer
Prisons are facing a major recruitment crisis, even resorting to putting existing prison officers up in hotels across the country to cover staff shortages.
You don’t need qualifications to become a prison officer, but there are a few requirements. To work in a high security prison (category A) you must have been a resident in the UK for the last 3 years.
Applicants will also be tested to check whether they are reasonably fit, have good eyesight in both eyes without lenses or glasses, and be able to hear normal conversation from three metres away without the use of hearing aids.
The first application you fill out should only take ten minutes, but the application process takes between six and seven months from when you submit your form to your first day on the job.
Applicants are first tested in an online test centre to check basic numeracy, reading and writing skills, as well as personal qualities such as judgement and communication skills.
Up next is an interview to find out your strengths, and what motivates and energises you, and finally the medical and fitness tests.
Starting salaries from prison officers range from £28,000 to £30,0000. Start by finding a role on the HM Prison and Probation Service jobs page, and apply through the portal.
How to retrain as a scaffolder
The UK is facing a shortage of skilled workers “like never before”, according to DH Scaffold Services.
Scaffolders put up scaffolding on buildings and structures such as bridges to allow other workers to do their jobs safely. Construction workers building a house extension or roofers tackling a tricky roof repair, are almost guaranteed to require the services of a specialist scaffolder.
Recent statistics show that demand for scaffolders, bricklayers and plant mechanics exceeded the employment levels recorded in 2015 by up to 300 per cent.
Scaffolders can also go on to become construction managers or scaffolding designers, earning between anywhere between £19,000 and £40,000.
There are many ways to become a scaffolder, so you could consider a college course, apprenticeship or working your way up in a scaffolding company.
You could start by taking a college course like a Level 1 or 2 Certificate in construction operations. You’ll need two or sometimes fewer GCSEs at grades 3 to 1 (D to G) to get a Level 1 Certificate, and two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) for a Level 2, though equivalents are also accepted.
To become a fully qualified scaffolder at an advanced level takes about three years. An apprenticeship will usually take 18 months to complete, and all of the training takes place in a training centre or college.
How to retrain as a quantity surveyor
The UK’s construction industry is desperate to recruit people to fill all kinds of roles, from bricklaying or project managing. A quantity surveyor overseas construction projects, managing risks and controlling costs, and can be a pretty well-paid career. Salaries start at around £25,000 and increase to £80,000, with the potential to progress further in construction management.
For people looking to retrain as a quantity surveyor after another career path, a Masters in Surveying is a common entry route, but not an essential one. You can also get into quantity surveying through an apprenticeship or graduate training scheme after completing an undergraduate degree in a related subject such as maths or civil engineering.
The job might require you to work early mornings, late nights and over weekends, but the career prospects can be lucrative and progressive.
“Becoming a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) accredited surveyor is highly regarded by the property industry and can really open doors,” Deverell Smith, property recruitment specialist told Reed.com.
“Qualifying as a Chartered Surveyor is similar to becoming a Lawyer or Doctor, in the sense that you specialise in a profession under that qualified umbrella.
“There are wide-ranging career specialisms for chartered surveyors from selling, buying and leasing commercial property to valuing commercial and residential property and land, managing portfolios, negotiating leases on behalf of commercial landlords or tenants and consulting on development and town planning.”
How to retrain as a teacher
The first step to retrain as a teacher is to decide what age you want to teach — from early years to further education, according to Get Into Teaching.
The next step is to assess your qualifications — a degree or equivalent is needed to progress to teacher training and you’ll also need grade 4 (C) and above GCSEs in England, maths, and science if you want to teach primary. If you don’t have these qualifications, there may be other ways to show you meet the standard.
If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you can do an undergraduate degree in teacher training.
People who want to train to teach can apply for a tuition loan of up to £9,250 and a maintenance loan of up to £12,383. If you already have a student loan, your repayments will not increase. There are also tax-free bursaries or scholarships available to train in certain subjects such as Chemistry, Maths or Biology. Final year undergraduate students may also be eligible for a £9,000 training bursary.
Britain needs new teachers more than ever, according to charity Teach First. Teach First offers learn-on-the-job schemes fast track people to the classroom where they can earn a salary and pay no fees. With Teach First, new teachers train for two years, with an optional third year to get a Masters degree. After five weeks training, teachers begin working in the classroom.
People who want to undertake a career change can do so through the Schools Direct programme. Applicants usually need three years worth of transferable employment history. The course takes a year and those taking part earn a salary but do not always work towards a qualification.
The role of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers was catapulted to national attention by September 2021’s fuel supply crisis, which saw queues at petrol station forecourts and panic-buying across the country.
Tom Southall, policy director at the Cold Chain Federation, estimates there is a “staggering” shortage of between 70,000 and 100,000 HGV drivers compared to what there was before the pandemic. Warehouses, too, are missing around 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the workers they need, which is causing considerable delays at distribution centres.
Due to the persistent shortage, HGV driver wages have risen to retain existing staff and attract new drivers. Logistics UK found advertised salaries for those qualified to drive the heaviest vehicles increased by an average of 25 per cent in 2022.
The rewards of the job can be lucrative. The average annual HGV driver salary is £32,100, according to jobs board Jobted — 8 percent above the national average — and wages can reach heights of £60,000 a year.
Driving a HGV isn’t for everyone. It often takes workers across borders, away from their families, and hours can be long. Some people might decide against driving for long periods.
But many drivers credit the freedom and independence it delivers. So if you want to pivot career paths and become a HGV driver, how can you do it?
You need to be over 18 to train as a HGV driver and many job ads require you to hold a driving licence for a year.
The main component of retraining is passing the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). (There are various categories of HGV licence.)
The CPC is broken down for most people into four tests: theory (67 out of 100 to pass), case studies (40 out of 50), driving ability (below 15 faults) and practical demonstration, such as loading the truck and assessing emergency situations (80 out of 100).
You also need to pass a medical exam with your doctor to ensure you do not have underlying conditions — such as epilepsy, memory problems, seizures, blackouts, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s — that could impact your driving.
How to retrain as a paramedic
You can become a paramedic by studying an approved degree in paramedic science then applying to the ambulance service. Undergraduate courses take three to four years full-time and include the NHS Learning Support Fund’s minimum of £5,000 a year to find studies. Some ambulance trusts offer the option of studying while working, according to NHS health careers.
One mandatory requirement to become a paramedic is a full, manual driving licence. Other must-have skills include being able to remain calm in stressful situations, great communication skills and being able to make quick decisions.
How to retrain as a nurse
A nursing degree is the UK’s most employable type of degree, with 94% of students getting a job within six months of the end of their course, according to NHS health careers. Some people are eligible for at least £5,000 financial support for each year of their degree.
Like teaching, the first step in a career change to become a nurse is deciding which area you want to specialise in. There are four to choose from; adults, children, learning disabilities or mental health. Some courses allow students to specialise in more than one field. You can search the NHS jobs course finder. Since the pandemic, some universities are offering online nursing courses, which can be found by searching ‘blended’ on the course finder.
A degree is not the only way to become a nurse. Other routes include registered nurse degree apprenticeships (RNDAs), which are advertised on the NHS jobs website. Another option is to become a nursing associate, which is an adjacent role to care support workers in health and social care. These trainee roles do not make you a registered nurse but can be topped up with further training.
How to retrain as a midwife
The role of a midwife is rooted in compassion and nurturing as they help deliver newborn children into the world. It’s also about building respectful relationships with families and pregnant people in the run-up and aftermath of births.
There is a global shortage of around 900,000 midwives, according to The State of the World’s Midwifery report, which analysed 194 countries — making it a job in demand and vital for public health.
Retraining to be a midwife depends on whether you already have other medical qualifications. If you’re a qualified nurse, for example, you can take a fast-tracked 18-month course. If not, you’ll need to study for a three-year midwifery degree.
About half the degree will be spent on practical placements — learning about maternity care in community and hospital settings.
You can get a government grant of £5,000 each academic year under the NHS Learning Support Fund, which launched in 2020.
You can also get a further £2,000 parental support grant if you have at least one dependent child under 15 years, or under 17 years if registered with special educational needs.
Feeling inspired? We spoke with five midwives to learn more about why they think their line of work is facing a staffing shortage and what they love about their job.
You can retrain as a plumber via an apprenticeship, by completing a fast-track course or by working as a plumber’s mate. Traditional plumbing apprenticeships take four years to complete and are sponsored so don’t cost anything. However, fast-track plumbing courses are a good option for people who want to career change as they only take eight to 10 weeks.
There is a high demand for plumbers in the UK, according to the Skills Training Group. This is because many skilled workers are of retirement age and because of lack of funding for apprenticeships. Visit the Skills Training Group for more information on finding a new career path.
Career tips and advice from our Jobs and Training series:
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