We’re living through a time of huge change, from technological advances that are creating new industries to the labour market upheavals that followed Brexit. Businesses are reporting record job vacancies, which can mean life-changing opportunities for people with the right skills – or those who are willing to learn.
But in the short term, retraining for new opportunities can mean some additional hits to your finances from tuition fees, course materials, taking a pay cut for an entry level job or cutting your hours to free up time for study.
Student finance has been changing too, with some familiar options like Professional and Career Development Loans having disappeared. But we’ve combed through some expert advice and official information, and there are plenty of ways to fund your new career.
Courses might be free
Some skills that the government thinks are essential for the economy are fully funded for adults. It all starts with GCSEs (or equivalent) in English and Maths – if that’s a gap in your CV, there are a range of free coursesto bring your skills up to scratch.
There are also more than 400 free courses available for people who haven’t yet got their first level 3 qualification – that’s the equivalent of A-levels. And if you earn less than the National Minimum Wage (£18,525) and already have a level 3 qualification or higher, you can retrain at this level for free from April.
Both these options are likely to become even more important in future, as student loans for higher education in England are set to be restricted to people with GCSE-level qualifications in English and Maths and at least the equivalent of two E grades at A-level.
For a quick and free way to get a foot in the door in a new career, you can try a Skills Bootcamp. These 16-week courses are designed to gain in-demand skills in sectors such as construction, engineering, technology, HGV driving and green industries. Complete one and you’re guaranteed a job interview.
You can get a government loan
If your college course isn’t funded, there are still options. Advanced Learner Loans can cover everything from A-level equivalent courses to graduate certificates. Like university student loans, you only make repayments if you’re earning over £27,295 a year.
In full-time higher education, you can borrow just over £9,000 a year for living costs – more in London – as well as your tuition.
Part-time HE students can also access government loans, as long as they’re completing at least 25% of the studies that a full-time student would cover each year.
You can learn on the job
Whether you’re just starting out in the world of work or looking to pick up some advanced skills, there are options to study while you get experience with an employer.
If you’re 24 or under, you can get fully funded training on a traineeship, which also ensures you get at least 70 hours of unpaid work experience in industries such as construction, technology, health care or hair and beauty. They’re designed for people with an A-level equivalent qualification but little experience of work.
An apprenticeship can offer training paid for by the government and your employer, along with a real salary – at least the National Minimum Wage for over-19s and up to £300 a week in the highest-earning apprenticeships.
Lots of organisations offer scholarships, bursaries and grants. The Scholarship Hub says your chances of earning one are better than you might think. “Amazingly, many organisations offering scholarships often struggle to get enough applicants,” it advises. You can search their database for opportunities.
It’s not for everyone, but if all else fails and you’re good at marketing yourself online, you can even try crowdfunding the cost of your career change. Save the Student has some inspiring success stories: one student raised a huge £31,000 to study law at Oxford while another went to Harvard after rapper Stormzy spotted her crowdfunder.