A recent study found that Millennials change jobs about four times in their first decade out of college, but for many working South Africans desperate not to lose their source of income, changing careers may feel like too big a risk to take, so they soldier on for years or even decades, despite being unfulfilled and unhappy.

An education expert says there are a few very effective ways you can continue working, while also working on your dream career:

“Most people can’t afford to quit their job to pursue a new line of studies or start from the bottom in a new field, but that doesn’t mean they are doomed to stay in the same field forever,” says Elbie Liebenberg, principal of Oxbridge Academy, which serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year.

Liebenberg says there are a number of ways in which young people can incrementally work their way into a new career, without forfeiting the safety net provided by their current position.

“Recruitment is an arduous and expensive process, and most companies would rather provide new and different opportunities for reliable employees who have proven their ability and commitment, instead of losing those employees completely,” she says.

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“It is therefore worth investigating new career paths within your current company as a starting point.”

Have a plan and strategy in place before getting started

“Setting and working towards new goals will require additional resources – financial, support, time, education and otherwise – which you will need to consider. If, for instance, you intend to start your own business, you will need to make sure that you have a few months’ worth of capital and savings to fall back on. Knowing beforehand what you will require, and how you are going to make it happen, will significantly improve your chances of success in your new venture.”

In addition, while investigating one’s options and setting plans in motion, it is important to continue respecting the rights of one’s current employer, by not letting performance slip or using company time to work on personal projects, she says.

She says those who are serious about making a new career a reality in 2018 have the following options that will allow them to continue working, while also working on their new path:

Investigate options in your existing company (different department)

Someone who is already working for a specific company is already at an advantage, because they understand products, systems, and the culture. So, for instance, if you are currently in sales, you could consider moving into HR, marketing, or finance.

Take some time to get to know these departments and the roles and responsibilities of various positions, until you find something that fits. Then determine what you need to achieve to be eligible for a position in that department. Start by doing a short course in the relevant field, and then be sure to network with decision makers, or speak to a trusted HR representative who could help you map your new course.

Investigate options in your existing company (same department, different level)

There could also be the option of pursuing a different field while staying in your current department. For instance, if you are currently a call centre agent, leadership training or a management qualification could put you on track to rising up the ranks with new challenges and opportunities.

Or if you are an admin assistant in the HR department, you could consider doing a course in HR management, which will allow you to become hands-on in managing labour relations within a company and even set you on the path to an executive management position.

Different career, different company

If you want to cut all ties with your company, your current career, or both, it is very important that you spend sufficient time investigating your options, and that you make sure that you want to make a change for the right reasons.

There is a saying that says “wherever you go, there you will be”, which means that you might like the idea of a new start more than the reality of what you’re going to find when you get there

So spend evenings and weekends researching different companies, different roles, and different careers, and identify those that spark excitement. Then investigate basic entry requirements in the field, and determine how these can be achieved effectively and efficiently while still holding down your current job.

Start speaking to people in these companies and fields, and build up the knowledge and networks that will become useful once you are ready to apply for a new position at a new company.

“Again, an incremental approach is a good strategy, and allows you to upskill and build up knowledge and competence while continuing to earn while you learn,” says Liebenberg.

“Ultimately, the sooner you start working on your new career, and doing so consistently, the sooner you will be able to move into a new working life that will spark joy and lead to increased personal and professional fulfilment. For working people, using their time well is their greatest resource.”