Career change: how to decide when it's worth retraining


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Rapid technological change means workers often need to upskill or even retrain to remain relevant. The challenge is in choosing your moment, writes Sharyn McCowen.

"If an employee or jobseeker is thinking about upskilling or retraining it could open up new doors, particularly if they feel as though their role is no longer challenging and their career has stagnated," says Carl Piesse, business director for Hays Banking.

While it's never too late to change jobs, there are factors to keep in mind, he says.

Rapid technological change means workers often need to upskill or even retrain to remain relevant. The challenge is in choosing your moment, writes Sharyn McCowen.

"Retraining usually means you'll start again at the entry-level and work your way up the career ladder in a new field.

"If you have dependants, a mortgage or any other important financial commitments you'll need to factor this into your decision."

Workers should also consider the level of demand before retraining for a new role or industry.

"Are qualified candidates in the field you are thinking of studying in demand? If not, is there a surplus of jobseekers unable to secure work?"

But the decision is not a purely economic one.

Piesse advises dissatisfied workers to consider how it would feel to continue to work in a role that doesn't challenge or stimulate.

"At the minimum, it will have a negative impact on your sense of purpose and happiness within the workplace. Another thing to consider is the positive impact it will have on your self-worth as you retrain and are challenged and achieve something."

In a recent Hays survey of 1516 people, 61% said they would look for another job for more challenging or exciting work, followed closely by a lack of career development (60%), the opportunity to improve salary (58%) and work-life balance (54%).

It is important for employees to be open with their managers about career paths and professional development concerns, says Piesse.

"If an employee feels that they would benefit from upskilling or that they are ready to take on a new aspect of their role which requires some training, they should communicate this to their superiors."

While a worker looking to move to a new field should not expect their employer to pay for retraining, a desire to upskill and remain with the company is likely to be welcomed.

Sydney woman Tina had been working as a senior strategic policy researcher when a colleague suggested she pursue a graduate certificate in pharmacoeconomics.

"I brushed it off. I wasn't sure if I could do something like that. To be honest, just the name of the course scared me off a little," she says.

"I then had a senior member of our team mention the same course to me. They strongly insisted that I look into doing the course given the quality of work I was producing and where they could see me going within the company."

Tina was further encouraged by her employer's offer to pay for her studies.

"I knew I'd be able to get a promotion if I did the study so it was a very straightforward transaction, otherwise I would never do further study unless there was a clear career payoff."

Tina cut back her social life and her husband took on the bulk of the housework as she studied part time for 12 months.

"I'd love to say it came easy, balancing full-time work and part-time study, but it wasn't ... I did feel like an awful friend at times and it was rather isolating and exhausting working a full week and then spending your weekend writing assignments."

But it was worth it, she says, as the qualification "helped send a strong signal about where I wanted to take my career and provided me with additional confidence in the role I stepped into".

Tina advises those considering a new career path to seek counsel from those who have done it.

"Talk to your colleagues, talk to the people who hold the job you want in five years' time," she says.

"While I did a double degree at uni and then went back to do additional study, I've never been convinced that studying is essential for promotion or retraining.

"Do your research before you commit to undertaking something that will cost you time and money."

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Sharyn McCowen is Money's digital editor. She has a degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University, and was a newspaper reporter before moving to magazines and finance.