Third of workers lack confidence in their ability to seek new careers, report finds

Experts call for bespoke programmes to help people retrain or identify their transferable skills

Nearly a third of workers lack confidence in their ability to move to different sectors, a survey has found, with experts calling for more bespoke training to help workers reskill or identify transferable skills.

A poll of 1,084 working-age adults by City & Guilds Group and Burning Glass Technologies found 32 per cent of workers surveyed had no idea where else their current skillset might be useful, while one in five (21 per cent) said they lacked knowledge of other sectors.

When asked to consider a career change, a third (34 per cent) reported feeling concerned about starting over again, rising to 41 per cent among those aged 25 to 34. This is despite one in three workers (34 per cent) saying they were looking to change careers.

The report comes just two weeks after the government launched its white paper on reforming the further education sector to give employers more of a say on what education and training is made available moving forward from the coronavirus crisis.

Since the start of the outbreak, the government has focused on encouraging those made redundant by the pandemic to retrain and move into sectors that are still growing. In December last year, it announced 400 free courses for adults without A-level or equivalent qualifications so that they can retrain.

However, Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of City & Guilds Group, said the Covid pandemic had made it more difficult for people to understand where their skills and experience could be put to good use. “The UK faces a new reality, where a job for life is no longer ‘the norm’. But Covid-19 has accelerated some of the changes happening in our economy and brought new ones into play,” she said.

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Donnelly encouraged employers from growing sectors to “take a more flexible approach to recruitment and recognise the untapped potential in people working in industries with related or transferable skills”.

“This can offer a new lease of life for businesses and those affected by changes to our labour market, and help kickstart the economy,” she said.

This desire among workers to change careers comes despite plummeting confidence in the job market; almost two-thirds of those polled (65 per cent) said they expected the job market to be worse in 2021. And while there was an increase in demand for some roles – including in the construction, digital, engineering, land and health industries – as of April 2020 job postings had fallen 54 per cent compared to the previous year.

This is the toughest jobs market in a generation, said Janine Chamberlin, senior director at LinkedIn. But focusing on transferable skills may help people move into new work opportunities, she said: “There is tremendous value in jobseekers understanding the importance of these skills, such as teamwork, communication and problem solving, and highlighting them to prospective employers when applying to roles.

“Employers are also increasingly focused on assessing candidates based on their skills, recognising the already uneven playing field when it comes to jobs that has been further exacerbated by Covid-19.”

Lizzie Crowley, senior skills adviser at the CIPD, said she was surprised by the proportion of people looking to change careers given the current tough conditions of the job market, but added that workers needed more support in learning how their skills could transfer to different sectors. 

“Data shows that individuals need help understanding how they can apply the skills they have from their current or previous roles into a new occupation or sector, and understanding the gap they might need to address with training,” she said. “This report highlights a real need to create bespoke training modules and flexible provision to create the right type of training to enable people to make that jump.”

Lee Biggins, chief executive and founder of CV-Library, agreed: “The research highlights that the government needs to do more if they truly want to help jobseekers change careers. They need to provide additional support and offer easily accessible advice on how to break into new industries, including information on potential training opportunities and financial aid." 

However, Adam Nicoll, UK marketing director at Randstad, said the concept of a ‘job for life’ had lost its meaning before the start of the outbreak, with reskilling a trend that dated back at least a decade. “We saw this career switch trend at its most stark in the first lockdown, repurposing hundreds of flight attendants and pilots towards the Nightingale hospitals, which we staffed, as those professionals have very high first aid skills,” he said. “This kind of switch was unthinkable a year ago.” 

Chris Milligan, vice president of career mobility at Degreed, emphasised the importance of people shifting into industries where demand for workers is high. “There’s a myth that upskilling requires a huge chunk of time or money, which puts people off, but that’s no longer the case. Informal learning such as watching TED Talks, listening to podcasts, reading articles or signing up to free online courses can all boost skills and raise workers’ confidence,” he said.