Are you thinking about retraining? You are not alone. Many women think about a career change after they have had children. Often their values change or they feel that their old job just does not fit in with the demands of their new life. But what should you consider if you are thinking of retraining? Workingmums.co.uk spoke to careers expert Linda Whittern to get some advice.
Linda says a good place to start is the government’s National Careers Service website. It provides jobs profiles, information about funding – such as bursaries, help with childcare costs and grants – and a directory of courses near you. The biggest issue for many mums, she says, is sorting out what kind of job they want to do and what will allow them the kind of work life balance they want. Childcare issues have a big impact so it is worth looking carefully at what a job entails. There is likely to be less flexibility available in a customer-facing job, for instance. However, more and more employers are willing to consider some form of flexible working.
Many women know of the kind of jobs available which offer little income and little job satisfaction, but they do not know about all the other possibilities,” says Linda. “Mums also tend to have confidence issues. They underrate themselves and overrate the obstacles.”
She says it’s important to sit down with a friend or a group of people who know you well and will offer constructive advice to help you work out what you like doing and what you do well. “Sit down informally with some coffee and cakes and say ‘this is what I used to do. I would really like your help to find out what would be good for me to do now’,” she says. When listing your skills, Linda says to remember things you might not think of, like having a clean driving license.
She adds that some people use training as an excuse to put off changing their lives. “They might say I couldn’t do x as I don’t have the training. You need to take a long, hard look at yourself and look at all the skills you’ve built up then at the job ads. You might not need the training you think you do. Small employers tend to ask for fewer formal qualifications and you might be able to pick up a lot of skills on the job,” says Linda. “It’s a good idea to talk to the employer doing the recruiting and find out more about the skills and qualifications they specify. even if you don’t have the qualifications an employer asks for, you may have equivalent qualifications – so explain to the recruiter what these are and don’t let yourself be discounted because he or she doesn’t understand what you’ve got to offer.”
She says it is vital that before you consider retraining you ask if it will get you to where you want to be. “You may already have the qualifications and/or experience that are equivalent to that offered by the training,” she says. You may also be entitled to exemptions from part of the programme due to prior experience and/or qualifications. If you are employed, look at study options you can do that fit around your work, for instance, remote learning or flexible part-time study. “It’s probably unwise to jeopardise your bread and butter when times are this tough,” says Linda.
Before you start to consider training courses, you also need to look carefully at what kind of time you can commit to them, what problems might arise, such as clashes between times that assignments are handed in and family needs and whether these are resolvable.
If you do need to do a course, many are now available online which might help with childcare. “Quite a lot of people still associate training with a classroom, but much is now done by remote learning,” says Linda. “You need, however, to consider whether remote learning works for you. You need to be self-disciplined and able to cope with learning loneliness. You should also check the quality of learning materials and tutor support offered by distance learning courses in advance of signing up.”
For university-level courses, she recommends the Open University, which has been a leader in distance learning for many years. “It’s the grand-daddy of the whole system and its courses are properly supported,” she says. It can be important to have some social contact with your fellow students and teacher, though, she adds, since they can be a useful source of information about jobs as well as helping boost your motivation.
If you are planning to go into a specialist field, such as accountancy or teaching, check the relevant professional bodies who offer information about courses, including advice on whether these can be done remotely.
If you are just looking to brush up your admin or IT skills, some short courses are offered free and it’s worth checking out what’s available at your local library, says Linda. If you are worried, for instance, about your IT skills, you could do a brush up course, but she says people get overly concerned about this and employers know that updates of certain packages can be easily taught.
If you are employed and training is relevant to your work, it is worth investigating whether your employer would fund or part-fund training. Some organisations, for instance, the armed forces, have an annual education allowance you can access.
Linda adds: “The key thing to think about is what qualifications you need for the job you want to do and whether you need to do any additional training and if so, how long that needs to be for. It may be that a shorter course will suffice.”
– Read the profiles and job ads and check first that you need training
– Be clear about how much time you can realistically commit
– Explore remote learning if this suits you better, but be aware of the potential drawbacks
– Check out funding support, including from your existing employer
– Be sure that the training will get you to where you want to be.