Throughout Alberta, and particularly in the Calgary area, the perfect storm continues to fuel the hot trend of pursuing a second career.
For years, the decision to opt for a second career was usually done by choice or chance. Unfortunately, for at least the past two years, many Albertans are refocusing on a second career out of necessity.
Of course human nature and an urge for change is a constant when it comes to looking for a second career. But the jarring impacts of the oil price slump and the ripple effects still taking their toll on many aspects of Calgary’s economy and job market are also combining with the Canadian (and North American) generational trend of older workers staying in the workforce longer and often looking for second careers.
Some because they want to, and others because they need to. According to Statistics Canada, 3.6 million Canadian workers are age 55 and over and represent more than 20 per cent of Canada’s workforce – an increase of 1.2 million since 2006.
“Traditionally, there have always been career-changers changing career paths for various reasons,” says Kelly Ma Rosso, counsellor with SAIT Student Development and Counselling. “Anecdotally, particularly in the past couple of years, there seems to be more people planning a career change due to circumstances beyond their control; factors like the ongoing economic climate and getting laid off.
“For many it’s distressing but for others it can actually be a time to reinvent themselves. Planning a second career can be a creative and exciting opportunity. To find a career to be passionate about and even a career more aligned with personal goals, values and interests can be invigorating.”
Tamara McCormick, business lead with Career Connection – the in-demand, provincial government-funded career and employment resource centre at Bow Valley College committed to helping individuals achieve career objectives – agrees with the relatively recent reasons for the popularity surge in second careers. “The Alberta economy continues to undergo significant adjustments related to the downturn in energy prices and the various implications for all businesses directly or indirectly affected by the energy service sector.
“It requires unemployed Albertans trying a second career to be open to change and seek ways to utilize current skills sets and expertise, and a willingness to transfer skills and knowledge to become part of the growth of new business sectors.”
She tracks the Calgary-area trends with professionalism, positivity and enthusiasm. “If history is an indicator, people displaced from the energy sector will use this as an opportunity to invigorate other parts of our economy.”
A new aspect of the current second-career trend is that it’s happening on virtually every workplace level: management, the plant, the field, the shop floor and mid- and senior management.
“Although it’s more and more common in the Calgary market,” explains Andrea Torraville, MBA career consultant at the Haskayne School of Business, “it is a North American trend. Career pivots are increasing due to many factors including economic shifts, emerging career options and changes in professions.
“Various recent business studies and projections show more than three careers in a working person’s lifetime. The Haskayne MBA program has seen a significant increase in individuals transitioning to a second career. Market conditions are the number one factor. A close second is a desire to have more options available in the future.”
There’s a consensus as well as caution from experience that the decision to target a second career involves much more than desire, drive and determination.
It takes job market flexibility, creativity and a grasp of reality.
“Because of the variety of possibilities, meeting with a career coach or even a trusted colleague can really help the career-changer make the shift, looking at where skills and experience could take them in another company, in the same industry or to an entirely different line of work,” McCormick points out. “It is a good time to look deeper into what you’ve done, who you are and where you want to go. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Where do you spend your free time? What are you most passionate about?”
And readying for a second career also involves challenges after the vital decision is made. For many it has been years, sometimes decades, since the routines of a classroom, listening, making notes, doing assignments and homework.
Most facilities have made adjustments in the programming, second-career classroom and prioritizing the wants, the needs and the comfort zone of the “mature student.” There are subtle but key aspects to consider, beyond the clichéd but important speed bumps of suddenly being back in a classroom setting.
“The biggest adjustment is returning to a student mindset,” notes Michael Wright, Haskayne’s associate dean of graduate programs. “Reading all of the materials, studying and completing course deliverables requires diligent time management and a level of commitment that people have often forgotten about from their previous schooling.
“It’s important while making a career transition to spend the time setting goals, doing research and really understanding what is involved in making the big change. Taking the time to meet with career or academic advisers helps manage most expectations.”
“No doubt about it,” SAIT’s Ma Rosso says, “career-changers invariably face potential challenges. When undergoing a transition, by choice or necessity, the career-changer will process the grief of leaving a career. There will be self-reflection to prioritize needs, income, work-life balance and making short- and long-term goals.
“As the new normal sets in, they will have to make decisions based on personal needs and values.”
“Transitioning into a second career requires a growth mindset,” Torraville emphasizes. “Anyone looking to make a career change needs to have clear goals to help develop an effective and workable plan of action. It’s the crucial first step. Second careers often require the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Programs like the Haskayne MBA have career consultants who work with students one-on-one, to successfully make the career shift.”
Despite popular stereotypes and false assumptions, being tech-savvy is no longer limited to certain careers. It is a basic fact of working life, from corporate, industrial and the service sector to all levels of management.
McCormick emphasizes, “Technical depth of skills will always be important, as well as communication skills, the ability to work in a team environment and flexibility to work around change.”
“Re-entering the classroom could be exciting and challenging,” Ma Rosso adds. “But technology has changed so much and content delivery is different from what it was even 10 years ago. The extra time needed for studying or completing projects may surprise some, but having time- and self-management skills from a previous career can be very helpful in managing a new routine.”
The experts agree that some career transitioning still involves adapting generations who occasionally have a tough time embracing technology into entrenched “we-have-always-done-it-this-way” traditions and that most second careers now acknowledge (and outright require) technology as a basic workplace skill.
“Technology has become a foundation in our society today and having the ability to learn and adapt to new technologies is vital,” Torraville points out. “We are finding increased requirements to have more advanced technological skills in key professions. The ability to adapt, learn and keep up with technology will be an important asset to transitioning to any new career.”
In the Calgary job market, the trends, the facts and the numbers tell the dynamic second-career story. As just one recent example, according to the 2015-16 BVC annual report, enrolments grew by more than nine per cent over the previous year.