29 Aug Why it’s okay to change careers

The past few weeks have been interesting for anyone with an interest in education, upskilling and society at large. Final exam results are received, college places are offered (or denied) and tentative first steps into higher education are taken.

In the fog of panic, it’s easy to forget something crucial: That many – if not most – of these students will change career and deviate from their initial plans. And that’s okay. Here’s why…

You’re better equipped to choose a career as an adult
Right now, as we type, middle-aged professionals are working in jobs chosen by sixteen-year olds. And you might be one of them.

Here’s a little thought experiment. Think of a teenager, either hypothetical or someone you know (a nephew or niece, for instance). Now imagine asking them to choose what you’ll work at for at least forty years. Then, go with their choice.

It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But millions – possibly billions – of adults choose careers in that way. The teenagers choosing our lifelong jobs being, of course, our adolescent selves. We’re asked, with no experience of the workplace and limited knowledge of ourselves and our strengths, to choose what we study in college or what we work in straight after school.

And yet adult education is still seen as a plan-B, a drastic step for some and a scary prospect for others. Why? As adults, we have real world and workplace experience. We evolve and change throughout our lives. We have a greater self-awareness. And our thought process has matured and improved too. In other words, we’re far better equipped to choose our profession as adults than as adolescents.

Choosing career involves some trial and error
On a similar note, it’s worth looking at that time in our young lives and how and why we choose our careers: Where do we get our knowledge about these jobs and what they involve? We Google it, we chat to grown-ups (many of whom would not be experts in the industry being discussed) and we take some information from fictional representations of the job. There are real life archaeologists whose passion for digging began with Indiana Jones, for example.

We might also talk to career guidance counsellors, who probably won’t have practical experience to draw from (unless we want to become a career guidance counsellor too!).  

You only truly learn about a career when you serve time in the trenches, experiencing the positives and negatives firsthand, and finding out how suited you are for the position. But choosing the wrong career initially is no need to panic, because…

Jobs for life no longer apply
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time that jobs for life ended, but they are becoming an endangered species. Jobs were once assumed to be lifelong occupations, from civil service to banking to factory work and everything in between. But with the rise of contract work, financial instability (especially in aforementioned financial institutions) and changing demands from employers and staff, few employees work in the same job for decades.

The demise of secure work is unwelcome for many, but for others it’s a blessing in disguise: Changing direction is becoming increasingly common, bringing variety, interest and fluidity to modern careers. And with more and more education options – including coding bootcamps – changing horses midstream is not nearly as unusual as it once was.

Conventional education is not for everyone
This is an important one to remember, especially for those who have ever been disappointed by school and college exam results. Many students are not at their best as teenagers, struggling to maintain energy and to engage with school curriculums. For many more, the accepted, mainstream method of learning (involving memorisation and regurgitation) isn’t the best learning technique for them. And for others, project-based, specialised learning (a staple of coding bootcamps) is the right fit.

With these points in mind, changing careers and upskilling in adult life is not a risk – for many, it’s the only logical option. We admit that it takes boldness to learn a new skill and enter a new industry. But, as the ancient Greek proverb tells us: Fortune favours the bold.

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