It might seem a massive gamble but retraining is well worth the risk, says Kate Hilpern

The irony is that a huge amount of negative energy goes into, and comes out, of work. If there' s one thing besides the weather that Brits love to complain about, it's their job. Not for much longer, perhaps. From the depths of the New Forest to the Highlands of Scotland, a revolution is beginning. People of all ages are increasingly saying "no" to the day-to-day drudgery of jobs they hate and are retraining for a job they'll love.

Even the retraining itself can be liberating, points out Karen Dorontic, who made the decision to quit her job as a chartered accountant when she took a break from it to sail across the Atlantic. She decided, at 40, that sailing was her future and trained with the UK Sailing Academy to become a cruising instructor for moonfleet sailing. "If you want something bad enough, you have to get out of the comfort zone and do it," she says. "The course was brilliant and I'd recommend it to anyone."

The very idea that we have any choice at all in our careers is a fairly new one, according to John Lees. "It's only really since the Fifties that the Western world has grown used to the idea that we make career choices relating to our interests, personality types and backgrounds," he says.

The good news is that ever since, employers have become less and less troubled by experience in a number of industries. "Many actually value it, whereas years ago they might have said your CV doesn't demonstrate commitment," he says.

Jeremy Clare, director of "WHATEVER NEXT...?" - a company assisting people through the decision making process - believes there are additional reasons for the trend. "People's expectations are higher," he says. "Just look at how many more graduates there are in the employment system."

There has been a natural questioning of the loyalty and service agenda, he adds. "The idea that someone is obliged to stay with an employer has largely gone - fuelled by things like new technologies and the rise in redundancy and restructuring."

The feeling that business must be ruled by the bottom line, regardless of whether that means human casualties, is particularly significant, he says. "It means people don't feel safe and therefore they don't feel so loyal."

Then there's the huge growth in consumer choice around careers, coupled with the expansion of self-help. "It makes people feel that choosing what they want to do next is OK," says Clare. "Even people now in their fifties, who weren't brought up to think like that, are saying, 'Why not? Youngsters are doing what they want to do, so why shouldn't I?'"

Jeremy Clare has found that many people wishing to train for a new career are what he calls "half-timers". Aged 37-42, this group start to think what the first half of their career has been about. "In sporting terms, they ask if they're winning, losing or drawing and what changes they might need to make to ensure the second half is a winner," he says.

Another significant group are approaching 30, 40 or 50, he says. "At that point, they quite naturally consider what that decade has been about and think about what the next one will bring. Whereas 50 years ago, people thought more generally about their working life was about - secretarial, mining, accountancy or whatever - now people tend to think more in blocks."

Kate Thick knows this all too well. It was when she was approaching 50 that she decided to switch from her work with NGOs in conflict zones around the world to retrain as an acupuncturist. "It had become too physically and emotionally draining. Also, I'd never really settled and I was missing my family," she says. With a family background in medicine, she felt it was in her blood. "And because I believe that the way acupuncture works on the body, mind and spirit is very powerful, I decided to go down that route."

Now in her final year of her three-year full-time BSc at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine at Reading, she says it's demanded a massive commitment: "But if you study something you're really interested in, it's amazing how driven you can be."

Not everyone is so confident, however. Clare points to the three main obstacles that people face when they dare to consider retraining. "The first is our parental and peer group influences, and to some extent society's influence, which may suggest that by changing career you demonstrate a lack of stickability. I think that it's eroding, but it still exists, particularly among people with very conservative parents. I come across many people who are really wracked with conscience about all the money and effort that has gone into their education."

The biggest obstacle, he says, is fear of the unknown: "The best thing to do with this is to ask yourself what are the genuine consequences of your career change not going as well as you thought it would, and perhaps apply the 'better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all' argument."

Finally, there's the money. Even if you hate what you do, a good salary can be a seductive pull. But, says Dawn Isaac, 33, who gave up her high-flying career in PR a few years ago to fulfil her dream of working in garden design, it's surprising how little you miss a fat pay-check. "I was scared when our household income halved overnight, but I honestly haven't missed the money. It's incredible how you spend money unnecessarily when you make it."

Paul Jenna, 47, agrees. Having given up his career in electronics to retrain as a secondary school teacher in his forties, he says, "It cost me an enormous amount of money to retrain, but I'm so much happier in my job now. I wish I'd done it years ago."

A NEW LIFE AS...

...A TEACHER

What you need to do

Decide on one of three 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.

How long does it take?

The undergraduate route takes 3-4 years, while the postgraduate route and on-the-job training takes a year.

How much does it cost?

While undergraduates must pay tuition fees, there is support ranging from a DfES grant of up to £2,700-a-year to a training bursary of up to £9,000 a year. Postgraduates can get a bursary worth £6-9,000 and possibly a golden hello of up to £5,000. Training-on-the-job attracts a training salary of around £13,000.

Average salary

A newly qualified teacher earns at least £19,161 (£23,001 in inner London). For head teachers it can rise to over £90,000.

Perks

Working with young people and long summer holidays.

...A PILOT

What you need to do

Get a Class-1 medical from the Civil Aviation Authority at Gatwick Airport. Get an assessment of your chances from the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators. Finally, get good integrated training.

How long does it take?

About 15 months of intensive initial training.

How much does it cost?

Here's the bad news - without any experience, you'll have to fork out around £75,000 since no other career fits you for the required qualifications.

Average salary

Starting salaries are around £25,000, but this can rise to over £120,000.

Perks

If you want to see the world, then you have the best office available.

...A NURSE

What you need to do

Call the NHS Career Helpline on 0845 60 60 655 to find out your nearest training provider and what their entry criteria is.

How long does it take?

Most people do a diploma or degree (3 years full-time; 4-5 years part-time).

How much does it cost?

The Government pays tuition fees. In addition, students get a bursary to help with their living expenses.

Average salary

Newly qualified nurses fall into Agenda for Change pay band 5, which is £18,698 to £24,198. Nurses are entitled to a high-cost-area supplement if they live in or around London.

Perks

You get to work in one of four worthwhile specialisms - adult, children's, mental health or learning disabilities. There's flexible working and career progression is a much higher priority for the NHS than in the past.

...A PERSONAL TRAINER

What you need to do

Decide if you want to train privately or through a college.

How long does it take?

The minimum qualification requirement takes at least 250 hours.

How much does it cost?

This depends on whether you use a private training provider or a college. The former costs from £3,000, with grants available. An NVQ at a college will cost considerably less and a "modern apprenticeship" NVQ at level 3 can be studied while working and may be free.

Average Salary

Outside London, you can earn £30-40 per hour. Within London, £40-60 per hour.

Perks

Stay healthy while working. Flexibility to work for health clubs, a leisure centre or even within the GP environment. You can also be freelance.

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