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Blessing in disguise

How a career change after redundancy could lead to a brighter future

It’s nothing to be ashamed of if redundancy comes out of the blue and hits you for six. But having your job axed doesn’t have to be the end of the world. However traumatic redundancy is, it could give you a golden chance to think again about what you really want to do.

And that means making a decision about retraining and looking for a similar job to the one you’ve lost, or throwing caution to the wind and planning a completely new career.

Opportunity

If you fancy something different, you’re certainly not alone. According to a UK survey commissioned by car manufacturer Saab, more than 80 per cent of workers said they would use redundancy as an opportunity to reassess their goals and probably change career direction, rather than retrain for a job similar to the one they had just lost.  

But experts warn that it’s not a decision that should be taken lightly. And before you make any irrevocable decisions about a future career, it’s only sensible to ask yourself if you took up a completely new occupation:

• Would you be good at it? Are you dedicated and enthusiastic? How easy would the transition be? Would you have to move your house and family?

• Can you do some work experience in this new area before making a decision? If you started afresh, where would you be in five years’ time?

• How long would it take to qualify? What costs are involved and are grants available? Would you train full-time, part-time or via distance learning?

• What are the opportunities in the profession you are thinking of entering? Is it likely to be badly hit by the recession, making you once again vulnerable to redundancy?

“A career change is a challenge that can sometimes be a blessing in disguise and can act as a wake-up call to people who were unhappy in their jobs, but did not have the time or courage for a major rethink,” says Liverpool employment counsellor Jenny Forrest.

Many companies now offer laid-off employees outplacement assistance as part of a redundancy package, which includes sessions with career consultants to help determine their next move. Robin Wood, managing director of Career Management Consultants, says: “To identify what you want to do next you sometimes simply need someone else’s perspective. You may think it makes sense to go into another job like the one you had, however you might be better suited to something else entirely, but you may not know until someone points it out.”

Take the case of City investment banker Tim Pearce, who was earning £90,000 a year when he was suddenly made redundant 18 months ago. “I decided I’d had enough of the stress of banking and would do something completely different,” he says. “I had always liked working with animals and wondered about a career in a zoo. Under a government training scheme, I arranged to do work experience for a year at a local zoo - and found I absolutely loved it.”

Pearce now has a permanent job at the zoo: “It was tough starting from scratch in a completely new career, but the satisfaction is greater than in anything I’ve previously done.
When Kelda Stevenson was made redundant as project manager at a major internet company, she decided she wanted to be a teacher and after training went on a Future Leaders programme, which trains teachers for senior roles. She’s now deputy head of a London girls’ school.

“I always felt I should be doing a job where I could feel I was making a difference and doing something for the community, and thanks to being made redundant I now am,” Stevenson says.

Avram Martin could see problems ahead when improvements in computer programming threatened to make him redundant as a specialist architectural draughtsman. “I loved the creative aspect of drawing, so when I was offered voluntary redundancy I took it and set up a jewellery design studio,” he says. “It would never have happened if I hadn’t been made redundant, but I’m happier than ever in my new career.”

Property market analyst Paul Chamberlain admits that in some ways he was relieved when he was made redundant. It meant he was finally free to pursue his secret ambition - to work in environmental science.
He says: “I am now at university studying environmental economics. With a wife and small son money is tight, but we are managing and I think we are all happier than when I was earning a big salary and being depressed every Monday when I had to go back to work.”

Fortuitous

Sometimes a career change can occur by fortuitous accident, as in the case of Richard Turner, who was a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy when reorganisation forced his early retirement three years ago. Today, at 46, Turner has an enjoyable and rewarding life as a self-employed plumber.

“It was a great culture shock after nearly 20 years in the services to find I was unemployed,” he remembers. “Then one day I was hanging around the house with nothing much to do when the water tank sprang a leak. It took me days to find a plumber who had the time to do the job. It was then I realised there could be a career opportunity there for me.”

After a year’s intensive course at a local college and three months’ work experience, Turner went into business as a qualified plumber in south Hampshire and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since.
To encourage redundancy victims to try something completely different, government backed Local Employment Partnerships are now encouraging the jobless to make a career change and so get back into employment. Over 18,000 UK employers, including Tesco, Royal Mail and the NHS, have signed up to LEP schemes so far, taking on around 100,000 people and training them in new skills.

Consultants say that whatever job change you plan after redundancy it can often be beneficial to embark on a specific training course if your skills don’t fit the career you’re planning.

If you opt for a full-time course such as an NVQ or BTEC, you may be eligible for an adult learning grant. You could also consider taking a professional and career development loan, which enables you to borrow from a bank. The government pays the interest while you’re studying and you pay back the loan once you’ve got your new qualifications.

Once you’ve trained for a new career, studies by the Federation of Small Businesses claim that small and medium-sized enterprises are often your best bet for a job. They take on more redundancy victims than any other UK companies. They also hire more women, older workers and part-timers - nearly 40 per cent compared with 20 per cent in companies with 500 or more staff.

“Our policy is to take on people who have been made redundant through no fault of their own,” says Peter Thorpe, senior partner in a specialist IT company in Cardiff.  “And up to now it has worked very well. Our latest recruit is our sales manager, who had been made redundant as a news presenter on our local TV channel and wanted to try something new. Everyone round here recognises his face and he has no problem getting to see potential customers

“His smooth talking approach works wonders - our sales turnover is nearly 10 per cent up on this time last year.”

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