Ever dreamed of being a pilot, doctor or engineer while growing up but ended up in another career? You are not alone. A new breed of mid- and senior-level professionals is now pushing the envelope and switching careers, encouraged by the mushrooming of executive education that has tapped into an individual’s need to play not just one but many roles.

Nick Langmead, a work maverick, decided after nine years in Dubai and a PR career across several major agencies, to cast off his role as account director at Impact Porter Novelli, and become the company’s in-house film and video content expert. To reskill himself, he joined the Short Film Course at the SAE Institute this January. “It has been extremely tiring to work a full-time job and study in the evenings and weekends, but it is a labour of love and I am happy in the knowledge that I am no longer allowing my career to be directed, and instead, have become the director of my own career,” he explains.

“I am lucky to have the support of my company, which sees the  value and potential of film and allows some flexibility with my hours to accomplish the educational training required,” he says.

Ayman Haddad, Managing Director, Middle East and North Africa Region, DHR International, says, “There are several ways to reskill: either through on-the-job training or through adapting the techniques learned in a previous industry and transferring these to a new industry. However, Executive MBAs and executive education remain one of the main bridges to cross from one type of career to the other.”

It’s not always a matter of choice, but of need. Given the recent severe economic slowdown, executives have had to re-evaluate their career choices, especially if they belonged to an industry that was particularly affected. In some cases, it is even redundancy of a particular skill or industry that may give rise to the change. And with longer life expectancy, tomorrow’s executives can expect to have as many as four careers over the their working lives.

Randa Bessiso, Director — Middle East Manchester Business School (MBS), says, “The modern business world is increasingly global and c o m p e t itive, and new technology and industries are being created on a regular basis. This means that professionals looking to build a long-term career might also need to think of it increasingly as a portfolio career, which may include changes of role, industry and country and employer. This mobility is based on having the right competencies and experience that offer consistent value, while looking to refresh/update and add new skills on a regular basis, which may apply to a new industry or role, as the person moves into new positions through progression or necessity.”

Haddad adds, “We attribute this trend this to four factors: the economic crisis, convergence of certain industries, scarcity of talent in the Middle East and the modern education system.”

The question then arises, wouldn’t it be wiser to account for the career flexibility required to pursue multiple careers in a lifetime; for the education system to allow every individual to structure their academic qualifications to optimise their potential and interests; and for any redundancies that might happen from making a specialist choice?

Currently it’s only master’s programmes and executive education that seem to power such switches, but colleges seem to be catching on (see box). We can only wait and watch how other educational systems deal with the real-world problem.