THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Tips For Navigating Mid-Career In The Brewing And Distilling Industry


Mid-career is often a time when your views around work-life balance and long-term goals can lead to planning some career changes. While having the advantage of considerable skills and experience, there is the challenge of how to steer your career in an industry that is going through significant change. So, while looking for opportunities and considering options, its useful to be aware of several industry trends that may influence your strategy for the next stage in your career:

A. The skill sets required for more senior roles have shifted significantly in recent years, favouring those with broader (e.g. commercial) rather than specialist skills sets. Career options that allow developing these skills, such as secondments or projects, are therefore very useful for career sustainability.

B. More roles are being outsourced to the supplier sector, such as technical troubleshooting on production equipment or even aspects of innovation. This means that some technical roles are moving out of breweries and distilleries, and are creating a new and interesting job market in the supplier industries.

C. The industry is being transformed by technology, and there is a drive towards higher levels of automation. As a result, many production roles are being lost and those that remain require high levels of digital savvy and more diverse skill sets. Finding ways to embrace and work with technology will put you in a stronger position in the future.

Based on these trends, what are the best tips for taking a career forward mid-career? I interviewed over 50 members of the brewing and distilling industry to get their views and have combined this with my own experience as a specialist career coach for our industry to create some tips.


Broader skills sets are in demand, but how do you go about getting these skills? Many of those I interviewed said that getting involved in cross departmental/external projects provided the opportunity to learn as well as a platform to raise the profile and push into new roles. Mid-career there can be a problem when you are established and delivering in your current role, it is all too tempting for a boss to overlook offering opportunities that will allow you to broaden your skill set. They might even have the perception that you would not be interested in such opportunities! So, it may take a push – and employing your soft skills around influencing – to get the message across. Alternatively, you may need to consider a move outside of the company to make sure that you are building the skills sets you need to steer your career in a new direction.


Why not fund your own CPD? In a recent survey of engineers, over 90% said that they would fund their own CPD to facilitate making a career move! Clearly not all employers have the budget to support CPD – but even those that can fund CPD will have their own views on which direction your career should take. The attraction to funding your own CPD is the ability to control and steer your own career – but it can be costly in both time and money. So, it pays to take the time to do some research into the best options for your career and check that it fits with your work life balance. This is an especially useful approach if you are looking to shift sector – for example, from brewing to distilling. My interviewees estimated that about 70% of the basic technology was the same between alcoholic beverage sectors, so a top up CPD can be very effective at supporting these moves.


This might not seem like an attractive option at first glance, but several people that I interviewed had made sideways or even downwards moves to get onto a new career track. The current trend is that that the career ladder is not so much a ladder as a ‘jungle gym’ and the key is that sideways career steps often form part a wider long term career strategy. For example, the rationale might be: ‘I took a sideways move into a brands team for a year because I wanted to gain more commercial experience’. Other diversions might be to move out into the supplier industry ‘I wanted this role because I would like to increase my international experience/customer facing experience/widen my experience of technical issues by working with a greater variety of production plants/get up to speed with the newest technologies etc’.


The advantage of being mid-career is that you are likely to have a strong network of industry contacts. This network can be the key to finding out what is trending in the industry and deciding how you may want to move your career forward. Mid-career is also a great time to pivot and your network may provide some inspiration about new career options as well as providing leads to potential opportunities. I heard about several cases where getting more involved with organisations such as the IBD, SIBA, ASBC etc had led to new career opportunities. Attending industry events such as conferences and trade shows can also be useful to boost your industry connections and explore options.


Sometimes, you can get stuck mid-career and find that you are not getting considered for promotion. My research highlighted two reasons that could lead to this happening in larger organisations and may be worth considering. Firstly, you may hit a ceiling if the senior management do not see you as a good ‘fit’ with the company culture and it may limit your promotion into more senior roles. If this is the case, you need to find out – and then plan an alternative career route. My research suggested that using your network to understand the corporate culture before making any moves was an important step to avoid this happening. Secondly, your career prospects may be limited if you do not have international experience, which is a highly sought-after skill set. It can be harder to get this experience mid-career as you may have less flexibility in life. However, you may be able to find shorter international secondments to minimise the disruption to your family. Alternatively, you might push to get involved in international projects that would be mainly home based but require international site visits to gain this experience.


My research found that finding a mentor was probably the most common tip from those in the industry. Career decisions have a major impact on life and so it can be useful to have trusted advisors and mentors to talk through and consider options, especially if considering significant changes in direction. An external mentor is often the best option, so that you can be completely open and honest about where you would like to take your career. Mentors tended to be arranged on an informal basis through networks so, again, your strong network can be an advantage for finding this type of support. And, if you don’t want to make an approach, professional career coaches such as myself are another option.


This is a good question to keep front of mind. With the level of turbulence in our industry, it can be useful to consider this question on a regular basis to make sure that you have options!

Dr Caroline Walker is an IBD fellow and accredited coach. She offers specialised online career coaching and mentoring for the industry. She can be contacted at or through Linked in Dr Caroline Walker | LinkedIn