Make Previous Skills Count When Finding New Career

Photo by Ono Kosuki

Question: I come from a family where all my younger brothers got jobs in the trades, as I did. I’m in my late 40s now, and with all the people I meet with college degrees, I feel like I missed out on an important part of life.

I’m in a trade union, so I make good money and always get assigned to new jobs when needed, but I can’t stop thinking about what it would’ve been like to go to college. I was a slower learner in high school, but I still can’t stop thinking about college. Should I try to get into college? What are the odds of me getting a job in a business major at this point in my life?

Answer: It’s hard to discourage a person with a strong desire, so consider the possibilities before taking action so you can make an educated decision. You have a lot in your favor now with your job; you learned a trade well enough to join a union and collect union wages.

Unions negotiate and protect their members by ensuring they work under safe, acceptable conditions and receive wages to allow for a comfortable lifestyle. Also, union employees are not judged by their likability.

Most business jobs don’t have unions to represent and protect them. Employees in the business field have to meet many expectations in soft skills (personal character traits such as amenability, diplomacy, resourcefulness, creativity, analytical abilities and more) in addition to their hard skills, efficiency, accuracy and dependability.

New business hires may not realize how important likability is, but the majority of people who are fired in a corporate environment have been considered to be stubborn, argumentative, disagreeable and just plain difficult at work. People like to work with pleasant, positive people, which isn’t a serious consideration in a union job.

Changing careers when nearing 50 can be done successfully, but adding to previous knowledge in a field is easier than learning an entirely new field.

According to a 2020 article from Harvard Medical School titled “How Memory and Thinking Ability Change With Age,” scientists see the brain as continuously changing and developing across the entire life span. Some cognitive functions become weaker with age. Some brain areas shrink in size. The speed of communication within the brain can slow down. These changes can affect one’s ability to understand and retain new information, and previously known information can be harder to retrieve.

Each person’s brain chemistry differs, and though numerous vitamins and supplements can help combat these problems, taking supplements without the instruction of a medical specialist is a hit-or-miss approach.

That doesn’t mean you should abandon your dreams. Since you remember being a slow learner in school, start slowly by taking one course at a time to see how well you do. Rushing into this life change and leaving your job could set you on the road for failure, which might not have occurred had you been patient.

Check out programs at local or community colleges. Many schools have evening divisions and weekend courses, but I recommend you avoid online courses. Online courses expect students to complete assignments independently, with delayed interaction only through emails. Students with low-performance levels in high school can easily feel lost without the guidance and immediate feedback from a classroom environment.

Also, keep this personal activity confidential at work. Hearing negative comments or being taunted by co-workers will only thwart your efforts in the course.

Establishing an additional routine takes time. If you do well after several courses, consider taking two per quarter/semester, but don’t leave a good job to attend school full time. Finding a business job may still be a long shot. If you complete your degree, you will be competing in a job market with new graduates in their 20s. To take advantage of your 20 years working in the trades, apply for jobs on the business side of the construction industry.