Changing sector in later years

Hilary Egan talks about how she has kept learning throughout her career and how she hasn’t been afraid to change sectors to get a better work life balance.

Fish changing its bowl


Hilary Egan has spent much of her working life learning alongside her day duties and has switched sectors several times during her career, moving from manufacturing to teaching to the social care sector.

At 63, she has no intention of stopping learning and progressing now.

Hilary, who is from Hertfordshire, started working at 17 as an office junior at a hardware manufacturing company and progressed over 10 years to office manager before leaving to have her three children, now aged 35, 32 and 28.

When her eldest son started at his primary school she started volunteering there, reading to the children and helping out. She really enjoyed that and began building up her childcare qualifications. Once all her children were at school, she got a job at a primary school, helping out in class and progressed to a teaching assistant and cover supervisor before, at the age of 54, when her children were teenagers, qualifying as a teacher.

Over the next years she taught all primary year groups, but mainly year three, first at an independent school, which allowed her to teach before she had got her formal qualifications. Although she enjoyed teaching, as time wore on she felt it was too full on and didn’t allow her time for her other interests, such as walking and going out with friends.

Changing sector in later years to the social care sector

So six years ago, at the age of 57, Hilary decided to switch professions again. She’s not alone. A recent survey by 55/Redefined shows more than a third (36 per cent) have pursued a new career, relationship or hobby/passion since turning 55.

Hilary looked around for a while until a friend suggested a caring role. She went to visit a local dementia care home and felt very comfortable there and was impressed by the set-up, for instance, each resident’s room had a door knocker as if it was their front door. The care home had some vacant roles. She had an impromptu interview and, after various checks and an in-depth induction course, started work there.

“Teaching was 24/7 and carers have more flexible hours. That suits the way I want to live now,” says Hilary. It took her a while to adapt and learn the new skills she needs, mainly through observing others. Hilary has also continued to study throughout and says her employer invests heavily in training staff members. “The training offered is very impressive,” she says. She has recently been awarded her NVQ Level 3 after 18 months of study. She didn’t need her NVQ 2 due to her teaching experience. Having been promoted to a senior carer, she is now team lead of a ward at the care home, managing a team of carers of all ages and says she has not encountered any ageism.

Hilary has been working throughout Covid with only a short break when she had Covid herself. Covid did get into her home and they lost 13 residents who the whole team had become close to. She admits that, even though the team is used to people dying, this year has been very hard.  The staff at her care home have done their best to reduce people’s suffering and ensure they die in the best way possible, even if they have not been able to see their families in person. It has been even more distressing when people are suffering from dementia as they can’t understand why they can’t see their family members.

Hilary says she – and her employer – have benefitted from the transferable skills she has from teaching, particularly dealing with the paperwork and having the confidence to stand up in front of people and talk. Having that experience from her other work and a lot of life experience, she feels she is fairly resilient.

Hilary has no intention of stopping work and says she wants to work past retirement. In part her work ethic has been a question of necessity – her ex-husband gambled away the family home, although Hilary is now with a new partner. But she says she likes to work too.

However, although she is reasonably fit and well now, she can foresee a time when the physical demands of her job may get more challenging so she is seeking to keep gathering as many qualifications as she can and hoping that she can move into a more managerial role in the future. The learning never stops.

* is looking to tell people’s career stories as a way of highlighting the range of experience of older workers, not just work-related but life-related. The aim is to change the sometimes negative narrative on older workers and show just how much we have to offer. If you are interested in taking part, please email [email protected]

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