From education to employment

Radical career change: the people moving to new careers in the pandemic

Radical career change

This time last year, Dan Storer, 37 from Plymouth, was working as a flight attendant for a major airline. Fast forward to 2021 and Dan is training to be a secondary languages teacher supported by Transition to Teach. As for many people, it was the pandemic that caused Dan to completely rethink his career path:

“I became a flight attendant when I graduated from my languages degree. 13 years later, the pandemic was the turning point for me to decide to train as a teacher.

“The skills I will take from my old career into teaching include the ability to build relationships, being willing to work hard and, for the future, the understanding of how to create happy teams. I have lots of stories to tell which helps me to engage my pupils in languages.

“I’ve been teaching four classes now since September as part of my School Direct programme, and actually, seeing the progress the children have made is a million times more satisfying than anything I have done before.”

Pandemic related redundancy was the catalyst for fashion merchandiser Alexandra Heynes, 31, from London to make the move to teaching:

“In my old career in fashion retail, I was working across Europe, attending buyers’ meetings and liaising with retail teams. Customer behaviour generally has been moving towards online but during the pandemic lots of the stores closed, which meant my position, with its focus on physical stores, was no longer required.

“As a fashion merchandiser, I’ve worked for three companies in the last two years. Restructures were starting to happen more frequently. It made me begin to question what else I could do as a career. I looked at the skills I used in my job, such as maths, and how they could be transferred.”

Alexandra contacted Transition to Teach and received advice and practical support with applying to a teaching course; Alexandra will continue to receive support right through to the end of her first year as a newly qualified teacher.  Transition to  Teach is a Department for Education funded service, delivered by  Cognition Education, supporting eligible career changers into teaching, particularly those who have been made redundant or are at risk of redundancy.

“The skills I developed as a fashion retailer include team working, interpersonal skills and identifying and meeting customer needs,” added Alexandra. “My job was about making things as good as they could be for the customer, the difference now is that my ‘customer’ will be the children I teach. It’s certainly very different from fashion merchandising, but I’m really enjoying it.”

The pandemic is causing more of us to rethink our careers suggests ONS data. 6.1% of employed people changed occupations between January and June 2020, up from 5.7% in 2019. Of these people, over half also changed major industry.

And it was those aged 35 plus that were most likely to take the plunge, with 26.9% of career changers in the 35-49 age bracket, and a similar percentage in the 50-64 years age group. A possible reason for this, suggests ONS, is the higher incidence of transferable skills for these age groups.

Transferable skills are abundant for laboratory chemist Dr. Paul Beagley, 46 who spent much of his first career performing research for a range of pharmaceutical, petrochemical and biotechnology companies. Paul is now just months away from qualifying as a teacher where he hopes to put his experience to good use:

“My experience as a research chemist for 25 years doesn’t mean I’ll find the teacher training less challenging,” said Paul. “I’m having to go back to basics and look at topics that I haven’t studied for decades. Not only am I revising topics but considering how to teach it, what language to use and how to tailor my approach for different age groups and abilities.

When Paul qualifies, he will specialise in chemistry. As for many, it was redundancy that gave Paul the push into finding a brand new career:

“My decision to make a change came when my company restructured and my position came up for redundancy. I’d always thought of teaching as a meaningful career but the starting salary at the time of £24,000 meant it wasn’t feasible. Starting salaries for teachers have since increased.”

Paul left his company in September 2019 before undertaking a Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course between January and August 2020. SKE courses help candidates like Paul to bridge any subject knowledge gaps, or revisit any topics, prior to starting their teacher training year.

“I’m not sure I had the maturity to become a teacher when I left university and hope my additional life experience will be beneficial. Experiences I hope I can draw upon include being a father and the first year of both my PhD and line management, as both were fairly tough.”

Redundancy in the UK reached a record high of 14.2 per thousand between September and November 2020. Employer engagement manager at Transition to Teach, Jo Holland, said the pandemic is causing many to re-evaluate their careers:

“The pandemic has made us question big life decisions more than ever, like where we live and our career. For some, the catalyst to change careers has been the pandemic, for others it has been redundancy or the threat of redundancy.  Teaching isn’t for everyone, it’s our job to help people to explore whether teaching will suit them. If it does, we’ll be there to support eligible individuals on every step of their journey into a whole new career.”

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