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According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK unemployment rate in the three months to November 2020 was estimated at 5%. The data shows that 828,000 jobs have been lost since the pandemic began, with almost half of those workers aged over 45. Meanwhile, research from Microsoft shows a wave of career switching among workers aged over 45 in the UK.
Microsoft reported that more than four in 10 (44%) over-45s are considering switching careers. Nearly one-third (32%) are driven to switch by fears around financial stability and more than a quarter (26%) are concerned about the rising state pension age. Nearly three-quarters (73%) are willing to invest significant time in learning new skills.
Carol Milligan is someone who, over the past eight years, has faced redundancy twice. Having worked for 25 years in various ground staff roles at Qantas, Milligan was made redundant in 2012.
“I was put on gardening leave from March to July 2012 and started applying for jobs,” she said. “At the time I was 48, I hadn’t been to university, had no degree and I had no CV or LinkedIn profile. I hadn’t been interviewed for a job in the last 10 years.”
After seeking career advice, Milligan said she was able to switch into the tech industry.
Describing her experiences from 2012, she said: “I had nothing to offer, yet I was told I had transferable skills.” From her experience of the travel industry, Milligan said check-in desk staff talked to everyone from grannies to CEOs of companies, and were accustomed to dealing with difficult situations.
During her period of redundancy consultation, Milligan said she was asked what she enjoyed as part of her current job, that influenced the type of jobs she wanted to apply for. The skills she had fitted well with customer support, which is where she began her job search. “I stuck with travel, train companies and emergency services,” she said.
In the end, Milligan decided to apply for a job at Amadeus, the tech firm that powers some of the major IT systems used across the travel industry. “Qantas transferred to Amadeus in 2006,” she said. “I was an end-user of the computer system and I was classed a super-user delivering training in my region. But I didn’t know how it worked in the background.”
The application process took six months, and Milligan admits it was challenging. “I know there is a bias against people in their 50s,” she said. “I found the whole process mentally draining and scary. I applied for multiple jobs in all areas. I did presentations, group interviews and open days where I faced people who were 20 to 30 years younger than me. Some were straight out of school and applying for the same job.”
She eventually got a job in customer service, providing first- and second-line support at Amadeus. When asked about her technical training, Milligan said: “A lot of training was work shadowing.”
Although there was no formal training, her experience of actually using the IT systems put her in a good position to understand the helpdesk that airline customers faced. Discussing the complex nature of Amadeus, she said: “Without an airline background, people struggle.” Even so, she added: “It took me two years to feel competent and confident in doing what I do.”
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Last year, Microsoft and LinkedIn started offering free learning paths mapped to jobs that are in demand, including best practices for job searching and interview prepping, as well as more technical courses in Excel and PowerPoint.
Facing the prospect of redundancy again in 2019, Milligan said she began looking at online courses to update her skills, in case she needed to find a new job. “Anyone who finds themselves redundant should seek career help,” she said. “Don’t try to do it on your own. You’d hope there is a package for external assistance to help you find a new placement.”
Milligan admits there will always be a problem in getting a job application in front of the right person and past the robot that sifts through applicants. While it is likely that many job applications will fall at the first hurdle, she said: “The only way forward is to look at your strengths and weaknesses. Can you show or demonstrate a passion for learning something new?”
Microsoft has partnered with Rest Less, a digital community platform supporting over-50s, to highlight the free resources available to help with career switches and also to highlight the opportunities available in the tech industry for people looking to change career.
Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said: “Workers from this demographic are facing a particularly difficult time in the workplace right now. The pandemic has exacerbated subconscious age bias and we are seeing alarming increases in unemployment among mid-career workers as a result.
“With the state pension age having risen to 66, someone aged 45 has over two decades in the workplace ahead of them – plenty of time to retrain for one or several new careers. With the current rate of technological and societal change – something the pandemic has accelerated – we are also seeing increasing numbers of people choosing to invest in themselves and learn new skills to stand them in good stead for the decades of change ahead.”
Lewis added: “Investing time into learning digital and technology skills is important for self-development at any age, however one of the biggest barriers for this generation of workers is simply a lack of confidence. Tailored, accessible courses to help boost the digital skills of mid-life career changers will help to open up new career paths for this audience as we rebuild a future for the economy post-pandemic.”