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Re-skilling can open up whole new avenues after a sabbatical

At 47, Supriya Sehgal’s career is still evolving. Supriya, who serves as the registrar of JK Business School, is in the process of completing her PhD, and still wants to go back to the corporate sector where she began her career at 23 after doing her MBA. But things don’t always go according to plan. Supriya got married soon after, and by 24, had her daughter Mansi. “I have always been a bit of a workaholic, so even after I had my child, I would head out for work in the morning and only return at 9pm or 10pm. I soon realized that at this rate, my daughter will not even know who I am, so I decided to take a break,” she said.

While Supriya had only planned to take a short sabbatical, but decided to extend her break so that she could dedicate more time to her daughter when she started schooling. In the meanwhile, she joined the coaching centre her husband ran, teaching commerce subjects and also took classes with MBA aspirants.  Word got around, and she was offered a position as visiting faculty at JK Business School. While she felt out of her depth initially, she decided to take the plunge. In 2015, she was offered a full-time engagement. Soon, she started taking on administrative responsibilities, which eventually led to her being offered the position of registrar. “My only resolve was never to say ‘no’ to anything,” said Supriya.

While she is happy with where her career break landed her, Supriya didn’t get a chance to plan for her sabbatical, and had to rely on her can-do attitude to fight her way back into the workforce, albeit in a different capacity. But for many women, not being prepared can mean a temporary sabbatical turning into a permanent one, as they fall off the radar. “A career break can impact a woman’s confidence. It not only means no income in that period, it also means a loss of economic value. Women often have to return at their last salary or a lower one,” said Dipika Jaikishen, chief investment officer, Basis, a financial planning platform that caters exclusively to women.

According to Jaikishen, the way to tackle this is to have a “sabbatical fund” in place. “In the case of a planned sabbatical, it is ideal to build savings that see you through a part of that extended period,” she said. Jaikishen recommends using the corpus to fund vocational courses and certification. Reskilling during a break, like Supriya did, is a great way to stay relevant and employable.

Jaikishen added that for many women, the real challenge is the lack of their “own money”, especially after moving from a full-time career to a break. The loss of personal income is something that Supriya went through and was happy to overcome. “When I was helping at my husband’s coaching centre, I did earn, but it didn’t feel like it was my money. He invested on our behalf, and was very fair with his allocations, but something was missing. Now I receive my salary into my own account, and make my own investments,” said Supriya, who dabbles in mutual funds to build a corpus for retirement, now that her daughter has completed her higher education. 

Whether you are looking to take a short break or a long one, being financially prepared for a sabbatical is the key to returning to the workforce successfully. It’s equally important to use time to upskill or reskill yourself and be flexible in terms of choices.

For Supriya, while getting back on the corporate horse wasn’t possible, she took whatever opportunity came her way and now feels confident to resume her original career path. Also, as you prepare to come back to the workforce, remember to have some serious conversation with your family who will have to get used to the idea of not seeing you all day.

Having enough of a corpus in place can tide you over the loss of income for that period, and also help you stay up to date, so that you don’t feel out of the loop when you do return.

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