From education to employment

Should you be using furlough to consider a career change?

Laura Bell, Director, Careers, Education Development Trust

The coronavirus pandemic has shocked the world of work: from working from home becoming the new norm, to millions of people being furloughed, to business plans having to be rethought entirely. It is no wonder then that this period has prompted many to rethink their careers and ask themselves what their next move might be.

This might be for a variety of reasons, including furlough, concerns about job security, or simply having the time and opportunity to think differently about the future.

The current situation is undoubtedly challenging and anxious for many, but as a careers professional, I would argue that this is actually a good time to consider and reflect on your career choices. Similarly, employers will be thinking about how they can adapt their business in the current climate and re-adjusting how and who they are looking to recruit.

At Education Development Trust, we have been leading careers service providers in the UK for over 20 years and have a successful track record of managing programmes delivering careers, employment and skills support. Working with both young people and adults, our joined-up approach includes linking up with employers, schools and colleges, placing us in the perfect position to observe first-hand the impact the pandemic has had.

Uncertainty about what the economy and job market will look like

Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge at the moment for those looking to change careers is the uncertainty about what the economy and job market will look like in the coming months. There have been some bleak forecasts, and we know, for example, that school leavers and graduates may be facing a difficult job market.

Coupled with little work experience or new job seekers being unsure of which sectors interest them, this outlook paints a complicated picture. We are also currently in the process of determining what the ‘new normal’ looks like, as many industries are accepting that working from home could remain the norm for many months to come, and traditional working environments, as we knew them, will have to adapt to accommodate social distancing measures and other safety precautions.

Changing jobs at any time can be a daunting prospect, and the other pressures currently facing the UK population may make this an even more intimidating prospect. However, despite undeniable challenges, it is not impossible, and taking time to carefully consider your career options may be a sensible and helpful action in these challenging times.

Tips for investing in your career during the coronavirus outbreak

1. Assess your skills

First and foremost, take some time to assess your skills. This can be done through online self-assessments and online tools such as the National Careers Service’s ‘Skills Health Check’. This will allow you to think about what your strengths and weaknesses are, and identify whether there are any skills gaps for which you might want to consider training. This process will also help you to think about which sectors or jobs might be a good fit for your skillset.

2. Speak to a careers adviser

A professionally qualified careers adviser, will then be able to work with you to discuss your strengths and skills and explore available career options. They can also support you further by helping with your CV and interview skills. Best of all, services like the National Careers Service provide this and are free, impartial and confidential.

While many people often rely on the advice of their family members and friends when thinking about career changes, the importance of unbiased information and advice cannot be overstated, particularly at a time when there is so much misinformation going around. Careers advisers will have strong knowledge of local and regional employment trends, as well as the skills that local employers are seeking.

Too often, we find that even with an appetite to change careers, people are limited to what they consider in their reach. Talking to a careers adviser can help to widen the scope of your expectations and open you up to opportunities you may never have considered or known about.

3. Take part in training

Many people who have been furloughed will be looking to take part in further training to develop their skillset, but they may also wish to explore different career options that they may never have previously considered.

The Government has recently launched a new online learning platform called the Skills Toolkit which has free, high-quality digital and numeracy courses to help people progress in work and boost their job prospects.

Digital skills are among the most valuable and sought-after attributes, so training programmes like these are a good way to invest in yourself and your career.

4. Take a step back and think about what you value

This situation may have forced you to rethink what you value in your job, such as good work/life balance, as well as how and where you work. It is important to take the time to consider what you enjoy about work and what you need in a job to work well. This process will help you refine the kind of careers and workplaces which may be a good fit for you and your individual circumstances.

Even if you are thinking about transitioning back to your workplace now, or as the Government eases lockdown restrictions, all of these tips will still be helpful in if you are considering your career in the longer-term. It can seem like a scary task, especially in the current circumstances, but it is important to remember that advice and support is available for you, regardless of your circumstances.

Laura Bell, Director, Careers, Education Development Trust

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