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How to make a career change at 40

By Jana Angeles

It takes courage to go through a career change at 40 but it's not impossible. Gone are the days when we stumbled into a job after high school/ university and stuck to it until we retired at 60. According to ING's report, Future Focus: Preparing for the digital workforce of tomorrow, it's been found that more than 3 million Australians are considering a career change once COVID-19 subsides.

A 2019 report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that three in five (59%) of the 3.2 million working age Australians who were employed were also studying to further their career prospects

This could be to gain a promotion, start a side hustle or completely change careers. Yes, most of the new jobs in upcoming industries will need further education and training, with many organisations asking for university or VET (Vocational Education and Training) qualifications

Making a career transition is challenging at any age, but more so when you’re in your 40s (or beyond) due to additional responsibilities and risks, like paying a mortgage or rent and caring financially and physically for your young children or ageing parents. 

Why do people change careers?

smiling middle-aged man and woman

There are different reasons why people change careers but one of the main contributing factors is no longer finding interest in their role. We often attach our identities to our jobs, so work you enjoyed during your 20s may not necessarily apply in your 40s. Wanting a better paying job or a role that provides purpose and direction are factors to also consider.

Going through a career change at 40 is not easy but it's possible with the right attitude and mindset. Skillstalk explore some of the reasons why people would want a career change below. 

1. Flexible work options.

Achieving work/life balance is often tricky, especially when working full-time and managing the obligations that need tending to outside of work. 

Generally speaking, people who are in careers that involve shift work or long, demanding hours may eventually decide to pursue a new career that offers more flexibility and best matches their lifestyle. 

Jo Alilovic works as an employment lawyer and has 17 years of experience. She currently runs her own firm, 3D HR Legal, from Western Australia. All staff members work from home and the firm operates completely online using cloud-based software.

Given the law firm's approach to "no-fixed hours of work" and having the flexibility of working remotely, Alilovic has the freedom of working at a time that suits her.

2. Stress and workplace burnout.

According to a report by Heads Up, 91% of Australian employees believe mental health in the workplace is important. The consideration of changing careers can start if an individual experiences a toxic workplace culture or an increasing pressure to perform additional responsibilities.

Working in a job that is stressful puts individuals at risk of experiencing workplace burnout. This can be an attributing factor that pushes them in making a career change to keep their sanity intact and avoid other health issues.

Skye Romuld was living the "millennial dream" - employed as Advertising Director at a publisher in New York, managing high-profile clients like ASOS and Visa, earning a comfortable salary of $200,000 a year. 

A work-life balance for Romuld was near to impossible as she worked 80-hour weeks, regularly sleeping in the office and eating out almost everyday at 10pm. A year into her role, she was experiencing three to four panic attacks a day. 

After her friend recognised that Romuld's health was deteriorating, she was urged to see a doctor. She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and her doctor advised that the way she worked wasn't sustainable. Initially planning on taking a month off, Romuld realised that she needed to quit the job altogether for the sake of her own health. 

3. Career advancement.

Some industries have limited career opportunities, so it would make sense why individuals have the desire for a new career. As technology advances, there are jobs at risk of automation, particularly in admin/support services and telecommunications. 

It's been reported by Marketing Mag that 2.7 million jobs in Australia are at risk of automation. 

For many people, career advancement is important so it makes sense why they would seek jobs in industries where demand is on the rise, particularly in tech specialisations such as cyber security and programming. 

What to know before making a career change

colleagues smiling at something on phone

1. Do your research and see what career options are available. 

Look into your new career very closely to see if it aligns with the stage you’re at in your personal life, the job opportunities it offers, the time it will take to establish yourself, etc. 

Keeping your options open can help you make a decision on the type of role that best matches your needs. Consider choosing a career that aligns with your personality and caters to your style of working.

By finding a mentor or establishing meaningful connections through LinkedIn, it's worth speaking to the people who are actually in the industry you're switching to. It also helps to find out what type of qualifications you need to get your foot in the door. 

2. Understand the value of transferable skills. 

Find out if your current skills are easily transferable to your new career or if you need to requalify. It’s common for career changers in their 40s to find that they need to retrain or study completely different skills. You might need to do a short course/go back to university. Online study is gaining popularity these days since you can study in your own time. 

Transferable skills are not only valuable but can be applied to any role in the workforce. Skills in communication, leadership and problem-solving can be transferred over from one industry to the next. For example, if you work in hospitality or retail, you can provide valuable "soft skills" if you're changing careers to marketing or IT. 

3. Be aware of the changing trends in the labour market. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have had to change the way they work - switching from being in the office full-time to virtual meetings via Zoom from home. 

It's important to keep up with the changing trends in the labour market, ensuring that you make the best career move in an industry that offers the things you may want in a role: higher pay, career growth and flexibility. 

The unemployment rate in Australia is currently sitting on 6.9% and with certain sectors like tourism and entertainment struggling, the term "job security" may not be applicable right now. It's worth exploring the industries that have a growing demand for workers, especially during a recession. 

4. Surround yourself with people who will support you. 

Juggling a career change with study and family responsibilities is very stressful for all involved. Make sure your partner and children understand your study commitments and support you by picking up the slack. 

Talk to them and work on a plan together to cope with reduced income as well as less time spent with them due to research and study. They can be your sounding board and support system throughout this career transition. You can also seek the help of a career coach/guidance counsellor.

5. Understand the financial impact of changing careers. 

Worrying about taking a pay cut is one that may crop up, especially when changing careers in your 40s. You may be wanting to build your wealth to prepare for retirement or pay off your mortgage during this stage of your life.

It's important to be prepared so it's suggested that if you're changing to a more fulfilling yet low-paying role, test the waters by living off the estimated salary for 2 to 4 months. 

By doing this, it allows you to experience what life is like living on your new salary and if you can afford a career change. It's best practice to have your foundations in place like having an emergency fund or saving leftover money for the future. 

Prepare for a career change with online study

If you’re ready to change careers, studying a course with Upskilled can help you get the training you need. You can work towards a nationally-recognised qualification in a variety of fields including business, community services and IT. Contact Upskilled’s education consultants and learn how you can make that career move today.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2019. Content has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

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