Re-training as a Web Designer

With the Job market remaining unstable, many people are finding themselves either made redundant or in a position where progression is unlikely. This coupled with the increasing demand for IT professionals and the massive skills gap that is emerging from the lack of computer science graduates we are creating in the UK is encouraging more and more 30 or 40 something's to retrain.

Here we chat to Richard, a 40 year old who has done just that and now has 3 years' experience working as a web designer.

What made you decide to retrain – and why web design?

I was made redundant as a Decorator in 2010 after fifteen years working for the same company.

I'd been messing around on small websites as a hobby for a number of years before that, and always felt it would be nice to do it as a job – to do something I enjoyed.

I took the decision to retrain the minute I was made redundant, as I wanted, not an "easier" job but one that I enjoyed doing and where I hoped I would be working in a more pleasant environment that was less physically demanding. I felt at 37 that if I didn't make a change now, I never would. I was forced into it though, which looking back, I'm grateful for.

What barriers were there to overcome when making your decision to retrain?

There weren't any barriers to be honest. I think you make a decision at a certain time, for whatever reason, and if you feel it's the right thing to do, you try to stick to it. I would say the barriers are in your mind. That's not to say I think making a change is something you take lightly. I was lucky in the sense I don't have any children, and there's no doubt taking a decrease in pay might have made me think differently if I did have.

I think even if you were worried about the financial aspects of starting again, people are extremely resourceful, and when making something as drastic as a career change, you have to look ahead and try and see the bigger picture, even if it takes a number of years to get where you're going. People manage to get by, so try and make the brave decision.

What route did you decide to take? Why?

I had been doing an evening course on Dreamweaver at my local College for about a year, so my initial action was to speak with my College tutor as I know Colleges will sometimes post jobs ideal for students/school leavers.

Luckily he'd recently had a local furniture shop looking for someone part time to do general maintenance on their web site and help out around the shop, so I applied for the job, and eventually got it. The part time hours enabled me to gain experience and take a course while I wasn't at work.

There were literally hundreds of courses available online, and in truth, it's a bit bewildering, especially as I was looking to have to part with around £1,200 of my redundancy money, regardless of what course I took.

In the end, I decided to take my CIW Web Design Certificates with the National IT Learning Centre.

These were very basic web design skills, but I knew I'd at least get a logo for my CV, and it would show I was serious about the change I was trying to make.

Did you find it difficult to find a job when you had completed your training?

I didn't really. I applied for three jobs the weekend I finished my first certificate, and I got the first one I had an interview for. I realise I was lucky though, especially considering my background.

If things hadn't happened so quick for me, maybe I'd have been tempted back into doing what I was doing before or into taking any job I could but you have to tell yourself that you fall into things because of the effort you've put in. You put yourself into a position where something might change for you.

Would you recommend your route in to web design for those thinking of re-training?

It's hard to recommend one particular route I think. The one I took suited me as I was older, and felt I needed a certificate and any experience I could get just to get something on my CV.

Do you have any advice for others thinking of retraining?

I would say to think twice about spending too much money on a course - I don't mean you shouldn't take courses seriously but they have to teach you from the ground up, and a lot of the syllabus you will either know (especially as you're going into something from a hobby aspect) or you could learn by other means. Don't discount taking a course though; it proves something to employers above what it might teach you practically.

There is a wealth of information, tutorials, videos and Forums on the internet, with professional people more than willing to help you out if you're stuck on something; it's a method of learning that shouldn't be taken lightly just because there are no certificates at the end of it.

Realistically, no one would be expecting you to be setting the web design world on fire from a career change. I think if you can prove to an employer that you're willing to learn, and have some fundamental knowledge, you can prove your worth, if you can get your foot in the door.

You should expect to start from the bottom if you're going into any kind of Web Design job as a new career though, I know I did. No one is going to let you loose on anything too important, but you can quickly start picking things up as you go along, from getting quicker and better at the fundamentals, like HTML/CSS, basic Photoshop/Illustrator image manipulation techniques, to working with Wordpress, Drupal or any other kind of CMS you might get the chance to work on (where you'll soon be introduced to PHP and JavaScript). If you're lucky enough to be working with developers, you'll be gaining real world experience and techniques that will push your learning on no end.

You're not going to get your foot in the door of anywhere though, without a good CV. It goes without saying that you need at least the basic skills (especially now).

It will also help you no end if you have some kind of programming knowledge, in either PHP or JavaScript/jQuery. These skills (which I didn't have, and am still learning) are quickly becoming expected in web design/development. I was lucky in being given a chance early on whilst looking for work but I realise this might have become problematic had my search for employment dragged on longer. A course won't teach you these skills early on, and proof that you can at least grasp the basics will go a long way. Again, the wealth of tutorials and videos on the Internet for free are such an invaluable tool in your learning above what a course can offer, that you have to take them seriously.

I think you should pay particular attention to your CV, not only the content, and trying to keep it all relevant to what you're applying for but trying to make it look as professional as possible, just in terms of laying it out.

I was given a template CV when I passed my course, and in my mind it wasn't good enough to send to a potential employer. It's a cliché but it really is the first thing a potential employer will see before you get an interview, and I genuinely believe it says a lot about you. Without a good CV, you're not going to get the chance to get your foot in the door of anywhere.

This was how it all panned out for me, and it's still panning. Making the decision to switch is just the tip of a very big iceberg. You will never stop learning, and you will never know it all.

Try not to be too intimidated by those more experienced or younger around you, and tell yourself that it's never too late to change your career.

To follow in Richard's footsteps here are a few helpful links to help you on your way: