A campaign poster doing the rounds online in the UK reads: "Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. She just doesn’t know it yet."

This would be fine, if Fatima were a budding young techie who had just accrued mountains of debt while studying computer science. But Fatima is a dancer, pictured lacing up her ballet shoes with the despondent expression of one already aware it might be for the last time.

"Rethink. Reskill. Reboot," says the slogan that was roughly translated on social media, by demoralised people facing employment armageddon, as "give up on all of your dreams".

The poster is believed to have come from a 2019 ‘cyber first’ campaign; but it has resurfaced now... amid a recession engendered by the pandemic, jobs and entire careers are on the line.

While Fatima may not want to give up on a career in dance, the brutal reality is she may have to. It’s not uncommon for writers to be advised to retrain as sports professionals; a choir conductor to retrain as a colon hydrotherapist... It’s almost as if a computer algorithm is not the answer to your midlife career change dilemma.

Jobs and careers coaching is fast becoming popular.

Those who have used a career coach before have positive things to say, and Anniki Sommerville is among them. By her mid-40s, her work involved a mixture of writing books and producing and hosting podcasts. But, as a mother of two young children, she wasn’t sure how she could continue down the creative path while still earning enough to pay the bills.

That was when the idea of consulting a career coach occurred to her. She had interviewed one called Mandy Manners for a podcast episode, and suspected she would like her style. "Some coaches can be very vague and airy fairy in their approach without giving you tangible action pointers," says Sommerville, 47. "Mandy is an author and so knows about the challenges of being a writer and making money from that. So her advice is practical and she can talk with authority about the creative life and how to make inroads."

So began Sommerville’s pounds 75-a-time sessions, which are still ongoing.

Career coaching has been around since the Seventies, and the global coaching industry today is thought to be worth billions of pounds when all variations are accounted for.

Search online and you’ll find numerous guides (some more authoritative-looking than others) explaining how to become a career coach. In theory, anyone can call themselves one. But there are professional bodies that accredit both coaches and their training, making it a viable career option in itself.

Alice Stapleton entered the field in her late 20s after her own career change. She had originally trained as a probation officer, but six months after qualifying realised she didn’t want to do this for the rest of her life.

Instead, she did a masters in coaching, accredited by one of the professional bodies. Ten years later, she has clients all over the country. They are "people who know they don’t want to carry on what they’re doing but don’t necessarily know what they want to do instead", she says. "I help them look at who they are, what their values are, what motivates them, what their interests are and give them that opportunity to think about themselves and what they want to be doing. The ultimate goal is by the end of the 12-session process they know what they want to do. If it’s a drastic career change it can take a little bit longer."

One client moved from creative consultancy to floristry; another from fashion sales to food styling. A third quit her job in veterinary nursing and is now planning to run her own cafe and launch a cupcake business. (Stapleton doesn’t mention any former clients who went from ballet dancing to cyber tech.)

It’s a luxury that might have seemed unimaginable to our grandparents’ generation, when a job was for life and the idea of pursuing your passion was alien to most. Today, Instagram is full of such mantras. But after graduating from university with a daunting amount of debt and rent to pay, it still may not feel like an option to all.

Stapleton says: "The main [pattern] is they finish university and feel real pressure to get their first job, so they usually take what comes along thinking it might be temporary for a couple of years and that then they’ll figure out what they want to do. Five to seven years later, they’re still doing it, and thinking, ‘How have I even got down this path?’ They feel trapped and don’t know what else they could do."

Of course, the reality in today’s pandemic world is the options will be even more restricted. But the idea of rethinking your metier may soon be a necessity to many. Sommerville, in any case, had already acknowledged that pursuing her passion had to be balanced with making ends meet, in recession times or otherwise.

"I think a lot of people are reassessing where they are, how work fits in and what will make them happy long-term," she says. "But the reality is that I have to make money."

The Daily Telegraph

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