Fast Track: Help Desk - Time for a career change

Your career problems solved by the experts
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The Independent Culture
The problem

I am 45 years old and have been teaching in secondary and further education for 24 years. I now want to do something different, to which I can apply my wide range of skills and experience, but have no real idea of what opportunities there are outside education.

I feel sure that I can use my abilities very effectively in a job that offers a varied environment, a sense of achievement and personal responsibility. As a teacher, I disseminate information, I research, assess, plan keep records, counsel and am adaptable. My interests are varied and I like learning and following lines of enquiry.

Ideally, I would like to work on projects to benefit other people and further my own development. I envisage an initial salary of around pounds 20,000. Relocation is not an option, but I am prepared to travel as part of the job and work away from home for limited periods.

I have been looking to change careers for some time but with my limited knowledge of the wider workplace, I have no idea in which direction I should be going and am a bit worried that my age may be a barrier. I would welcome any advice you can offer.

David Richards, Devon

The solution

Dr Susan Cartwright is a senior research fellow in organisational psychology at the Manchester School of Management, UMIST. She is co-author of 'Midlife Career Change: Desire or Necessity?', a practical guide to career change published by Kogan-Page, and is herself a career changer:

The initial job or career path we follow is often a matter of chance rather than any informed or considered choice. In fact, nowadays three out of 10 people successfully make a radical mid-life career change. The trend is to move towards jobs which provide more autonomy and flexibility - self-employment and consultancy - and away from large organisations. Indeed, taking the opportunity to change to a more fulfilling and satisfying way of earning a living can be extremely energising and improve mental wellbeing. Few radical and successful career changes occur overnight, however, and therefore any move requires systematic planning. In addition, it may require some retraining and so you have to assess your existing skills and psychological make-up. Objective advice from friends and professionals is usually needed.

As well as knowledge about yourself, you need to research the job market in order to pursue realistic career change goals by targeting occupations with growth potential. As plans to change career often have financial and lifestyle implications, support from one's partner and family can be a key. Ageism can be an obstacle, so you will have to be robust and positive in your attitude.

Dick Hawkes, partner in Alexander Hughes International, executive search consultants (0171-331 1800):

Changing careers is always difficult, particularly for people in their mid-40s who have spent nearly all their working life in one sector. Potential employers, after all, will look at your past work experience rather than what your potential may be. It has to be said that it isn't in your favour to be unwilling to relocate, but it is very much in your favour to have a relatively modest financial requirement, and that you have an interest in the human rather than the financial side of work, good communication skills and can manage small numbers of people. This suggests that you should consider the communication of information in areas such as tourism, advice and care agencies or charities. An approach to educational establishments for an administrative or fund raising role might prove worthwhile. Some of these options will give high personal satisfaction, although the financial rewards may be smaller.

Sherridan Hughes, consultant psychologist, Career Analysts Ltd, London W1:

It would be useful to know exactly what it is about teaching that you no longer enjoy. It might still be a good idea to look at fields which capitalise on your background in education. What about teaching in a different setting (home or Open University tutor, education officer for a museum, charity or prison, teacher training, the independent sector, adults or special needs, inspectorate or advisory roles etc), educational administration or research, or positions with educational trusts and charities? If you are more business minded, explore commercial possibilities, such as educational marketing and sales, or educational recruitment, management development and training. You could even start your own business, such as a school or training centre. If you are creative (and tough!) consider educational publishing, journalism or broadcasting.

Experience with young people can be an asset in careers guidance, youth training, school libraries or youth and community work. Remember that maturity can be an advantage in welfare professions such as counselling, probation and social work, and psychology.

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2451; e-mail: c.fielding