Career Changes Are More Common Than You Think

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If you left college only to discover a career in your field of study wasn’t for you, you aren’t alone. Career changes are quite common in the business world, as professionals learn the reality of their chosen careers fails to align with their expectations.

Nearly one-third of respondents to a survey from online learning platform EdX say they have seriously considered a career change, while 29 percent have completely changed career fields since graduating college. The major drivers behind these career shifts include salary (cited by 39 percent of respondents) and interest in other fields (cited by 21 percent of respondents).

“It is becoming less common to choose one career path right after college and stay with it for the entirety of your career,” says Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX. This is due in part to a rapidly changing business landscape, he says.

“Today’s pace of business is changing rapidly with the evolution of technology,” Agarwal explains. “Positions that didn’t exist a decade ago have become specialist roles that require additional training — data scientists, for example. Career changers are likely interested in [new] occupations that offer more opportunity than what they are leaving behind.”

Changing careers can often be more difficult than it appears. Shifting to a new field might require additional training first, for example. Pursuing that additional education can be both costly and time-consuming — and no one wants to invest in training just to find that their new career path is also not what it’s cracked up to be.

Agarwal’s advice: “Before committing to a longer-term time investment, try taking a single course in a subject or a professional certificate program that seems interesting and see what you think.”

As the way we work changes, so does the way we develop new skills. Accelerated degree programs, professional certificates, and training within one’s current organization provide different levels of development for different needs. One new option is EdX’s “MicroMasters”  program, a series of graduate-level courses from a variety of top universities. (EdX, it should be noted, was founded in a collaborative effort by MIT and Harvard.) What separates MicroMasters courses from other programs is that successful students can apply to the university that offers the course. If accepted, they can pursue an accelerated master’s degree program on campus with the university.

The Skills Gap Problem

As the business world changes, so do best practices and skills requirements for top jobs. These changing requirements have left many organizations without access to the talent they need, in part because today’s job seekers don’t get the education necessary to succeed in tomorrow’s job market. Fifty-three percent of respondents to the EdX survey say they use less than half of their education in their current job, while 15 percent say they use none at all.

To address this problem, it’s up to educational institutions to provide to students across all majors relevant skills training they can use in the workplace. In addition, the rapid evolution of the business world means employees must be willing to pursue additional skills training throughout their careers — especially if they expect to make a career change at any point.

“Today’s global-level skills shortage illustrates the enormity of the gap that many employees face between their college educations and what employers are looking for,” Agarwal says. “Individuals and their employers need to recognize that they will likely need to upskill and reskill in order to keep up. Embracing [a] mindset of lifelong learning is beneficial, and colleges and businesses can help workers recognize this.”

A major career shift can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. Through innovative education options, job seekers can get the skills they need to stay competitive, whether in their current professions or on completely new career paths. Whether one decides to change careers or develop within their current role, dedicating oneself to continuous improvement is a sure way to stay relevant in any field.

By Jason McDowell