After 14 years working in project and operations management in the retail sector, I felt that something needed to change, due to a shift in my personal circumstances and becoming a mum for the first time.
Although positive steps were taken over that 14-year time period to accommodate some flexibility within the sector, the demands of the job and working hours continued to have a detrimental effect on my home life. Even though the Working Time Regulations (1998) were introduced and the organisations I worked for attempted to implement and monitor the working week, the nature of the job and existing culture did not allow for this to be effectively implemented. I found the 70 hour working week had reduced to between 55-60 hours, but still as far as I was concerned this did not fit well with my intended return to work and continuance in my management role.
Instead I took some time to reflect and decided to reassess my career options and employability. I decided to review the skills I had acquired, alongside my industry management experience and my MBA. I analysed my transferrable skills and identified a number of skills I felt could be contextualised to other sectors; for instance, communication, confidence and organisation skills. With this in mind, and my impending date to return to work, I felt that if I was going to change my career, now would have to be the time. I considered a number of areas to pursue, and one that was of particular interest was teaching. I felt that I could really put my MBA into practice.
The combination of education and industry experience is highly valued in the education sector, and I found employment at my local Further Education College. Years later, I am now an experienced Programme Leader and lecturer within the Higher Education sector. I was able to return to work and balance my work and home life effectively. I am now near to completing my PhD, an opportunity that my career change allowed me to take.
I would encourage any new parent returning to work to take time to reflect on their career and family life, and determine whether the two are compatible or if a change is necessary. I would also advise parents to consider their work experience and education when commencing their career searches. However, at the same time, the softer skill set is also essential to examine. Think about your interpersonal and negotiation skills, your motivation and so on, These may help you make your decision to move into another area of work and enter onto a new career path.
Opportunities for further study may also be a result of change of career. Unless you take time to see what is on offer within society, then you will never know and could sacrifice crucial family life to endeavour to progress your career. From my experience, you can have both. I certainly have a work-life balance and I would advise anyone who is worrying about returning to work and the future, to look at your skills, look at what interests you, what you want to do and go for it!
About the author
Alison Watson is Programme Leader for BA Business at Arden University.
She’s an expert in marketing, human resource management, international business and student recruitment. She has been an operations and project manager in the retail sector for 14 years, and completed an MBA via distance learning whilst working full time to become a lecturer. Alongside working for a number of higher education institutions, she runs a business specialising in bespoke learning and training packages.