Unemployed: do you carry on job hunting, or do you retrain?

What you’re doing may not be working. But can retraining be the answer?

This article is written as one in a series covering job loss, job change, and job retraining. This article is specifically for career professionals who find themselves in a very difficult position because of COVID; however, there is plenty of advice that applies universally here.

If you’ve been unemployed now for several months, you’ve got very valid, serious concerns. For whatever reason, be it the market, the conditions globally, or your particular sector, your employability is now uncertain and you don’t know for how long this will last.

You may be thinking about whether retraining is a good idea at this point in your career, so that you find yourself in a more viable situation.

The problem is also compounded by human tendency for optimism. We are designed to underestimate negative future outcomes. It is human nature to shy aware from the more difficult path, and to continue along in the hopes that everything will be ok (“see my related post in this series called “You need to find a job – and time is running out” for more details here).

This is a very serious option to consider, and one that should be done carefully. And there are a lot of criteria that need to be considered.

Let’s explore when retraining may be the right option for you.

When retraining for a different career makes sense

  1. You can afford to.

For certain, retraining comes at a price in the short term, in the form of your time, and diminishing your current income. Because you’ll be spending the bulk of your time learning a new skill for a new career, you’ll have to forego maximum earning now (though you may not be earning now if you’re unemployed), in the hopes of being able to earn more once you find a new job.

The ideal situation for retraining is securing part time work, or having enough savings, to be able to subsidise this period. For many however, this is the biggest limitation, as the immediate priority is securing some income (I’ve addressed this in another post).

If, however, you’re think you’re able to afford it now, you’ll want to think carefully about how long it will take to do so – is it a 6 months, a year? More?

This is tied in with:

2. You’re able to identify an area that you want to work in.

You’ll want to think carefully and be selective about your potential new career field. It’s important to not limit your options using your previous paradigm and previous career; something that once didn’t make sense or didn’t appeal to you previously may be a viable option now.

Do your research here. Spend the time to search as much as you can now and find out as much as you can about that industry.

Questions you’ll want to ask and have good, researched answers to:

  • What are the career’s future prospects?
  • How viable does the industry look for the future?
  • How long does it take to retrain for this career? Is it a reasonable timeline, given my financial situation, and my situation at home?
  • Will there be any unforeseen barriers to entry, like age and physical performance?

One important note here, is that this is not a process for you to secure your dream job. That is an entirely different thought process which can look on the surface a lot like this process. This is specifically about finding gainful, steady employment in a field that may be of primary or ancillary interest to you.

This thought process will tie in with the first consideration of being able to afford the time needed to retrain.

We live in an amazing time now where almost every career resource is currently available on the internet for free or at very little cost. Certainly at a fraction of what it used to be. Trainee programmes that used to cost you hundreds, thousands, of pounds, and many months, or years, are now repackaged and available online.

There are even online, credible certifications now that can be used as “proof” of retraining.

Even many traditional apprenticeship roles, like becoming an electrician or plumber, which traditionally can take up to four years to learn, can be done online and through accelerated courses. With dedication and effort, these can be completed in six months to a year.

(These can also be requisite for starting up your own plumbing or electrician business if that is more your goal.)

3. You are at a point in your career where you’re able to switch careers.

Do you think you’re limited in some way to retrain? This is especially worth considering if you’re further down your career path.

Maybe you’re over 40, or even 50, but you’re intimidated of re-entering a job market because you fear you’re too old, or too experienced.

So, is it possible to retrain at a later stage in life?

To dispel your fears, according to the internet, there is an overwhelming amount of information supporting retraining at later stages in life. There are many success stories, and the overwhelming majority of sites I’ve found indicate, from career coaches and those who have done so, that retraining over 50 is a very real, and certain, possibility.

However, it is important to weigh this option carefully and think about your own prospects and your own ability to switch careers, and the career that you’ll want to switch into (see “2. You’re able to identify an area that you want to work in ” above). While the internet says it’s very possible (I’ve provided a handful of these links at the end of this article if you want to read them yourself), it’s important to note that it may not be easy.

There have been studies that indicate that “ageism is real and evident” – though robust age discrimination legislation is in place to protect older people in the workforce, a survey by Angela Ruskin University found that older applicants are more than four times less likely to be offered an interview, regardless of experience.

Read more about the experiment here.

While ageism might be a real and serious hinderance here, there likely remain many employers who value experience, maturity and reliability – especially where candidates are still motivated – and, depending on the career you choose, a serious demand in the market.

“More people are changing jobs in their 50s than any time before”

John Lees, career coach and author of ‘How to Get a Job You Love’

“It’s never too late. If anything, it’s a good time for the over 50s to change career. The government [UK] is embracing the skills and economic potential of the older generation and actively supports training programmes and apprenticeships for the over-50s”

A word of caution

There is much to consider here, for sure. If you are deciding to retrain, I have seen quite a lot of literature out there suggesting that the way to go about this is to first choose what you love.

I don’t fully agree with this approach.

There may be a difference between passion and profitable career, and while these might completely coincide, often they do not.

I like to suggest choosing something that you might love, sure; but if not, you also might enjoy. There’s a key distinction here. It’s finding an area that you could see yourself working in for the foreseeable future, that also has steady and growing employment opportunities.

I firmly believe, that if you’re going to take a calculated risk like retrain, especially later in life, then you should do so while maximsing your chances of success.

POV from your partner

Lastly, don’t forget your partner! A career change can have just as much impact on your significant other as well. We found that his dimension is often overlooked, though it’s so important.

Hear our thoughts and strategies we employed to discuss a potential career change:


Retraining at any point in your career can seem daunting, and the specifics are different from person to person. There is a lot to consider, but retraining can be a viable option for many when the future looks uncertain.

Sources and additional reading

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