Gen X has the X factor: Career switching at 50
There is definitely something quite significant about turning 50. For some it may feel like a downhill slope to 60, pipe and slippers and a dwindling pension, but for others it can feel like a transformative milestone. You may be bored of doing the same job you’ve always done, you may feel yourself slowly being sidelined to make way for younger colleagues, and may start to question whether your current career is really all it cracked up to be! According to research, over 90% of people over 50 would like a career change, and 59% go on to retrain for a new career. Generation Xers typically crave change, they are open to learning a new skill and place higher value on careers that align with hobbies and interests, rather than pay cheques and perks.
Our very own career switcher, Ian, joined Wildwood 2.5 years ago and hasn’t looked back. From his three ‘O’ Levels to a degree and promotion to Consultant Ecologist, Ian talks about his inspiring journey and just how passionate he is about a career in ecology.
What did your career path look like prior to joining Wildwood?
Before joining Wildwood Ecology 2.5 years ago, I enjoyed a varied career. I left school aged 16, when I enlisted with the Royal Navy as a RADAR operator. I have seen the world; experienced all walks of life and have been privileged to meet some amazing people, making some lifelong friends. On leaving the Navy, I was faced with the dilemma that most school leavers experience and are often asked: “What are you going to do when you leave?”. Having been institutionalised for 24 years, that was a difficult question to answer!
With a keen eye for detail and need for order, project management was the path I chose. However, after 4.5 years of not really getting anywhere, I craved a career change to a field in which I both enjoyed and had an interest. Beefing up my three O’ levels to a degree was a sound starting point! Inevitably, this was a huge challenge, but I relished the opportunity to push myself to achieve the best I could.
Why did you enter the ecology profession?
My studies at the Royal Agricultural University were varied but it wasn’t until my final year when I decided in which area of wildlife and the countryside I wanted to specialise. At first, I tried working for a Wildlife Trust, followed by a spell in forestry, but it wasn’t until I completed an ecology module, as part of my degree, that I discovered where my passion truly lies. I love being outdoors and I thrive on project work. Ecological consultancy offers a bit of both; surveying for protected species, managing projects, helping customers, making a difference, working part of the time outdoors and part in the office. For me, it provides the perfect balance.
Why do you consider yourself a good fit for Wildwood?
That’s a difficult question to answer.
Wildwood ecology is a small (but fast growing!) forward-thinking consultancy whose values address the current climate crisis by putting nature and our environment first. I believe in these values, but the key to being part of the Wildwood family is actually demonstrating these beliefs.
Being offered a job at Wildwood strangely did not follow the conventional route; applying to an advertisement, securing an interview, impressing the interviewers to being offered a position. For me it was, unknowingly, more of a 3-month assessment without realising I was even being considered. As a mature student on a module delivered by Wildwood’s Director, Richard Dodd, I was able to be assessed within a learning environment rather than an interview context. I was then lucky to secure voluntary work for Wildwood, gaining valuable insight into the industry and enabling me to make an informed decision about my career path. From volunteering, I was signed up as a seasonal bat surveyor where I met the other ecologists and was able to show my personal qualities and just how well I interact with others. My interest, discipline, manner, knowledge and values must have ticked boxes as I was offered a job at the end of the season.
So why am I a good fit for Wildwood? I suppose being mature (old!), I bring much more to the table than simply knowledge. Having considerable life experience and transferrable skills allows me not only to appreciate my role within the company, but I can also provide support, encouragement and development to the team. In return, I am being educated by my younger peers whom have entered the professional via a more traditional route.
What are you enjoying about the role and working for Wildwood?
I enjoy my work at Wildwood primarily because of the team. There is so much thought and effort that goes into the decision to employ every individual at Wildwood. One of the key requirements is simply that you fit. We are respectful of each other, work well as a team, helping and supporting each other, whilst all pulling in the same direction. We also like to have fun and this is an important part of the company’s culture, which I value enormously.
My role has certainly evolved over the past two years. Starting as a seasonal bat surveyor resulted in being offered a part-time role after one season, which after lockdown became a full-time post. I appreciate being treated as an individual and the opportunity and responsibility to grow within the company.
I thrive on the project management aspect of the job, from the first client enquiry to issuing a licence and the project being given the green light. Throughout the project we always consider the outcome – how we can best protect and enhance the environment for our wildlife. With a dedicated career framework, Wildwood recognises the abilities and skillset of all its staff and provides the structure and mechanisms required to grow. After just 2.5 years I have recently been promoted to Consultant Ecologist; an achievement of which I am extremely proud.
What does this promotion mean to you?
This promotion makes me proud of my achievements. The industry is by no means an easy one in which to gain recognition and secure promotion. With the entry level being a degree, this is something I never thought possible 20 years ago. Achieving protected species licences and competencies is not always straight forward, and in some cases can take years. The fact that I have been recognised for my hard work, my contribution to the company and my increase in knowledge provides me with the drive to continue.
Where do you aim to be in the future?
What I have learned to date is that progression in this industry is not something that happens overnight. You have to apply yourself to many disciplines and gain a lot of knowledge before you achieve recognition and the licences needed to progress up the ecology ladder. In the short term, I hope to achieve my Class 2 bat licence. In the long term, perhaps a position as a Principal Ecologist, time willing, is not off the cards!
What advice can you give aspiring ecologists considering a career switch?
Being a mature student and changing careers at the latter end of your working years may seem daunting. Going from a structured environment where you may manage a team or are the go-to person to solve a problem, to the bottom rung of the ladder in a new setting is scary, yet exciting. Having the support of my family and the drive to reinvent myself, I consider the past 6 years of my career transition to have been successful and I have no regrets.
Our ability to achieve something we want should not be underestimated, at whatever point in life. So if you’re passionate and ready to embrace change, just go for it. What could you possibly have to lose?
Ian Weller, Consultant Ecologist
14th February 2022 @ 7:00 pm
I like this Ian – thanks for providing a positive example. It’s a bit daunting taking on a career switch after turning 50 but I’m coming across a few inspiring stories like yours and feel more energised and excited about it. 24 years of primary school teaching has been mostly good but I’m now ready to move on, into the world of ecology, a long term passion.
15th February 2022 @ 2:59 pm
Hi Stuart. I work with Ian at Wildwood and have also changed career after 50. I was a secondary teacher for 30 years so if you would like any advice then please get in touch, I’d be happy to chat.
17th February 2022 @ 2:25 pm
Hi David – that sounds great. I’ve become very aware of Wildwood’s profile recently; it sounds like a great place to be. As I’m still in the transition out of teaching (which will hopefully be complete by Easter), I’ve been increasing the volunteering I’ve been doing, along with signing up for a range of ecological courses, all of which have been very refreshing.
At the moment, I would love to get involved in volunteering with Wildwood, especially if there are projects within Herefordshire – do you have such possibly short-term opportunities?