Imagine changing careers after spending 30 years with the same company. That’s exactly what Darren Underhill did, when he decided to become a hearing aid dispenser. He shares why he made the move and how it’s never too late to switch things up.
Darren was a teenager when he started working for a major supermarket chain. It wasn’t long before he got his first managerial position, going on to have various roles across the East Midlands and Yorkshire. He was a store manager, responsible for 300 colleagues, when two things happened that altered the course of his career.
“Firstly, my father got an ear infection and suffered catastrophic hearing loss almost overnight,” Darren says. “He ended up having a cochlear implant fitted but it took him about 18 months to adjust. During that period, he was very isolated from conversations and became depressed. Seeing what Dad went through showed me how much struggling to communicate can impact your mental health.
Then there was Covid
“Although things were tough at work, we got through it as a team. However, coming out of lockdown, we had new owners who wanted to take the company in a different direction. The pandemic and my father’s illness made me think about what was important.
“I realised the values of the business didn’t align with my own and it was time to move on. I wanted to do something more inspiring, but I’d only worked in one industry. Plus, I was now in my forties. So I was at a crossroads, unsure about which direction to take.
“Fortunately, I was able to get some advice from my sister, who helps people find alternative careers later in life. She recommended Specsavers to me after doing some work with them. She was impressed with the opportunities they provided and suggested I get in touch.
“While I hadn’t considered hearing care before, I was curious about audiology because of my father’s experience. I was surprised to find out you didn’t need a medical background and could retrain as a hearing aid dispenser (HAD). The more I discovered, the more I was excited at this prospect.”
Learning the ropes
Darren is currently a pre-registration HAD in Grantham, Lincolnshire. As part of his apprenticeship, he’s combining working in store with studying at De Montfort University.
“It’s been interesting, as I didn’t go on to higher education after college. Despite my nerves about being a mature student, I’m really enjoying the lessons, both in person and online.
“On the practical side, I started off observing clinics, before doing some things myself. Now I can do one from start to finish, without supervision. Many patients come in with real problems interacting with people. We then test them, discuss their needs and fit a hearing aid. An hour later, their world is transformed. It’s amazing helping someone reconnect with others in this way. It’s something I’ve never felt before.
“I’m already thinking about my next step, which is to become a partner. I loved being a manager, and I want to use my knowledge in audiology. Especially around customer service and looking after colleagues.
“I’ve been here for almost a year, and the culture is brilliant. My team is fantastic. They’ve supported my development and made me feel at home – particularly my boss, Jane Taylor. It’s so refreshing to be part of a business that genuinely cares about people and wants to make a real connection.
It’s about ability, not age
“As you grow older, you get it into your head that you can’t do anything different. You convince yourself that nobody thinks you can do something else because you’re over the hill. They’d rather concentrate on university graduates or someone in their twenties.
“That’s not the case with Specsavers. They value my experience and are committed to investing in me. I’m not going to forget that. I’m on an incredible journey, and looking forward to the road ahead.”