Episode 32: Career change and returning to education – with Lauren Bartley, Career Coach

Career coach Lauren Bartley explains her approach to changing career and the challenges of being a mature student when returning to education.

Today’s guest

Lauren Bartley, Career Coach

Website: Career Coach Hitchin

Contact: Careercoachhitchin@gmail.com

Having taken a non-traditional route through education by returning to study and achieving her qualifications in adulthood, Lauren is passionate about helping others to find similar success.  Her background of working with adolescents has equipped her with the empathy and patience needed to communicate with teenagers. She is particularly adept at navigating the UCAS application process.  She can tactfully navigate sensitive topics and prides herself on her non-judgemental, supportive approach.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Asking yourself: what is it you like about your job which is transferable?
  • How job hunting is like house hunting and there are always compromises to make
  • Whether we should really be looking for “fulfillment” and what that looks like
  • The importance of having a goal before embarking on further study in adulthood
  • Being creative about pursuing education whilst also working

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.

Episode 32: Career change and returning to education - with Lauren Bartley, Career Coach

Jeremy Cline 0:00
If going back to education is the only way to achieve your dream career, where do you start? That's one of the things we discuss in this episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 0:25
Hello and welcome to Change Work Life, the podcast that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. This week, I'm interviewing Lauren Bartley. Lauren works with young adults who have come through the care system to overcome the challenges that prevent them going to higher education. Also, she's a career coach. And as well as her work with young adults, we talk about how she works with clients who want to change career, especially those who want to go back to university. Hi Lauren, and welcome to the podcast.

Lauren Bartley 0:53
Hi there. Thanks for having me.

Jeremy Cline 0:54
First of all, could you tell us a bit about what it is that you do?

Lauren Bartley 0:57
Yes, my main gig as it were, is I work in further education college. And that's mainly 16 to 19 year olds that I'm supporting - in particular looked-after children in care. But as a sideline to that, I also provide career advice and guidance. So for adults or young people looking to change direction, maybe you returned to study, not happy where they're at, and they can see me outside of those hours for impartial advice and guidance.

Jeremy Cline 1:28
So the work in the further education college and you mentioned particularly working for children in care, s that something that you've always done, or is that something you've changed in your career?

Lauren Bartley 1:38
I specialised in it. I started out in student support, but it was more general support. So anything around safeguarding concerns or welfare support and then the opportunity arose to work specifically acting as what's called the designated teacher. Every school in college usually has one and the role is to really lift the achievement of that group of students. So their education outcomes have generally been pretty abysmal compared to the mainstream population. Something like 6% of careleavers go to university, whereas it's about 50% of the general population. The role is really rewarding, but it's really hard - its trying to get them to see the potential in themselves that they've got and kind of raise their own aspiration.

Jeremy Cline 2:29
Just briefly, what are the blocks? What are the reasons? Why is it that only 6% of kids who are in care go to university as opposed to 50% of the general population?

Lauren Bartley 2:40
I don't think there's any one thing. I think increasingly it's my opinion that the outcomes you see for yourself are ingrained very young by your parents and their expectations and their lifestyle. And so if their formative years are in a household where people didn't go to university and they don't see themselves as - I mean, I say this because it's something I've heard young people say - they're not university people, then that's a very impressionable age to get that view. So I'm seeing that at 16, whereas they might have had that view by 6. So I've got to kind of undo a decade of that thinking. I think that if they know that they're part of a group that is labelled as having poor outcomes, I wonder if it's almost a self fulfilling prophecy as well. I think if you're being told, Oh, you've got all these professionals working around you, because you're not going to do very well educationally, does that become what they're told enough times that it comes true? I don't know. I would hope not. But I do wonder.

Jeremy Cline 3:39
So that's your main gig. What motivated you to start doing career coaching on the side?

Lauren Bartley 3:45
Well, I'd undertaken the career advice and guidance diploma with the view that it's a useful string to my bow when I'm working with young people, because if I'm having those conversations about pathways through to whatever their career aspiration is, then I need to be equipped to do that. But I was noticing increasingly that actually people I know in my personal life, family, friends - they were wanting to change direction. And I kind of put two and two together and thought hang on, there's a need here for professionals to be able to do that outside office hours. And then I had my baby. So that was less than a year ago, and I reduced my main job hours. So this is a nice little side hustle, I suppose you could call it.

Jeremy Cline 4:32
Okay. It was kind of a combination of seeing the issues that your friends and family are facing plus the fact that you were already kind of in that space anyway and had done the diploma?

Lauren Bartley 4:43
Absolutely, yeah.

Jeremy Cline 4:44
Was there anything additional that you needed to do apart from already having had the dploma in order to start providing this advice to adults and career changers?

Lauren Bartley 4:53
I think the information that you have - you'll never be good at it if you think you know everything right off the bat and you're fully informed. Because if you imagine every sector has its own regulatory bodies, it has its own expectations for staff. And it's just ever changing, the labour market information that you have is ever changing. So just when you think you know it, you almost have to re-educate yourself again and again. And it's not unusual for me to be sat with a client almost learning with them, what we're finding out together. And in that respect, what they're getting from me is I'm showing them where to be checking this information. But yeah, you can't sit on your laurels and think 'I know it' because it just isn't the case.

Jeremy Cline 5:37
And you mentioned that you recently had a baby about a year ago. So how does family life and your day job and this all fit together? What are the challenges with doing that, and how do you make that work?

Lauren Bartley 5:50
The most obvious challenge and I'm sure anyone who's got young children can relate - is the childcare issue. But in a way I can turn that on its head and one of the things that I make sure clients know is that I am child friendly. If they want to book a session with me and bring their child along, it doesn't bother me in the slightest. Actually, a lot of the clients I see are mums who either never finished study the first time round, or they haven't prioritised it, they've prioritised family life. And now the kids are going to school and then they're thinking, hang on a minute, I've got all this free time, why am I not returning to study? The experience now makes me able to relate even more to those clients that I've worked with. And I just think your time becomes so much more precious that you think, am I spending it in a meaningful way? You feel like you're forever juggling plates with work and family and all these commitments. So you think when it is so precious, am I happy with what I'm doing? And I think that makes people go maybe I'm not, maybe I want to be in a different field altogether.

Jeremy Cline 6:51
And how do you manage that personally - juggling the individual coaching, the day job and the childcare?

Lauren Bartley 6:57
I'm very lucky to have family nearby. So I'm able to call on them from time to time. My husband is very supportive. So he's happy to be as hands on as he can be. But it's hard sometimes. Well, you'll know from from setting up this interview that I wasn't as responsive as I might like to have been!

Jeremy Cline 7:15
Not at all, not at all!

Lauren Bartley 7:17
So yeah, it's a balancing act. You feel like you're walking tightrope, but you know, everything's temporary.

Jeremy Cline 7:22
So, who's your typical coaching client? Do you have a typical coaching client? What sort of people have you been helping since you started?

Lauren Bartley 7:32
I've definitely had more female clients. I wouldn't say there's a typical... I said before, I've done a bit of work with parents who are returning to work - so they've done okay, they've maybe done GCSEs or A-levels. Typically they're with maybe a major employer and have worked up so they may have joined something like Tesco and they're now a customer service team leader or something like that, where they're doing okay, but they may be not as fulfilled as they might be. And they decide actually, I'd like to be a nurse or a midwife, how do I get into that? Kids are now at school, I want to do something for me - I can't see myself being on a customer service desk for the next 40 years. So there's those clients, and there are the clients who are very well educated, very intelligent, very accomplished, almost to the point that it's a bit daunting to work with them because I sometimes find myself thinking, surely you can work this out? But I suppose they've been so successful in one field that moving into another they're so embedded in one particular sector that another field is completely alien. And those clients I'm more like a sounding board to explore what is their priority, I suppose. So if I give you an example, there was a client who speaks a couple of languages, she's published, she's medium to senior within the sector - but travelling a lot, so the aim of changing was to not be travelling, but was looking at a different field altogether. But then it became, well, what is it you like about this job that you can see in another? Because she was so embedded in the sector, she had quite a big picture view of it. So therefore, any new sector I was showing her, she was looking at the big picture as though she was at a strategic level. Does that make sense?

Jeremy Cline 9:29
Yeah, yeah.

Lauren Bartley 9:30
And I would actually pick apart well, what is that you like that's transferable, because you've got a great skill set here. But you can't expect that you're going to sidestep straight into a strategy role. So actually, is your priority being in the local area? Is it travel to the point of not commuting? Or is your priority that the day to day tasks you're carrying out align with what you like about your existing role? They're really interesting clients actually because I think you learn more about them and if you're interested in people, and you kind of tend to spend a bit more time understanding them and where they're at and what they're doing, but you're almost like a sounding board, that's almost like a counselling approach to career guidance, because they very often have the answer. They know it, but it takes them a bit of using you as a sounding board to reach a decision or to find out that they know the answer. Does that makes sense?

Jeremy Cline 10:22
Yeah, that does. The example that you give is quite an interesting one and the fact that she was in a senior role, a very sort of strategic role, and you had the conversation about not necessarily being able to expect to go into a similar role in something different. There seems like there's an element of compromise there or an element of well, you need to knock yourself a few rungs back down the ladder and then work yourself back up. And how do clients face that - particularly those that have been used to being in a senior role and kind of want to continue that but do want something else, either reduced hours or reduced commute or whatever it might be?

Lauren Bartley 10:59
I don't think that's always the case. But I think it depends what other factors are at play. I sometimes liken it to house hunting in that if you're buying a house, something's got to give - whether it's price, location, or size of the property - something is inevitably the compromise you make. And job hunting is a little bit like that as well. You've got location, salary, and seniority or fulfilment. And some people do sidestep and it's a similarly strategic role. But if you're absolutely committed to not leaving the town that you're in, for example, then I can't tell you that there's jobs right there in that town that means you're able, whereas if you're happy to travel for an hour, well, that broadens the circle of jobs open to you. It's a bit boring to factor in the practicalities, because it's much more fun to aspire to have any job - and we should start with what's the what's the top aspiration - but the reality is, then you weigh it up against okay, well, do you have to be back at nursery by six? Okay, well, then this is only good if you can negotiate these hours or you know, these days from home, as you say. So, again, that's where the sounding board comes in, because people don't always necessarily know their priorities till they speak to me, or anybody - and start imagining themselves doing it.

Jeremy Cline 12:22
You mentioned the various different factors that you'd put into place - location, commute, salary, seniority, and you mentioned fulfilment there as well. When you're coaching people - this sounds like a silly question - but do you coach them that they should be trying to find a role which will be fulfilling, or is that a factor which is also a compromise one amongst all the other factors?

Lauren Bartley 12:47
It's one of the questions I pose to them, because some people like to think more with their heads and some do with their hearts. And the dream is that both are satisfied, but if they tell me that it's less important that they feel fulfilled, and it's more important that criteria ABC are met, then that becomes the brief. But part of the reason I like to understand what gets them up in the morning is that sometimes the things that they think they like about the job, or they might have overlooked some of the things that they do enjoy. So one of the things that I love, for example, is no two days are alike. I never know what I'm going to walk into. And I like that I'm granted quite a bit of autonomy. Having identified that, I know in a different role I'd want to have those things. Aut actually, I don't know if I'd feel concerned about what the sector was if I had those other things I like about the job, I think I wouldn't mind what the overall service was. So for some people, I get them to talk me through their day and what aspects do they like, what do they not? Or I do an exercise with showing them job descriptions and personal specifications and get them to cut out what do you hate - highlight in red what you hate, highlight in green what you like. And it's interesting because quite often they'll see the job title and then they'll turn their nose up and say that's not for me, I don't like it at all. But when they go through the job description, there's a lot of green - 'Yeah, no, I like this. I really enjoy delivering training, or I really like being part of a small team'. Understanding that about them can help both of us find better roles, even if they don't a hundred percent tick every box.

Jeremy Cline 14:35
You mentioned adult learners and those who maybe want to go back into education. How important is it before embarking on that route, that you've got an idea what you want to do and where you want it to lead to? And I ask that because I sometimes see comments from people, 'I want a career change and I'm thinking of going back to school to study blah blah blah. Do you think that's a good idea?' To me it sounds like that question is coming in too early. And actually, the more important question is, well, what are you going to do after it? I mean, is that the case? Should one focus first on what they might want to do as a career and then focus on what education needs are required to get there?

Lauren Bartley 15:18
Yeah, I would say so. Because as an adult, to go back and study, it's a really tricky commitment. I think even if you haven't got kids, chances are you're reducing your income while you're studying. So the commitment financially and what the implications are for your household as well as for your lifestyle if you're now having to take home x amount of hours of guided reading that you should be doing. It's a big thing to undertake, so you want to know that if you're going to make those sacrifices, leave an existing job, hold back on holidays and going out, that's going to take you where you want to be. I can see that for some people if they just love a particular subject, and they are enough of an entry level position that anything they do is going to be a step up, then maybe in those instances study without a plan could be okay, but really you want to know that what you're doing is going to get you where you want to be.

Jeremy Cline 16:17
The example you gave of someone who was say customer service manager at a supermarket, who wanted to go into nursing, what does the education path look like for that person? I mean, assume that they've done some A-Levels, maybe not got the best of results, but now they want to go into nursing - what's actually involved in terms of study?

Lauren Bartley 16:40
Depending on what their A-levels were, they may be able to go ahead and apply to universities and jump straight in at degree level study. But if they haven't got the sciences that underpin it, they might like to consider doing Access to Higher Education. That's a one year programme, it's A-level level, but it's designed for adults who are returning to education. It's got three or four different pathways, and one of them is Nursing and Midwifery. And so they might do that, get that level three under their belt. And then as part of that course, apply through the UCAS process, and then do the degree the following year. So that's a one year rather than two year, unlike A-level.

Jeremy Cline 17:24
Is that a one year full time course?

Lauren Bartley 17:27
It's full time from the point of view of funding and time commitment. But actually face to face teaching isn't a huge amount - its only a couple of days, but it's a little self directed study in between. Because it is trying to get people ready for university level study, there's a lot of expectation that you go away, you do the reading, you do the assignments. So it can be a bit of shock to the system for some adults. Some carry on part time around that, but that's why I say you want to know that it's the right pathway because it's a big commitment if you're undertaking what is essentially a full time course, alongside your other commitments.

Jeremy Cline 18:05
So presumably from what you're saying it's not something that realistically you could do with a full time job, going back to your customer service manager example? Would they pretty much have to take reduced hours and consequent pay cut in order to do this?

Lauren Bartley 18:19
I would think so. Yeah. I'm not saying it never happens. But I think you have to kind of be Superwoman, or Superman to do it. And actually, do you really want to - a year is a long time to be that tired and stressed if you're doing it? As much as you don't want the salary cuts, actually, you've got to look after yourself, haven't you? And if you're doing full time hours and full time study, where's the downtime? I'd argue that your assignments would suffer, and your work would probably suffer as a result of taking on a bit too much.

Jeremy Cline 18:52
I can see that being a real roadblock for people. So someone who feels that you know, they just can't give up the income. How would you talk to someone so that they can kind of see the options open to them and not just go, 'Oh, well, it's impossible. I can't do it?'

Lauren Bartley 19:07
Sometimes it is impossible. That sounds awful, it sounds quite defeatist, but I think it's better that they know it upfront than start getting excited and making applications. And then that comes at the last point they find this out and then are disappointed to find they can't do it when they'd already felt quite emotionally invested in the idea. But sometimes it presents an opportunity for a career change in the interim. So if their existing job is within core office hours, do we then find something on a weekend that will tide them over while they're doing this course, because the course will be on a weekday, say - so that can sometimes happen.

Jeremy Cline 19:45
Okay. So it's rather than going 'I can't do it' it's being a bit creative and thinking how can you do it?

Lauren Bartley 19:52
Yeah, definitely.

Jeremy Cline 19:53
And then once you've done the access course, and you're through to university, again is that something that it's possible to work round a job or is that really a case of three years, no income, you know maybe working in a bar in the evenings or something like that?

Lauren Bartley 20:07
I think again, you'd be ambitious to do it full time. But then I'm hearing myself say that and I'm reminded of my own route through education. And I was working full time when I did my degree, but my degree was part time. So I studied at Birkbeck, which is part of the University of London. And when I tell people about it, they have never heard of it. And I'm staggered because I just think it's wonderful. It's a brilliant institution, so I love telling people about it. Degree courses are taught in the evening. So the example we just spoke about with nursing and midwifery, they don't offer that but they do offer a whole host of other subjects. I did psychology with them and loved it. It was brilliant. So that's one way to be creative about doing both at once.

Jeremy Cline 20:51
And in terms of what you're doing, do you think that you will carry on with this split role? Do you think that you'll transition into doing the coaching full time? Where do you think you might go in, say, five years?

Lauren Bartley 21:03
Oh, I ask myself that all the time! I noticed something about myself, which is that I very often have two concurrent roles. And I don't know what it is about that - I don't know. It makes me wonder if I'm maybe non committal, I'm not sure. Earlier on in my career, I'd sort of juggle two jobs or do a bit of bar work, and sort of stops and starts and now that this is two again, I wonder if that just suits me to have to be able to wear a couple of hats, I'm not sure. The coaching - I would like to develop it more. There's risk that comes with being self employed. There's a lot of pluses but it's a nice security to know you've got your main thing to fall back on. I don't know - maybe ask me in a few months, or a couple of years when I haven't got baby brain maybe!

Jeremy Cline 21:59
I do known what you mean, I've got a three and a half year old so I can remember that! Lauren, this has been a really interesting conversation. In terms of a particular resource or book or anything which has particularly helped you - is there anything which you'd like to flag up and maybe recommend that other people consider taking a look at?

Lauren Bartley 22:19
What I'd like to tell people is that every college or most colleges will have a careers guidance officer or a career advisor, and part of the role is that you're impartial. Yes, of course, the organisation they know the most about is going to be their own. But actually, if you turn up and have a chat with them about which career you want and the programme of study to get you there isn't available, they will point you at the next organisation. They will refer you to the right college that does offer you the right path of study. And I don't know if people realise this. I think the worry is that if you walk into a college, they're going to have you sign up to that particular place to study. And I'm sure that that does happen in some unscrupulous places, but most places won't. So what my advice would be is if somebody's listening and they think, Oh, I'd like to maybe enter study, I don't know what to do or how I would go about that - make an appointment with your nearest college, have a chat with them. And don't feel you owe them any kind of commitment to a course there. You are initially just finding out what is the right pathway, not who is going to deliver you that pathway. And once you leave and you know that, then you can decide where you want to study and maybe it will be that place, maybe it'll be somewhere else - but I don't think people know that they should be impartial.

Jeremy Cline 23:46
I certainly didn't even know the service existed. So is that something that anyone can go to at any college?

Lauren Bartley 23:52
Yeah, I'd call ahead. They may well have set days and times, but also when open days are advertised - they would normally staff open days as well. So yeah, call ahead and check when's a good time to come in because they'll prioritise existing and continuing students most of the time, but they should be able to offer you a time to come in and have a chat as a prospective student.

Jeremy Cline 24:15
That's really interesting. I have to say I never knew that existed as a resource, that's really quite valuable. Lauren, if people want to work with you, where can they find you and get in touch?

Lauren Bartley 24:24
They can email me at careercoachhitchin@gmail.com, and my website is also Career Coach Hitchin.

Jeremy Cline 24:39
Fantastic I will put a link to that in the show notes for this episode. Lauren, thank you very much.

Lauren Bartley 24:45
Thanks, Jeremy.

Jeremy Cline 24:47
Okay, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Lauren Bartley. It's interesting - I'd always taken it as an article of faith that we should be looking for fulfilment in our job given how much time we spend at work. It was really interesting to what Lauren was saying about whether finding fulfilment in other areas of life is sufficient and that maybe it's okay if work is one of the less fulfilling aspects of our lives. It goes back to what Mio Yokoi was saying in last week's episode, maybe we just do need to find fulfilment in different areas of our lives and maybe work might not be one of those areas. You'll find contact details for Lauren on the show notes page for this episode that's at changeworklife.com/32, and did you know that on the show notes pages for each episode, there's transcripts - full transcripts - of each interview. So if you're listening, maybe you're out and about and there's something that you wanted to revisit, as well as finding a player on the website, you can also find transcripts of each episode. You can download them as a PDF. If you haven't discovered those and think that might be useful to you then do go and take a look. As always, we've got a great episode coming for you next week, and I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.

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