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How to Change your Career Later in Life

Emma Forster’s role at Melbourne’s General Assembly is to keep its marketing arm humming like a well oiled machine. Having joined in 2014, this New Zealand native has been managing many moving parts of the career transformation organisation ever since! From producing community activations, strategising to drive leads, creating social content, engaging with amazing speakers and instructors to deliver high quality content to the local community and then some, she rocks out with the global marketing team in New York daily to stay on the pulse of global initiatives and activations.


Emma is no stranger to encountering and working with people who are seeking a complete career transformation or new challenges later in life. At her work, classes are filled with students who are encouraged to pursue a career that they love, whatever age or stage of life they may find themselves in.


The ‘new normal’ is for millennials (those who graduated after 1990) to have four job changes by the time they’re 32, whilst the generation before averaged at only two job changes within their first decade out of university. These job changes also include switching into completely different industries. We spoke to Emma about the factors that are pushing the market to have these shifting career trajectories, how they navigate through this massive change and how businesses should welcome an older workforce with a new set of skills.


Why are people coming to places like General Assembly when they may already have established careers? Are people really keen on upskilling or are they looking to jump from their industry entirely?

I think in this rapidly changing climate of hybrid roles, curiosity around ‘multipotentialites’ and preparing for ‘the future of work’, we have seen more and more people come through the doors at GA who are looking to upskill in today’s most in-demand skills (web development, UX design, data science and digital marketing). The industry has shown that combining programming skills and “offline skills” such as analysis and marketing, have emerged or assumed increasingly important functions in the digital economy. People want to build a future proof career.


We’re also seeing people looking for complete career transformations, I think those who are prepared to take a leap after a long career in one particular field see the appeal in trying something new, having a fresh start, and keeping the brain engine ticking along. Lifelong learning is also something that certainly plays a part in our more senior students making the decision to do a full-time course.


Changing careers later in life, you don’t often hear of people wanting to leave the career that they know to pursue the unknown. What factors do you think propels them to do so?

It is case-by-case, some students have felt stuck in a rut in their previous long-term careers, are ready for change and to start something new, some have been made redundant from their previous roles, have struggled to break back into the industry and need to upskill.


One of our students was contracted to General Motors for more than 20 years, but found himself at a crossroads when the car manufacturer announced it was pulling out of Australia in 2014. Luckily, at the age of 43, he had a great set of skills, a willingness to learn and the right frame of mind to pursue his next career move. Our main goal here is to help our students in landing a role fast after their courses and we’ve found it is never too late to transition your career no matter how many years you have been working.


How do people navigate leaving the security of their long term career?

I think everyone has a different story with regards to leaving long term job security and leaping into something new. Either way it involves doing something really scary, taking a big risk and running into the fear head on. Navigating into a new career may not have been one big dramatic jump, it may instead have been a series of small steps over a period of time.


Everyone has a unique way to go about the transition. The main thing is a student has recognised they have a passion for the new area of learning they’re about to explore and our offerings are a new way to transition into those digital fields without having to do a university degree and that there are clear outcomes on the other end of the course! (i.e: Actual employment!).


How do you suggest managing both a full time job and a GA course at the same time – for those potentially even having to cut down their full time job hours in order to do the course? We know that you’re currently undergoing a UX course (at your work!), has it been tough to juggle?

It’s certainly a game of juggling all of the things! Having a healthy work-life balance is obviously something that we all need to be aware of so being up front with my Director about doing the part-time course on top of my current workload was really positive. She was really understanding and supportive of my professional development.


If your employer is paying for you to do the course, and you’re applying the learnings to something you’re actually working on for the benefit of the business, I would imagine having some in-work time to apply that knowledge and complete pre-work or homework would be a fair ask. It’s about having an open dialogue with your colleagues, your manager and perhaps even your clients about the time you need to take the course so they’re on the same page and understand the extra work you’re doing (on top of other life commitments).


If you have a reasonable employer, we’ve found it takes a simple discussion to present the value of doing an external course and leveraging your new skills for your current role. Don’t burn the candle at both ends, see if you can get some hours per week to leave early or come in later to be able to fully commit and absorb what’s going on in your classes.


What do you think are the pros/cons of changing career later in life? Do you think age can be a factor when businesses hire older people who are new in the industry?

In Australia, we have an ageing workforce and I think it’s essential for all businesses to recognise the value older workers bring to an organisation. Older workers have the experience, skills and attributes younger staff are still developing. One of our recent graduates says that being an older worker is advantageous to the business he’s now working for, and that he’s able to build rapport easier in his day-to-day.


We’ve had some excellent success stories from some of our older students who after graduating our immersive courses, have been able to bring all of their previous knowledge plus their newly discovered skills forward to secure some pretty amazing jobs, some with six figure salaries.


More experienced people who are stepping into a whole new industry may have particular previous knowledge and offerings employers should take into account even if they enter at a more junior level than in their previous industry. I think employers should recognise the experience this age group has to offer and do what they can as a business to accommodate them. At the end of the day, it’s about having companies nurture their staff (no matter the age) to work to their potential and the business will benefit from having a truly engaged, experienced employee.


To connect with Emma Forster, click here.


Looking for a career transformation or the up your skills? Check out GA’s offerings.


For more industry insights, tips and the #LeadingLadies series, check out the Agency Iceberg Blog!


Photography by Bri Hammond.