How to handle a mid-life career change 

Many study for their AAT qualifications later in life, after years in a career not related to accountancy or bookkeeping.

But what are the challenges and advantages of making an about-turn in your career path late in life?

Older and wiser

It’s a misconception that middle-aged means you’re stuck in the mud. According to The London School of Business and Finance’s 2015 Careers Report, 43% of workers aged between 45 and 54 are seeking new challenges.

Given that changes in State Pension age mean we’re all going to have work longer, then changing direction in your forties, fifties or even later could mean a lengthy second career.

But there are challenges to studying and changing career later in life. It’s likely that you will have to combine studying with working – as well as looking after a home and possibly caring for children or older relatives.

You might be worried about how you’ll handle studying if the last time you were in formal education was awhile ago. And of course, you may worry about whether you’ve made the right decision.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Lesley Warne FMAAT, was in her fifties when she changed career.

Today, she runs her own successful accountancy business with more than 65 clients in Ludlow, Shropshire. Lesley, 63, had a long career in the sports sector, working as an aerobics instructor, a badminton coach and running a top gymnastics club.

But in 2008 she decided to change career, and went back to college to study for her AAT qualifications.

She’d long been interested in accountancy (despite hating maths at school) and there was little chance of career progression in sport. And she really liked the idea of being her own boss. Lesley thrived as a part-time student at Telford College so much that she completed her AAT qualifications in two rather than the usual three years. She had been combining her studies with an office job but once she’d qualified, the college took her on as a part-time lecturer. Lesley taught for two years but then decided to focus on her own business – the long commute to Telford was also a factor.

Lesley advises: “If you want something, do it – otherwise you’ll just regret missing the opportunity. My qualifications allow me to be my own boss which I love.  Being self-employed gives you the kind of freedom you can never get for working for a boss. I would say to anyone thinking about studying later in life that they should go for it: life is too short to sit around wondering what might have been”.

My qualifications allow me to be my own boss which I love.

Age advantage

Some worry about being too old to study: will they be able to keep up? How will they get on with younger students?

Being an older student can be an advantage. After all, you’re making a choice to study – rather than when you are younger when studying can be something you just fall into. And your life experience means you probably know just how to keep several plates spinning at one time.

Angela Demoore FMAAT, Subject Lead for Accounting and Finance at West Suffolk College has been both a mature student and has also taught mature students.

She said: “The advantages of studying later in life, in my experience, means the student has time to reflect on their career paths; their circumstances currently surrounding them; their experiences to date; their needs, wants, desires and aspirations. For some these will have changed completely. For some these will have continued and evolved further”.

Roger Lewis AATQB, is a great example of a single-minded older student. He was 69 when he decided to take his AAT qualifications, following a long career as a mechanical engineer. He wanted to accumulate the skills needed to run his Freemasons’ Lodge finances. “I had an objective from the start” said Lewis.

“I wanted to learn several skills including how to do double entry bookkeeping and how to prepare a statement of profit and loss. That was the motivation I needed”.

Lewis says the only challenge he found in studying later in life was that not working in a financial environment he didn’t have the option of discussing technical matters with colleagues. And he says that he found he had a tendency to over-analyse – “After a while, you realise that double-entry bookkeeping is what it is: you go with the flow and then you understand it”.

A balancing act

If you’re planning on taking your AAT qualifications later in life, do make sure you’ve thought about how studying will fit into your life. Demoore now teaches many older students – but she once combined study with caring for two infant children. She advises: “Some students will be able to find organisation through the deemed chaos, and continue with their dreams. Unfortunately some find the need to park studies and consider coming back even later in life – both is OK”.

Demoore points out that it can be an idea to test the water first. “As the AAT product offerings are growing there is an increasing number of older students. Short courses are tempting those that want to have an ‘option’ in retirement days where they can support and help out with local volunteer positions. Some are doing courses to keep their brains active. Others are actively seeking career changes”.

The importance of upskilling

Demoore says that the age of the students in classes is often the first question of many prospective students. “They worry that they will be the oldest in the class and not as ‘quick’ on the uptake as the younger members” she says.

“Every year we see students signing up for AAT between 16 and 60+. This is a qualification for everyone, and I believe that the bigger age range, experience range, aptitude range in the class, the better and more pleasurable experience it is for the students. The banter between those coming directly through education, those in work place studying through an apprenticeship, those coming in after a study break and those looking to retrain – they make an amazing cohort of students adding value in each of their own individual ways”.

And she adds: “I will always encourage upskilling, however big or small it looks, however life changing, or not that it is. We never know what it around the corner, but there is a world of opportunity for us all, and it is how/if we choose to take advantage of it”.

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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