How to retrain to find a new career in a tough jobs market


Claire now works with fighter planes

IN a tough jobs market it is more important than ever to have good skills and qualifications to boost your chances of finding work.

Whether you need to brush up on existing skills or get yourself a whole set of new ones, now could be the best time to think about retraining.

It certainly worked for Claire West who, 15 years after leaving school, found herself back in the classroom struggling with maths and physics.

But to realise her ambition of working with Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets for the RAF, there was nowhere to hide from the tricky subjects.

“I was sitting there with all these school leavers and ­realised that when it came down to maths and physics, I was out of practice and felt a little old!” laughs Claire, 32, who is now on track to finish her “up-skilling” at the BAE Systems Aircraft Maintenance Academy later this year.

“Within a few weeks, I’d got into the swing of it again and was getting stuck into the practical work, which I love.”

After eight years in the Army and five years with Royal Mail, Claire shows that not only can you retrain at any stage in your life, but that sometimes it is a real bonus being older and wiser.

“When I applied to BAE to do the course I was aware I was older than most of the candidates, but I also knew they could see that I was sure of what I wanted to do and would work hard.

“Age really doesn’t matter when it comes to learning.”

Based at RAF Coningsby, near Lincoln, Claire works with her team on the jets’ electrical and radar equipment.

“It’s a great team to be with and although it’s mostly men, I don’t bat an eyelid. After my time in the Army, I know how to handle a bit of banter,” she says. Claire’s lifelong dream had been to join the Army, but she soon felt the itch to try something new, despite the initial thrill of adventure.

“I joined at 16 and learned so much,” Claire says. “I was in the Royal Artillery and ­travelled to Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Cyprus. I’d always been really sporty and active and the Army allowed me to get on with that, too. I ­qualified as a PT instructor.”

After leaving the Forces, Claire worked as a ­postwoman and a delivery manager.

Keen to return to her family in Lincolnshire, she quit and joined the local council working as a gully tanker driver. It was then that she spotted an advert in a local paper for a BAE training course.

“Suddenly I realised that was exactly what I wanted and applied there and then,” she says.

Invited for an interview, Claire showed up suited and booted and after some gruelling aptitude tests and an informal chat, she had to wait a ­fortnight before learning her fate.

“By then I knew this chance to learn a new trade was what I really needed to get myself a career,” she says. “When I got the job offer, I was thrilled.”


“Up-skill” at your own pace with learndirect ( Whether it’s getting on top of maths and English or getting to grips with IT, there are online and college courses to help.

For advice about how to make yourself more attractive to future employers, visit

A particularly useful section covers the financial help you may be eligible for, such as the Fifty Plus In-work Training Grant, which will help with training costs if you are starting a new job after being unemployed.

There is also help to be had with ­childcare, career development loans and adult learning grants.

You may also want to consider ­apprenticeships (, which are now ­available for all ages – not just school leavers.

If you have been out of work for some time, the likes of Reed in Partnership ( and Working Links ( have advisers to point you in the right direction for jobs and training.


BAE Systems, a global defence, ­security and aerospace company, is the UK’s largest employer of engineers and recruits more than 300 trainees and apprentices each year. For more details, visit

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