Not retiring: focus on career transition

Career transition needs to start with a rethink of how we see our later years and an opening up of possibilities.

Fish changing its bowl


Career transition is here to stay as we work longer and technology changes the world more and more, throwing up new jobs and totally altering or deleting existing ones. So what can be done to help people make those transitions better? At the moment, it’s more or less left to individuals to think it all through and come up with an idea of where they want to transition to. Often ideas go round and round in their heads for months or years before people take action. Some never do.

There are some really good organisations doing work in this area and a new campaign – careers can change – is trying to bring them all together. Some like Women Returners and Squiggly Careers are bent on normalising career breaks and showing the value of people who have to restart or change career. Many have been focused on women because, typically, it is women who tend to have taken long career breaks, mainly to care for young children. But more and more people are and will be taking career breaks for different reasons – from health issues to travel, relocation and caring for adults or teenage children.

Some employers have a serious focus on internal transfer schemes, reskilling, upskilling and everything else and several run returner schemes. These schemes have become so popular that the Government recently repackaged its apprenticeships for older workers ‘returnerships’. But a lot of the schemes and organisations are small-scale and, although they are expanding, they are not able to cover anywhere near the demand for career transition support.

There are career advice services that are available to all, but a survey last week showed that many older workers don’t know about them and, if they do, don’t think they are for them. The term careers advice conjures up images of schools. People think they are for younger people only and many had bad experiences of them even when they were at school or university.

A rethink is needed – not just a rebrand, but a whole societal change in how we approach older workers or whatever term is used to describe them, given that some associate even the word older with something negative, showing the extent of the stigma attached to being lucky enough to live past the first decades.

We need to get people to think differently about their working lives and see them as not a linear progression – which they have often never been for women – but as something much more dynamic and adaptable to change. By telling people’s stories we can show that people’s careers have always twisted and turned due to life circumstances. We need to remind ourselves of how good we are at that – and celebrate it while offering people practical support in the places they are likely to go to seek it because career transition is not a quick process. It takes reflection and self awareness, skills that need to be built into our working lives at every stage.

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