The world of work is changing. As life expectancy increases, the amount of time we spend working might also rise. For many of us, this could mean there’s a need to upskill and retrain throughout our careers to help us stay confident and adaptable in the workplace. But with our own financial priorities and circumstances to consider, how can we take the time for education without spending too much or losing out on income? 

Here we outline some ways to learn new skills and take control of your career.

Retrain, upskill, new career?

In our ‘Second 50’ research of 900 workers, 54% said that they intend to change the way they work at retirement age, rather than stopping work completely.1 This might mean going part-time or on a temporary contract – but it could also mean trying out a new profession.

Of course, training isn't just an option for those nearing retirement. As people live longer, more 'multi-staged' lives, this could present you with more opportunities to have multiple careers in your lifetime or take time out for a career break. Naturally, this could mean that brushing up on your skills becomes essential. Retraining could provide you with new sources of income no matter your age, so it makes sense to prepare for professional change whatever stage you’re at.

If you’re going to invest your time – and potentially money – in personal development, it’s important to have clear short and long-term objectives. Try to develop a picture of your future self. Do you want to upskill to progress in your current role, retrain to take a sidestep, or embark on a whole new career? Knowing this will help narrow down the kind of training you should focus on, and reduce time spent on courses that won’t meet your goals.

5 ways to upskill affordably

Once you have a clearer idea of what you’d like to achieve, the next step is to identify how you can get there. Here are a few ways you could help you advance your career without spending over the odds. 

1.  Online courses

The internet offers plenty of opportunities to enhance your skillset, often without spending much – or anything – in the process. 

For example, The Open University’s platform Open Learn offers hundreds of free courses in a range of topics. Udemy has thousands of paid-for online video courses specifically designed to develop your career. Those who want to concentrate on their digital knowledge could consider the Google Digital Garage, while offers a wide range of courses too. For completely free courses in a range of business skills there’s also Hubspot Academy

Many of these platforms offer certifications as well, allowing you to evidence your learning. 

2. Employer-sponsored schemes

If you want to progress in your current role, it’s worth talking to your employer. Some companies fund courses, certifications or even full degrees for their employees, while others offer Government-sponsored courses or training schemes. This could be a cost-effective way to gain additional skills.

3. Potential tax breaks on training courses for the self-employed

If you’re self-employed, you might be able to benefit from tax breaks for training courses to boost your industry knowledge. Such courses can be deemed ‘allowable business expenses’, provided the training is directly related to your business. The value of any tax relief will depend on individual circumstances.

4. Volunteering or networking

Volunteering and networking both offer the chance to develop your career. Volunteering can be a great way to give something back while gaining valuable hands-on experience. It could demonstrate your commitment, adaptability, and social responsibility, potentially making you a more attractive candidate to employers. It can also provide insight into various industries and roles, to get a taste of what you might enjoy doing more long-term.

Networking, meanwhile, can put you in touch with those who could help to grow your career on a more personal level. For example, you might find someone willing to be a mentor and guide you through a career change or side-step, with one-on-one support often invaluable.

5. Check out your local library

Public library usage has recovered since the pandemic, and your local branch may be able to provide the educational resources you need. Head to the reference or non-fiction section to see what books you can uncover in your area of specialisation.

That isn’t all the library might be able to provide. Many have computers with free internet access, while some offer advice, talks and even training programmes to help you upskill or launch a new career. Often these are particularly aimed at those looking to start a business or go self-employed. Get in touch with your local library to see what’s on offer.

Positive steps

These examples are just some options of how you might be able to upskill on a budget. Taking time to learn something new could help you enhance your career no matter how far into your working life you may be. Doing so could have numerous benefits, from career progression to renewed confidence in the workplace. It’s just one way you could enhance your financial wellbeing and plan for your future with confidence.

  1. The Second 50 – Navigating a multi-stage life. Page 9. Data source, Aegon. Research from 900 workers and 100 retirees conducted in December 2022 and July 2023. Published 2023.


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