GTP20: Why business leaders should support 'social purpose' career-change

Now Teach

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2020 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2020 this involves 8 free workshops taking place between 2nd March and 27th March, culminating in a full-day Growth Through People conference on 2nd April. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Prime Accountants Group, Aston University, Curium Solutions and CIPD - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

The world of work is constantly evolving. Two issues that are unlikely to go away are the increasing number of highly-skilled ageing workers who don’t want to retire, and the significant number of young people leaving school without the right skills.  Business leaders can help by discussing career-change with colleagues and directing experienced people into careers that work with young people.

This story starts with some good news. Thanks to modern healthcare and changes in lifestyle, we’re all going to live far longer than our grandparents did. This poses social and economic challenges but, as the London Business School’s Professor Andrew Scott has observed, being healthy for longer means have more freedom. As a result, more and more people in their 50s and 60s are rejecting retirement and changing career.

But on the other side, many of our young people face a really tough marketplace and reduced job prospects. Birmingham faces a skills shortage with only 52% qualified at NVQ level 3 or above compared the national figure of 57%. Twelve percent have no qualifications at all. This is bad for them and bad for Birmingham’s businesses.

This is not helped a national shortage of teachers, particularly in subjects that are vital to technology and industry. We need more teachers with qualifications in maths, physics, chemistry and computer science. I want to be part of a new culture where it is normal for people to change career and become a teacher.

You can be part of this change too by supporting colleagues who are re-evaluating their careers. Whether it’s after long discussions with a line manager, upcoming retirement or an opportunity to change direction as a result of a restructure, we need experienced people to take their professional nous into the classroom. Once they have trained to teach, they can then help increase the employability of our young people and inspire them to consider their future careers.

That’s the story of Khasruz Zaman, maths teacher and former corporate lawyer, who arrived in Birmingham from Bangladesh aged eight. He spent a chunk of his professional life trying to widen diversity in the legal profession, mentoring colleagues, new recruits and then undergraduates. At every step, he realised the inequality of opportunity began a step earlier and that he would make the biggest impact by becoming a teacher. He now wants to show his students that, no matter your background, they can achieve.

Career-changers make a difference to students in several ways.  They share technical knowledge and professional skills, so students’ learning is informed by the world of work. Career-changers have wider interests that can expand students’ horizons. Vincent Neate, maths teacher and former KPMG partner, sits on the board of Keep Britain Tidy and recently took a group of students to a conservation event in the Houses of Parliament.

Career-changers can help develop talent in your local area. They can use contacts and networks to provide students with work experience at your business. Howard Smith, maths teacher and former finance consultant, was able to line up 11 placements at firms where he had contacts. This benefits young people and gives local businesses the chance to meet and inspire future recruits.

The final benefit is sharing life experience. Teaching is a young profession in the UK, with above-average levels of under 30s. Career-changers have significant experiences to share with students and know what matters, from soft skills, like shaking hands when students enter the classroom, to job hunting, like CV writing or preparing for job interviews work.

As an employer, you may be unwilling to raise the issue of career-change because you don’t want to lose staff. However, in my experience, the career-change bug doesn’t just go away. By engaging with colleagues in this way, you can not only become known as a forward-thinking leader but – most importantly – help make sure that more children in your area have great teachers.

Having a career-change conversation

To help your colleagues who are reflecting on career-change, I suggest the following:

  • Discuss their career motivations and if they have changed. Now Teachers often say they loved their jobs but eventually realised they want a change, a new challenge and the chance to develop.
  • If their motivations have changed, what do they now want to achieve? Explore if they want to move into a social purpose role: Now Teachers have decided they wanted to give something back and help teenagers prepare for adulthood.
  • Explore how they could use their experience in a new context. Now Teachers have taken on some responsibilities in school that mirror their previous responsibilities, such as careers development or sustainability.

If this can happen across the city and the country, career change to teaching can benefit young people, your pipeline of talent and the skills in your community. We need career-changers but we also need supportive and understanding employers who understand it’s value.

Now Teach has recruited over 200 experienced career-changers in Birmingham, East Anglia, London and Hastings. If you want to know more about our work supporting carer-changers or are interested in career-change yourself, contact me at