How To Navigate A Career Change During The Cost Of Living Crisis

If you've pondered a career change in the last twelve months, you're likely not alone. In February 2023, the ABS reported that the number of people who left their roles for 'a better job' or because they 'wanted change' increased by 14,200 in the prior three months to 343,200 people.
Career changes, while exciting, can be daunting. And the current cost of living crisis might make things harder for those looking to shake up their path.
Switching industries and developing a new skill set doesn't happen overnight — heading back to school to study, quitting your current job, and taking up unpaid volunteer work could all be part of the transition into a new career. But, these factors could have a financial impact.
So, if you've found yourself simultaneously in a slump at work and spooked by the current state of the economy, we've dived into how to make the change as smooth as possible...

Self-reflection is key

According to Leah Lambart, career coach and founder of Relaunch Me, having a deep understanding of your values and interests before diving into a career is essential. This is because a career change may involve stepping back from a higher income temporarily (or permanently), so what you choose will likely be a 'values-based' decision.
"Start with self-assessment and become more aware of what motivates you in the workplace and how you can find a best-fit career to match your natural strengths and align your interests and values. Take the time to understand what work environments you will thrive in," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
For Charles Darwin University student Lana Twyford, an ongoing interest in how the human body works and future pay opportunities deeply influenced her career move from environmental science to occupational therapy.
"After being the lead parent for a decade, my earth science degree was only useful enough to get me entry-level, low-paying jobs. It would take a long time to advance that career, and I decided it would be better for me to retrain," she says.
"I’ve been interested in bodies and health since completing a Diploma of Health Science when I left school, and I realised I still have a good 25-30 years of career left, so now was the best time to change direction."

Don't rush into it

While there's never a 'right' time to do most things in life, a career change probably won't 'start' the morning after you make the decision.
Lambart recommends conducting extensive research into your career areas or interests, talking to people in your desired field, and even organising to shadow someone in a role you're interested in before making the change.
"The best way to get clarity regarding a new career area is to test it out. Job shadowing or some work experience is a great way to do this, or a secondment internally if you have that opportunity in your current organisation," she recommends.
In terms of finances, Lambert says any career transition process should involve creating a budget that outlines costs that need to be covered as a bare minimum and what can potentially be cut back on — like ‘nice-to-have’ items, even just for the short-term.  
Sandra*, who's worked her 'dream media job' for the last seven years, has taken a measured approach to leaving her current role before heading back to university to study teaching.
"I made a few strategic choices, like a really long notice period to give me time to find another job," she says.
"I'm also moving out of my sharehouse and in with my parents while I make the transition. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have that safety net right now. I plan on working part-time hours at first while I get used to the transition — which will be a big financial change for me, but I would like to build up hours and study at night or online to make the juggle more manageable."
Once you've begun the new adventure, planning a new routine is also crucial — whether commuting differently or finding ways to study during the week. If you are returning to uni, it's worth looking into whether there are any online and flexible study options available to complete your course. The ability to watch lectures online (from the comfort of your bed), or study part-time, could take the pressure off while maintaining work hours.
Twyford says that this flexibility allowed her to study early in the morning and organise a new schedule in her workplace to accommodate completing her degree.
"This meant I could rearrange my hours every semester to get to some of the classes on campus. Sometimes I listened to lectures while I was at work, gardening or cleaning, and could utilise professionals at my workplace for help with thinking on assignments sometimes," she says.

Help is available — so use it

If returning to study is part of your career change, utilising student resources at your uni is essential. Juggling study around work, a social life, family commitments and self-care can be a tricky tightrope to balance. But, it can all be made a little easier by reaching for help.
"The occupational therapy course coordinator at Charles Darwin University helped create a part-time plan so I could manage the more strenuous units alongside my other life commitments," says Twyford.
Much like embarking on any new challenge, it's essential to have a strong support network around you to help you through the tough times in the process. Lambart recommends not only finding 'cheerleaders' in the form of family and friends but seeking professional advice as well.
"Seek professional help from a career coach if you first need some ideas about careers that will suit you, and secondly, you need to come up with a career transition plan," she suggests.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know to ask for advice. Most people are happy to help if you don’t ask too much of them.”
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