How to explore a career change: assessing strengths and opportunities

Steps include conducting a self-assessment of strengths, skills and competencies, and researching additional training opportunities

Finding oneself suddenly unemployed after many years of job security can be a difficult experience. Similarly, to find oneself working in an industry where rapid change is eroding your job security can be disheartening as you watch helplessly as the inevitable unfolds.

For anyone who has been consistently employed for perhaps a generation and who wishes to re-enter the job market, there are a few key steps they must take.

These range from conducting a self-assessment of strengths, skills and competencies, to researching additional training or educational opportunities.

Having just lost one’s job or fearing that the tide is going out on one’s current employment sector, the skills acquired over one’s adult years will be the vital building blocks for the next phase of one’s working life.


How to identify one’s skill set, its relationship to current employment opportunities and the gaps that may need filling through engagement in some form of upskilling is the key task.

How should one begin the process of upskilling?

The career development services available to adults is very much in the development phase. Within the State sector, education and training boards (ETBs) have a dedicated adult education guidance service staffed by guidance counsellors and information officers, who offer support to those with the greatest need as well as those seeking support to change career direction.

There is a really good list of contact details within the website which provides a link to all adult guidance services offered throughout ETBs nationwide. Currently, all ETBs are working with Solas to enhance these services, as they flesh out the realisation of the FET college of the future.

The access offices of all third-level institutions also offer similar support to inquiring adults.

There are also many private practitioners in the adult guidance and life coaching sectors, who will support those seeking career change.

Earlier this month, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris launched more than 11,000 free or subsidised places on college courses in areas identified as being of critical importance.

The scheme is aimed at those who may have taken a degree in a specific discipline but who wish to change direction within their general area of expertise to one with very good employment potential.

Areas covered include courses in cybersecurity, virtual reality, health innovation, logistics and online retail. Programmes in climate, sustainability and energy are also being funded. These courses are free for the unemployed, previously self-employed and people who are returning to the workforce.

For others, 90 per cent of the course fee is funded by the Government, with participants required to contribute 10 per cent of the fee.

Practical steps for reskilling

1. Self-assessment: the key task facing any of us considering a career change is to engage in an assessment of our current basket of skills. The simplest way of doing this would be to write down on a blank piece of paper the things that you feel comfortable doing. This does not need to be confined to the world of work as all skills are highly transferable. You will be amazed how many skills “living life” as an adult has taught you.

Once completed, you should seek the support of your local further education (FE) college or adult education department of your local third-level provider, which will provide an opportunity for you to explore current skills and identify potential gaps and opportunities for further development.

They will be more than happy to support you to explore your lifelong learning potential, whether to initiate a career change, improve confidence or develop new areas of interest.

2. Update your CV: identify your current skill set. Having reflected on and reviewed your basket of skills, you now need to draft an updated CV. The key to a good CV is that it demonstrates what you can actually do in the world of work today. Again you need the support of a skilled “adult education” adviser in your local college or third-level provider to help you with this.

Exploring and reflecting on current skills facilitates a potential learner with an opportunity to include accomplishments achieved either in the workplace or other areas/arenas of their life. By engaging with the relevant support services an adult learns how to present accomplishments in a style that speaks to an ever-changing world of work.

3. Research: continuous learning and the ability to learn have become a necessity in a changing and advancing working world. The careers portal website,, is a great place to start when looking at the opportunities offered in today’s world of work. Although aimed primarily at the school and young adult market, this website is also highly relevant to anyone seeking information on the opportunities offered to those in mid or later life seeking new opportunities.

4. Advice: the ethos in the career support services within further and higher education facilitates peer learning which encourages the sharing of the experience and skills that each adult brings to the learning environment. By having the courage to make that first step of engaging with the relevant support you will be presented with an opportunity to develop networks with others of similar interests.

5. Courses: the FET sector and Access support services at third level provides an expansive range of courses across a range of levels whether the adult wants to engage in vocational training, upskilling for the current workplace or wants to enhance a skill for inclusion in everyday living (eg digital skill development).

These courses are designed with the mature learner in mind, providing flexible modular options. The learner is supported to chart a pathway that accommodates the many demands that are encountered in adulthood.

Course information is accessible online via or or by contacting a local FET centre/school or third-level college local office by phone or in person. Within these services learners are supported with the application process and they undertake to provide a positive, adult-friendly and success-focused experience. Further information on Springboard+, which is managed by the Higher Education Authority on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, can be found at

What are the benefits of upskilling and FET?

Engaging in an upskilling process will enhance all participants’ capacity to live fully in the world of 2023 and beyond.

1. Employability: upskilling can make individuals more attractive to employers by demonstrating a commitment to personal growth and a willingness to acquire relevant skills.

2. Career advancement: further education can open doors to promotions, salary increases and higher-level roles within a participant’s current sector.

3. Transferable skills: Upskilling equips individuals with transferable skills that can be applied across different industries.

4. Personal growth and fulfilment: expanding one’s knowledge and capabilities can be beneficial from a mental health/work satisfaction perspective.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times