When “retraining” gets a bad rap

  • Adele Barlow

Another side to an ad campaign gone horribly wrong

It was all over our social media feeds, all weekend. (A personal favourite was “Dom’s next job could be a castle tour guide”.)

Was it the timing? The tone-deafness? The angle that seemed well-meaning? “Enjoy dancing while you can, Fatima — it’s all going to be ripped away from you!” observed Marianka Swain in The Independent.
What was it about the “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” ads that caused them to backfire so spectacularly? Was it the content itself, or the way it was presented; if someone besides the government was holding the megaphone, would the ads have been received differently?

Maybe it was all of the above.

In any case, it got us noticing the very obvious difference between people who actively choose to retrain to explore passion, versus talented people who have worked hard for careers being forced to give up what they’re passionate about.

People have used this campaign to project their opinions about the government and the arts, but what we see every day at Makers are real stories, from real people, who are facing real challenges, and taking real action, to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

It got us thinking about Nadine.

Nadine had trained as a professional dancer. “No desks, no 9–5, being creative, living my time on this planet to the fullest. The opening monologue of Trainspotting was my mantra, the Ikea furniture scene in Fight Club my worst nightmare. And I loved every second of the starving artist lifestyle. I was the girl who would never have a fixed contract or schedule or routine — it became my identity and it was amazing,” she wrote here.

“There’s a lot of people in the world and in the UK who had it worse than me because of this virus, artists and non-artists alike. Hell, a friend of mine got stuck on a cruise ship for 82 days. But how the government and just society as a whole treated the entertainment industry just made me want to set something on fire. And I told myself that I had enough. Enough of bad payment and bad treatment. Enough of wondering if and how I can pay my bills next months. With all of this came the realisation that there’s never complete freedom and that we always trade one thing for another; there are chains and suppression in Performing Arts and freedom and creation in Tech; it’s just about perspective and what you make of it.”

Nadine trained at Makers and now she works as a software engineer at Deloitte UK. When we first read her post in May, we loved how raw and vulnerable it was. This has been one hell of a year but one thing we know for sure is that it hasn’t turned out the way anybody anticipated. What we see every day in the stories for the Makers blog is that this whole debate about retraining is bigger than the Fatima ads.

Another story we thought about is Melissa’s.

She had been in the travel industry for almost 10 years in a variety of roles in sales and service, operations and management. At the end of August, she got a phone call informing her that her role as a Regional Sales Manager was at risk.

“Knowing the effect the pandemic was having on the industry made it clear to me that my next role would not be in travel. So, I commenced the grieving processes, cycling through feelings of denial, loss, anger, isolation, despair,” she wrote here.

Read Melissa’s full post here
She’s now training at Makers, and we can’t wait to see where it takes her. We’re grateful to read these kinds of stories every day — but they don’t get anywhere near the attention that one failed ad campaign did.
The ad campaign managed to instantly give “retraining” a bad rap — as if it were a state-ordered life sentence. Here at Makers, we primarily help career changers — people who already have careers behind them, but for whatever reason, want to become a software developer. Maybe it’s about earning more, maybe it’s about exploring a lifelong interest in tech, maybe it’s about future-proofing their career, or expanding their skill set with the creativity that coding allows.

There are plenty of positive and life-affirming stories from the Makers community that remind us that work is a choice, there is a broader context, and if the Fatima ads upset you — well, they upset us too. But we refuse to see Fatima as the face of retraining because in reality, not everyone who chooses to “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” is doing it because the government said so.

Written by Adele Barlow, Head of Content, Makers