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Is Retraining an Option for Project Managers?

The other day I was having a chat with a Project Manager who was considering their career options. They were a bit fed up with their current job and organisation and felt they were at a careers crossroad. They didn’t know what they wanted to do – anything, everything, nothing. They were just exasperated with themselves for not having a clue about what to do next.

It’s a common problem, sometimes you just need to talk to someone else and voice it all out before you can start to understand a few things a bit more clearly.

One of the things that came up in that conversation was about retraining. This Project Manager was getting so disillusioned with project management that they felt it was time to get out all together.

And yes, of course a Project Manager can retrain. They can retrain to be whatever they want.

But there has to be a recognition that retraining doesn’t necessarily mean a new and different job at the same level of wage and remuneration as before. Which is often a sticking point for people wanting to make a big change, especially at a certain age. There is a whole host of expenses and lifestyle costs that make a radical change difficult.

So if you really want to become a teacher, nurse, build bridges in Outer Mongolia there is nothing stopping you from finding out what you need to do to make that happen.

Digging a bit deeper then, I asked this Project Manager, “are you retraining to work as something else completely different to project management or are you wanting to retrain to work in a different industry sector as a project manager?

Why throw all that project management experience away when the disillusion is being driven by your current circumstances i.e., the place where you’re working and the types of projects you’re managing?

The distinct difference here is a project manager can retrain to be anything they want – they just need the will and desire to do it, be prepared to earn nothing whilst they retrain and then be potentially on a much lower wage when they do start elsewhere.

Retraining to work in another sector as a project manager is an interesting one. The problem is, there is potentially already competition for those jobs from the project managers who already have experience in a particular sector.

Some organisations are also not very keen on seeing project practitioners with no prior experience in their sector.

Thinking about it, I don’t think project managers wanting to move from a different sector would actually see it as ‘retraining’.

Most project practitioners like to believe their skills are transferable, which can often be the case, however organisations don’t tend to agree with them.

For the project practitioners that want to move sector, they will often choose sectors that might be more open to them i.e., moving from finance to retail say. No retraining is needed, just a very good interview technique to convince them you’ve got what it takes.

And then there another option to consider.

Could a Project Manager retrain to be something else that is related to project management?

Yes absolutely. I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of CVs over the years at Arras People that show that Project Managers do choose other career paths within the realm of project management. These include Business Analysts, PMO Managers, Heads of Departments, Portfolio Managers and specialists in areas such as Risk Managers, Quality Managers and Benefits Managers.

The interesting thing is, they tend to do really well too because their delivery experience is always there – a Project Manager never forgets their project management skills – it’s a bit like riding a bike.

So can Project Managers retrain? Yes of course.

The only difficult part is taking the time to think about what you really want then at least you can start the practicalities of planning it.

Have you got any advice for this Project Manager? Why not share your thoughts and experiences too in the comment section below.

About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Director of Arras People, the programme and project management recruitment specialists. You can find out more about Arras People and follow me on Twitter and Google I also write the careers column for PMI's Network magazine and other project management organisations too. Recently created the first PMO Conference and currently running the PMO Flashmob


  1. Fabulous post, Lindsay! I think the key to this (boy do I ever know it) is to think your next move through carefully and deliberately. I was just having a conversation last night with someone about this very issue. Your next job shouldn’t be something you frantically seek out and rush into because you hate your current job. It will likely lead to you hating your next job too, because you leapt out of the frying pan straight into the fire. If you’re so unhappy that you can’t think clearly, consider other stopgap options like taking a vacation, or, if it’s really bad, speak to your doctor about planning a longer leave of absence in coordination with your company’s HR policies. You can’t plan effectively if your thoughts are clouded by anxiety and unhappiness–and these are important decisions.

    • Lindsay Scott

      Thanks Geoff, totally agree with that bit about getting some time out – preferably on your own terms! I guess it’s having the self-awareness to know when the right time is to plan a longer leave of absence, but that’s a post for a stress expert!!

  2. Lindsay, given that the processes of project management are embedded in every existing profession, the trades and into our day to day lives, I find in almost incomprehensible to think of a professional level job in which the processes of project management are not part and parcel of the job, regardless of what the job title may be….

    Some examples- A commercial pilot flying a plane from City A to City B has to initiate, plan, execute, control and close out the flight….

    A surgeon has to initiate, plan, execute, control and close each and every procedure….

    A lawyer has to initiate, plan, execute, control and close every case……

    An engineer has to initiate, plan, execute, control and close every design…

    And the list goes on and on….

    The problem is in SOME SECTORS we have a job title called “Project Manager” but in most other sectors, the processes of project management are still employed but the job title is NOT “project manager”.

    Bottom line- regardless of what our colleague chooses to do with the rest of his/her life, I think it safe to assume that the processes of project management he/she learned as a project manager will still be used.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

  3. Lindsay Scott

    Thanks to Geoff for putting me onto this article from Sarah Elkins, worth a read if you’re at a crossroads too:


  4. May we repost, we operate in the Caribbean and our careers site is mainly for students

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