Careers can change

A new campaign aims to make it easier for older workers to transition to different careers in later life.


Longer working lives offer “an existential opportunity” for career reinvention, an event focused on midlife held in London last week.

In a discussion hosted by Phoenix Insights at the Postcards from Midlife Live event in London last Friday, Catherine Foot, director of Phoenix Insights, said midlife should be an opportunity to try something else, but more support is needed to help people transition so they can make the most of their final working years. She added that career transitions often involve a complex psychological and emotional process as well as the practical issues around learning new skills and that this needs to be recognised. Phoenix is therefore partnering with a range of different organisations to promote its Careers Can Change campaign.

Catherine Sermon, Head of Public Engagement & Campaigns at Phoenix Group, then outlined new research from Phoenix Insights and Ipsos Mori into what enables career change and added that women in midlife seemed to be particularly on board with the Career Can Change agenda.

The research shows a third of 45 to 54-year-olds expect to change career before retirement, but only 15% of this age group have received careers advice. Almost half (48%) of midlifers have not done anything in relation to their career in last six months – compared to 30% of 35 to 44-year-olds. Moreover, low awareness of the careers guidance that is available is a factor holding back some midlife job changes – with half (51%) of all 45 to 54-year-olds unaware of any careers information or advice services.  Most are not even looking for help as they don’t think it would exist and assume careers support is aimed mainly at younger people, said Sermon, calling this an “untapped demand”.

She added that more needs to be done to help people take action and overcome a lack of confidence and feelings of risk aversion.  When it comes to practical skills, the new research also shows that seven in ten of all adults (70%) say that the Government needs to do more to help people build their skills throughout their career. The Gatsby Foundation estimates that 11m adults in the UK could benefit from careers advice and guidance, a figure that is likely to rise given the potential impact of AI on people’s working lives. 

A new lease of life

The event also heard from someone who had made a career transition. Dianne Buchanan is 57 and from Northern Ireland. She was running her own business before Covid, teaching adults how to use technology. That all stopped during the pandemic when face to face contact ceased.  Dianne decided to retrain and did a Teaching English as a Foreign Language [TEFL] course. She also joined the organisation Brave Starts which helped give her the confidence to launch her own TEFL business online. Calling herself a ‘digital nomad’, Dianne said she can now work on the move, for instance, while o holiday in Spain, and says her new career has given her a fresh lease of life.

A panel of experts then discussed how more older workers can be helped to reinvent themselves in later life. Richard Alderson, founder of Career Shifters, says hearing other people’s stories can give people the ideas and confidence they need to make changes. His organisation offers a space for reflection, coaching and community as well as action-based learning. 

Naomi Phillips from the Learning and Work Institute spoke about the economic imperative to help people reskill while Helen Tupper from Squiggly Careers talked about how the organisation had spent years democratising career development, first engaging with individuals and later with employers to change the structures that make it difficult to change track – for instance, giving line managers the tools to talk to people about their careers and changing the narrative about career development so that it is not just focused on upward progression.  And Andy Briggs, CEO of Phoenix Group, said the biggest reason for older workers dropping out during the Covid pandemic was that they hated their jobs and that it is therefore important to make it easier for people to try new things at any age and find fulfillment.

With more government attention focused on over 50s, due to high economic inactivity rates and labour market shortages, the panel discussed what more needs to be done to create change, whether that be changing how older workers view learning, providing workplace champions who older people can connect with to get support, enabling career conversations at any age, tackling ageism or seeing managers’ role as being more about coaching than telling people what to do.

Comments [2]

  • Abigail Miller says:

    This such a great initiative. Thanks for sharing

  • Dianne Buchanan says:

    Dianne here, 👆 just to add, if you are thinking about starting something new and don’t really know where to start contact ‘Brave Starts’. They helped me with my confidence, self esteem and gently guided me through my new journey. You will also hear from others in the same position as yourself. ‘Loving life and my new job’ is my new mantra. You can do it too!

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