leaders In header

Future of Work: Career Transitions

A survey from Investec suggests that around half of workers were hoping not just to change jobs in the next five years, but change careers.

By: Adi Gaskell, Katerva’s Futurist 


Charles Darwin famously remarked that it’s not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather those most able to adapt to their changing environment.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace, where it’s increasingly common for people to change jobs, and even change careers over what is widely expected to be a longer working life than ever before.  Indeed, a survey from Investec suggests that around half of workers were hoping not just to change jobs in the next five years, but change careers.

Of course, there are professions where this kind of transition is the norm, and one of those is sport, where athletes typically reach the end of their sporting careers around the age of 30, and then have to transition into other forms of work.  Research from Curtin University, in Australia, explored how athletes were managing this transition.

The process is interesting because of the circumstances involved.  Sometimes athletes will retire of their own volition, but often injury will force premature retirement on an athlete that hastens their need to find a new way to earn a living.  The research found that the key to finding a successful second career was understanding the transferable skills they may possess, not least in terms of the psychological demands of discipline, collaboration and perseverance that were central to their sporting success and would be an asset in other professions.  Couple that with the ability to deal with stress and pressure, and there are clear skills that can be deployed in a second career.

The study found that the discovery of these transferable skills was central to the successful transition between careers, and these transferable skills were often ‘soft’ skills, such as teamwork, communication, collaboration, resilience, discipline and leadership.  Research from the London School of Economics finds that these kind of soft skills are especially important for those with low technical skills, and can provide a 20% boost to one’s earnings compared to one’s peers.

Breakout box

In 2019, learning platform Udemy outlined the 10 key soft skills for the future of work:

  1. Conflict management
  2. Time management
  3. Stress management
  4. Communication
  5. Company culture
  6. Customer service
  7. Emotional intelligence
  8. Personal productivity
  9. Storytelling
  10. Change management

Making a smooth transition

Whether it’s moving house, entering a new relationship or starting a new career, change can be hugely stressful however it plays out, but there are things you can do to make the transition that little bit easier (and hopefully more effective).

  • Embrace the fear you feel – Fear is often viewed as a negative emotion, but in essence it’s your fight or flight reflex kicking in.  As such, if framed in the right way, it can be viewed as a central part of your body preparing itself for action.  This is vital when making a career transition as inaction is the worst state to find yourself in.
  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses – As highlighted above, it’s likely that most of us have a number of transferable skills that will enable us to make a transition to a new career smoothly and effectively, but it’s quite possible we lack awareness of what these skills are, or how they can be deployed in our new career.  As well as performing this ‘audit’ of yourself, you might also wish to reflect on just what it is you want from your career, and the ways in which you might be able to meet this demand.
  • Make a first step – Once you have this awareness and goal in mind, it’s vital that you actually act and make that first step towards your new career.  The longer you wait, the harder it becomes, as the uncertainty can easily paralyze us as we hunt for mythical safe and risk free options.  Things like volunteering can be a low-risk way of exploring a new career that nonetheless set you on the path for change.
  • Treat change as a constant – It’s widely predicted that we will have several different careers through the course of our lives, so this ability to transition is likely to be a crucial one for you.  As such, it’s good to develop a mindset that views change as a constant rather than a one-off activity. If you can develop this mindset then it’s much easier to take change in your stride.
  • Enlist help where you can – Hopefully throughout your career you will have developed a strong and robust professional network that you can turn to for help as you transition to a new career.  This is key, as you will almost certainly have fewer connections in your new profession as you did in your previous one, so it’s vital that you tap into the wisdom and connections of the network you do have for help.
  • Enjoy the process – Numerous surveys have highlighted just how unhappy and disengaged many of us are at work, so the chances are that you’ll be leaving behind a job that wasn’t the right one for you.  As such, your new job will hopefully make you happier and more fulfilled than you are at the moment.

Change is never easy, but with evidence suggesting that it’s going to become a more frequent occurrence, it’s something that we have to get better at.  Hopefully these tips will help you do just that.

If you loved this article–our ‘Future of’ series will explore new topics released weekly every Thursday–stay tuned!