Why the 'back-up career' is moving further out of reach –

Chris has been in the animation industry for more than a decade, and still gets excited about each week’s assignments. He loves the job, but the financial instability is forcing him to consider other options. “The industry invests nothing in long-term production planning or talent retention,” explains 35-year-old Chris. “So, when the production is up, you’re kicked to the curb – no severance, no nothing.”

In the past, he was able to cope with the uncertainty. However, he wants children soon, and the fluctuating cash flow is becoming problematic. Now, the California-based animator is considering pivoting to a ‘back-up career’ in user-experience (UX) design, where the market is growing fast, and pay is relatively high. He sees it as a largely secure option.

Like Chris, many workers have an alternative plan if their career doesn’t work out – a kind of fall-back in a more stable industry, to which they can pivot if their plan A doesn’t pan out. In some cases, this contingency might be in a field that aligns with their hobbies and interests; in other cases, it’s one that’s tolerable and pays the bills. By and large, the alternative career is in an industry with plenty of jobs and security, generally stable even in strong economic headwinds.

Workers who take a job in volatile or selective industries might feel a sense of security in the belief that they have an alternative, ‘stable’ option if their first choice career doesn’t work out. “Having a more ‘safe’ backup career meets people’s need to feel secure and confident to pursue less traditional careers,” says Sarah Henson, senior behavioural scientist at digital career-coaching platform CoachHub.

Indeed, throughout the years, it has been largely realistic to have a practical plan B at the ready. However, faced with hard-to-swallow re-training costs, industry burnout and instability in traditionally secure industries, pivoting to a ready-to-roll career isn’t as straightforward, or even possible, as it once was.

The re-education burden

There’s no such thing as a ‘fool-proof’ career, but many workers consider back-up careers in industries such as teaching or trades more stable; or in Chris’s case, he’s moving to an industry that seems to be quickly expanding and seeking talent trained on new technology.

Back-up careers have had a reputation for staying power – largely, they seem stable or ‘safe’ enough to weather economic changes. “These roles tend to be where the skills shortages are, so they offer good prospects of work,” says Fiona Christie, a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, who specialises in employability and graduate outcomes.

While it’s true that many of these jobs do have endurance, pursuing a new career often requires retraining or re-education – which takes time and money. This has always been the case, of course, but now, current economic conditions are making these additional costs more difficult to shoulder.


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