Starting a new career is a daunting prospect for many. But Kate Hilpern discovers that plenty of help is at hand

Some of the jobs that career changers are most keen to break into – PR and teaching, among them – are the very same jobs that people are queuing to get out of, says John Lees, author of How to Get a Job You'll Love and Take Control of Your Career.

Many of us get to the point, whether in our twenties, thirties, forties or fifties where we decide to change careers. Some of us will make radical changes, while others will move to the edge of their comfort zone, perhaps shifting from acupuncturist to homeopath or PR office to journalist. But the key to making the right decision, says Lees, is to bring your dream back down to life with a hard thump. "I always say to people, 'Find out what you will actually be doing in the job of your dreams. What does the nitty-gritty day-to-day work involve?'"

Conversely, he says, people should not be put off by their dreams. "If you did a straw poll of the number of peoplewho think about changing career and those who actually do it, you'd be looking at less than 5 per cent. And yet it's never been easier. Portfolio careers are becoming normal and it's increasingly possible to make the change gradually by training part-time. One question I ask people is, 'What will happen if you don't do it?' The answer inevitably is that they will wish they had."

There are plenty of organisations able to help people embark on their journey of career change. SMP Solutions is among them. Steve Preston, the director, says that while some people opt for one-to-one advice and support, others benefit from group workshops. "People are not very good at talking about themselves in a positive way and what happens in a group dynamic is that people point out others' strengths and potential ideas for careers. It works well."

Emma White, a personal development coach, believes it's important that people understand the breadth of careers out there. "Sometimes I get people coming to me saying something like, 'I just know I want to work with animals.' They go away amazed at the opportunities available."

You might even like your new role so much that your partner decides to copy you. When Chris Oldale, 43, an HR manager, went on a taster course about becoming a gas engineer, he took his wife, 49, along. "What I had not expected was to see her getting stuck in with a blowtorch. She wound up liking it so much that she gave up her IT job to join me in my career change."

The same happened with Annie and Paul Clayton, both 42. "We both worked in the police for nearly 20 years," says Annie. "But Paul had become disillusioned and had a friend who was a tree surgeon. He started helping him out and he loved it, so he gave up the police. I'd turn up with sandwiches and realised I loved it too, so now we run a business together."

Some of the most successful career changes come out of pursuing a hobby, as Bob Jennings, 53, knows all too well. Having been offered redundancy from a laboratory supplies company where he'd worked for 32 years, he built a 15ft stitch and glue boat. "I decided to do a 10-month course to learn more about boat building and while there, I decided this could be a fantastic career option. I've finished the course and am currently going for job interviews."

The over-fifties is a key category of career changers, says Laurie South, chief executive of PRIME, an independent organisation dedicated to helping this age group. "For a lot of people, it's because they're made redundant. For others, it's just about having had a dream all their life and thinking, 'If I don't do it now, when will I?'" he says.

South advises people to go for it earlier if they can. "If I had £1,000 for every person I've helped that said they wished they'd done it sooner, I'd be in the south of France right now."



John Lees and Steve Preston will both be speaking at One Life Live

How life became a bed of roses

The 10 most popular second careers

Four years ago Clare Stokes, 34, worked as a pharmacist. Today, she's a florist



"I used to be a full-time pharmacist and ran pharmacies for Boots. I enjoyed it but realised I needed something to help me switch off from the day-to-day stresses of the job. So I studied floristry at night school and after three years, I qualified as a florist.

It so happened that a florist shop came up for sale in my area and I couldn't resist the idea of running it. So I bought it, took on the existing staff and I haven't looked back. I think a lot of people are creative. Once they find an outlet for it, they find they want to do it all the time.

But it's not just the creative side of my new career that I love. I also enjoy the contact with people and the business side. Some days I don't make as much money as others, but generally it's going well. Then there's the complete lack of stress. These days, I go home feeling relaxed.

I haven't given up pharmacy altogether. One day a week I still work for Boots, who I locum for. I like keeping a toe in the water of pharmacy because it was never something I hated – just something I found I didn't want to do all the time."

The 10 most popular second careers

Plumber

Many organisations offer short, intensive training courses. To make sure these are industry-recognised, contact your regional City & Guilds office with the course provider's details. Note that technical certificates do not prove that you are a qualified plumber, only the full NVQ Level 2 and 3 in mechanical engineering services: plumbing (domestic) do this. MET-UK, one of the UK's largest plumbing course providers, will be holding taster seminars at One Life Live.



Teacher

There are three training routes – undergraduate, postgraduate or training-on-the-job. You'll need GCSE grade C in English and maths and for the latter two routes, you'll also need a degree. Grants, bursaries and golden hellos are widely available.



Florist

Although the most common way to become a florist is to train on the job, most career changers attend a course at college and then look for work. There are a number of qualifications ranging from NVQs to a national diploma.

PR officer

There are no set entry qualifications for becoming a PR officer, but it is a very competitive industry and many employers prefer you to have a degree or postgraduate qualification – or at the very least, an advanced certificate in PR. You will improve your chances of employment by gaining work experience.



Interior designer

Most career changers opt for a degree, diploma or shorter course in interior design, some of which can be done by distance learning. The good ones set live projects on which you are assessed.

Complementary medicine practitioner

Training routes vary considerably between the therapies, whether aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, reflexology, homeopathy and so on. Some have recognised degree courses, others have nationally recognised courses at other levels, while others do not yet have a structured qualification system and no statutory requirement to train at all. However, most have a lead organisation which can provide a list of recognised courses.



Chef

You may not need any qualifications to start work as a trainee (commis) chef. However, there are related courses that will help prepare you for work as a chef including GCSEs, BTECs, HNDs and foundation degrees.



Web designer

If you don't have experience in the IT industry, it's best to obtain one of the many undergraduate or master's degree courses offered by universities and technical colleges. Grants and bursaries are available.

Nurse

Most people do a diploma or degree. Training providers vary in terms of entry criteria. The Government pays tuition fees and students get a bursary for living expenses.



Garden designer

Most people get started with a diploma in garden design. Students are guided through the design process, from initial client briefing, to garden layout and planting plans, details and visuals. Most projects involve a real garden.

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