Retraining: boost your job prospects on a budget
By retraining, you can refresh your skills to give your career a boost, or learn a different trade to help you get a new job. In this article, we look at the government retraining scheme, what to consider when choosing a course or trainer and how to find free courses and grants for training.
What are the benefits of retraining?
Retraining can help you improve and strengthen your skills in your current job, or prepare you for a new job. Here are some reasons why people retrain:
- refresh your skills if you initially trained years ago
- learn new digital skills you need in your current job
- increase your knowledge or skills to prepare for a promotion
- learn a different trade to get a new job
There’s another big benefit of retraining: continuing to learn and practise new skills throughout life helps maintain brain health.
What are the options for retraining?
There are retraining options for everyone. Some people retrain alongside their current job, while others immerse themselves in full-time training. How you choose to retrain will depend on your budget and commitments.
Here are some ways to retrain:
- Part-time study alongside your job
Study at evening classes, weekend workshops or via distance learning.
- Full-time study
College, university or professional qualifications, via distance learning, attending in person, or a mix of both
- Formal apprenticeship
Apprenticeships are no longer only for young people. Before 2017, the maximum age for a government-funded apprentice in the UK was 24 years old. But today, anyone can become an apprentice. In fact, of the people who started their apprenticeship in 2019/20, 47% were aged 25 or over.
- On-the-job training
This type of training is common for CPD (continued professional development) and is often paid for by your employer.
For many freelance professions, you’ll be responsible for your own CPD and you might choose workshops to top up your skills. Learning could be in-person or online.
- One-to-one coaching
If you’re changing career or need support, a coach can help you make decisions. Coaches offer sessions online, by phone and/or in person.
What should you consider before deciding to retrain?
Start by assessing what you need and then look carefully at the options. Here are a few things to consider:
- What skills do you want to gain?
- If you’re retraining for a specific job, will this job be in demand longer term?
- What type of learning works best for you?
(For example: online, in-person, practical workshops, solo or in a group)?
- Can you afford the cost of retraining?
- Can you afford to take time out to retrain?
- Is there financial help available to retrain?
If you don't know exactly how you'll get a job after retraining, that’s fine. Often training courses cover how to get a job or you'll make contacts along the way who will help. But it’s useful to have your goal in mind so you'll set off in the right direction, even if the entire route isn't clear.
What should you consider when choosing a course, trainer or coach?
How to choose a course
- Check the course outcomes.
Read up on the course content, how you’ll be assessed and what credits or qualification you’ll gain.
- Find out about the course provider.
What’s the reputation of the provider? Is it well-regarded? You can find out by asking people already working in the industry you’re training for.
- Read what previous students say.
If the course provider doesn’t publish testimonials, you can ask to speak to former participants. Find out what jobs participants go on to do after taking the course.
- Check practical details.
What’s the exact cost? Check if there are any hidden costs such as a registration fee. What support services does the course provider have for students? If you’ll travel to attend training, work out how you’ll get there, how long it will take and how much it will cost.
How to choose a trainer or coach
- Book a free trial session.
Professional trainers usually offer a free, short session. This is beneficial to both you and the trainer: you’ll both want to find out if you’ll be able to work well together. Ask about their qualifications, experience, teaching/coaching style and what outcomes they expect. It’s sensible to try out at least three different trainers.
- Check the trainer’s qualifications.
Do they have appropriate, up-to-date professional qualifications? If they’re a member of a professional organisation, visit its website to find out the requirements for membership. Check the trainer has appropriate insurance.
- Check who they’ve trained previously.
It’s reassuring if they train staff at big companies regularly because they’ll have been through thorough checks. Ask to read testimonials from previous clients.
For any retraining course, training or coaching, make sure you only pay what you can afford. And take your time - don’t be pressured into making a decision quickly. Be suspicious of special offers with a very short deadline.
What is the best job to retrain for?
The best job to retrain for is one you’ll enjoy and are suited to. You’ll also want to choose a job that will be in demand for the foreseeable future. Here are a few ways to find ideas for future-proof jobs to suit your skills and abilities:
Do a free online jobs quiz
The government’s skills assessment is a handy quiz that will suggest jobs you might be suited to, based on your answers. You might find some of the suggestions are rather far-fetched but it’s a useful free tool and a good place to gather ideas.
Take an in-depth assessment
The government’s free skills 'health check' includes modules you can complete separately on personal skills such as interests and motivation, and on work-based skills such as checking information, verbal reasoning and solving problems.
Check the job you’re interested in is future-proof
Is the job you’re interested in at risk of being automated? If a job involves tasks that could be done by technology or robots, then it’s at risk of automation. For example, supermarket cashiers are considered at risk because stores can replace them with self-checkout machines. In 2019, the Office for National Statistics predicted the risk of automation for the jobs of 20 million people in the UK. Jobs with a relatively low risk include:
- medical practitioners
- armed forces
If you’re earlier in your career and further ahead, it’s worth keeping in mind that many of the jobs people will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.
What is the government retraining scheme?
There are two parts to the government retraining scheme: vocational courses which qualify you for a job, and Skills Bootcamps. Both are part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, a commitment made by the government to address job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic and changes in the UK economy. The Guarantee promises to transform the vocational training sector to help anyone, of any age and from any background, get the skills they need to progress in employment.
- Gain a vocational qualification
Around 400 courses are taking part in the government retraining scheme, in subjects including engineering, healthcare, business and finance, conservation, teaching and manufacturing.
The courses are free if you don’t have a full qualification at Level 3 (equivalent to an A-level or advanced technical diploma) - your tuition will be paid for by the government’s National Skills Fund.
- Take a Skills Bootcamps
Bootcamps are free 12-16 week courses to build your skills and help you get an interview with a local employer. They’re available across England. Skills covered include construction, welding, engineering, software development, digital marketing and data analytics.
To sign up, you’ll need to be aged 19 or over, either in work or recently unemployed. Some bootcamps have additional eligibility criteria.
Read full details and find out how to apply for a course or bootcamp at the government website: Free courses for jobs.
What retraining courses are available for free?
The government retraining scheme offers fully-funded vocational qualifications if you don’t already have a full A-level or advanced technical qualification. The government is also funding free Skills Bootcamps around the UK. (See above for more about qualifications and bootcamps.)
The internet is packed with free resources where you can learn anything from calligraphy and coding to web design and Welsh. Here are just three of our favourite free online learning resources:
- Open Learn
Free short online courses from the Open University covering topics from academic and professional to current affairs. There are over 900 short courses available. When you complete a course, you’ll get a statement of participation and on some courses, you can earn a digital badge to display on your LinkedIn profile.
Find inspiration, spark curiosity and learn about the latest research in your sector by watching a TED Talk. All talks are 18 minutes or less, and there are over 3,700 available to watch free online. Not sure where to start? Take a look at the list of the 25 most popular TED Talks of all time.
- Google Digital Garage
Google’s free courses in online marketing cover everything from making the most of social media and setting up an online shop to understanding analytics and taking your business international. The Digital Garage also lists courses in data, tech and career development. Choose from modules to do in your own time or watch live webinars on YouTube.
What loans and grants are available for retraining?
If you run your own business, there are hundreds of grants available around the UK and many of them can be used for training. Take a look at our guide to grants, grouped by region and sector:
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Sooze is a specialist financial services writer, working ‘on the inside’ to help businesses communicate clearly for over 10 years. Her work has been awarded Fairer Finance’s Clear & Simple Mark. Read more