There is no doubt that career change is a more talked about phenomenon now than ever before. The expectation is no longer that we will finish our education, join one organisation and rise through the ranks until retirement. The norm that now exists is that through our working lifetime we will work for a number of organisations, quite possibly in a range of industries and different roles. Much of this will be through choice and some through necessity, but it is very much a landscape that has forced us, as workers, to become adaptable and to be aware of the transferable skills that we have to offer. Career change is certainly more socially acceptable than ever before. But is it actually getting any easier? And is there more employers could be doing to make career change more accessible?
Financial barriers to change
The fact remains that retraining can be expensive. Yet without this evidence of skills development and commitment, employers are – on the whole – still quite reluctant to support career changers. The sharp rise in university tuition fees has not helped matters. Embarking on undergraduate or postgraduate study, and the financial implications of this, can be risky enough for a young person with few financial commitments, let alone someone with a mortgage and perhaps a family to support. Training costs can be a very real barrier. With this is mind it is great that the public sector is starting to wake up to the benefits that experience can bring, and the introduction of leadership development schemes aimed at both graduates and career changers, such as Teach First and Frontline, is definitely of help to those who have an interest in transitioning into these vocational areas. But such schemes are few and far between when it comes to the whole industry spectrum. Outside of the public sector, BT runs a useful Fast Track Leadership Programme for high flyers with proven success in business (any industry) but all these schemes are aimed at the higher level and it doesn’t leave much for everyone else. With career change now being so ‘normal’ it is surprising that more companies aren’t offering schemes – at all levels – that taps into transferable experience and provides a starting salary that recognises this. Not every potential career changer can afford to re-start at the bottom of the salary ladder and, because of this, employers are missing out on a lot of untapped talent.
Longer term focus needed
Financial barriers aside, career changers also face the bigger problem of convincing employers to take a chance on their potential. Recruitment can be a risky business and it is fair to say that companies generally take a risk-averse approach to hiring new recruits. This is rarely more evident than in the case of a saturated job market, as we have been experiencing over the last 6 years. Receiving hundreds of applications for each job, it has become very easy for employers to replace like with like, and choose the candidate who can provide the short term, rather than the longer term, gain. Inevitably this means that the career changer loses out. Of course, this is not always the case otherwise the very concept of career change wouldn’t exist. But, in my experience, career changers are most successful when they are able to utilise their existing networks and professional contacts to a point at which this risk becomes worth taking. Without these networks it can be much more of a struggle.
We often hear the idea that the biggest barrier to career change is the reluctance of the individual to take that leap of faith and, yes, in many cases it does boil down to that. But it could be argued that our changing attitudes towards career change are not entirely being matched by the opportunities on offer. With an improving economic picture and positive employment market news, it will be interesting to see how this changes over the next few years.