Fast Track: Help Desk - I need a new path

your career problems solved by the experts
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The problem

I am 51-years-old and have been a probation officer for 26 years. Although I am reasonably good at my job and have survived changes at work, I would welcome the stimulus of a different type of job before I retire. My skills include interviewing techniques and answering individuals; one-to-one or group counselling; the preparation of clear and concise pre-sentencing reports for judges and magistrates; interacting with solicitors, psychiatrists, social workers etc; supervising potentially dangerous offenders and sex abusers and the keeping of records. I have a mortgage and three children and would thus be unable to live on a very low income while re-training. I would not consider a teaching job because of the profession's low morale. I dislike driving and would prefer not to live in another county. I am looking for a salary of about pounds 23k.

H Tomkin, Devon

The solutions

Joanna Grigg, author of 'Portfolio Working: A Practical Guide to Thriving in the Changing Workplace' (Kogan Page, pounds 12.99), says:

Wow! What a fantastic array of skills. You have also survived workplace change and welcome more. That's what you need "out there"; specific skills plus the right attitude. But how much effort are you prepared to put into it? Three children and a mortgage sap the energies, and re-training from scratch won't solve the salary needs. Try a "directions"-type career and lifestyle assessment. You are "thinking" rather than needing to make change now. You have time to research, network, plan, gain additional skills or start a business on the side. See if you can do your job part- time. Play with ideas and see how they pan out. Anything is possible; it's true for some people at some stages in their development. Are you ready? Find out.

Elaine Nicholls, Head of Career Development, Career Psychology Ltd, (Trafalgar House, 11 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AU, 0171-976 1010), says:

Making a career change at any time of your life is a difficult and often unsettling experience. Having worked in the same profession for all of your working life can render it even more problematic to identify transferable skills and aptitudes. That said, this is a very exciting time for you because more people are making work changes than ever.

It is possible to make a positive change without experiencing too much financial hardship if you seek the right kind of professional advice. Career guidance consultants and occupational psychologists can give you this objective professional advice by using psychometric tests to identify areas of interest, personality traits and aptitudes. They will also take into consideration practical issues such as personal or geographic limitations, your experience and, as a result, identify career options for you - many of which you may not have been aware of. You will also find it easier to absorb advice offered by an independent professional.

As a result, you will have a clearer insight into your personal characteristics, interests and abilities. Having assessed the options offered, you should then have a stronger idea of how to transfer your skills to a specific and more rewarding career. Good consultancies will provide advice on CV compilation, interview technique and job-seeking strategies.

Carolyn Brownsea, Training Helpline Manager, Surrey Training & Enterprise Council, says:

Changing career direction after 26 years is a serious decision. You state that you are reasonably good at your job; my guess is that 26 years of experience means you are very good. In addition, you have a clear picture of your skills - I would suggest that you visit your local careers office and use the database of occupational information to help you identify potential career opportunities. Your local TEC or Employment Service Job Centre will have details of the type of job and skill shortages in the area.

Your chosen new career direction may require you to train. A Career Development Loan - which is a deferred repayment, interest-free loan while you train - can pay for the cost of vocational training and any associated costs, such as living expenses. You can borrow between pounds 300 and pounds 8,000 (repayment starts one month after you complete training). Whatever you do, always base your decision on as much information as possible.

Interviews by

Carmen Middleditch

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Middleditch, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail: