Saturday, 14 December 2013

Present - and Correct?

The recent decision by the G8 ministers to target dementia in the same way as they did  global HIV, with the aim of finding a cure or at least a 'stopper' by 2025, is good news. Having seen my own Mother slip away in her late 70's and seeing my mother-in-law similarly disabled now, whilst being surrounded by friends and other family members struggling with their own parents in the same situation, I have seen the future. And it scares the hell out of me! 
As a very personal reflection, and in no way from an informed, activist or political viewpoint, I started this blog on Thursday morning on the 'plane to Rome for a short break, a birthday treat courtesy of my daughter and my wife. And I am so ready for a break.  It's a long slog though from the August Bank Holiday to the Christmas Holidays - some 4 months, almost. And I'm weary. Tired, lethargic, a 'bit low' generally and trying to push through to Xmas.

But what has really brought that home to me in these last few weeks, is the number of what I would categorise as 'silly mistakes' that I have been making; nothing that has caused any impact on others - because I 'caught' them in time - but certainly not how I like to operate, either personally or professionally. And I guess what has emerged for me is the realisation (scrub that - confirmation!) that I have a preferred 'modus operandi', a comfort model of being present and effective, but the standards for which I feel I have fallen below recently. And I am really uncomfortable - and a little nervous - about that.

Recent examples include missing appointments, booking meetings on wrong dates, having to correct a webinar booking THREE times before I scheduled it correctly and even this week, as Mandy and I set off for our flight to Rome, I left my bum bag (with boarding card and passport) in the car in the long-stay car park at Gatwick Airport, and then left my Kindle (ironically, on which I am writing this blog) on the 'plane when we disembarked at the other end at Fiumicino Airport! Again, no-one died and I was able to recover both - and the other situations - quickly, with no harm done.

But here's the thing. I hate that I have done those things. It makes me feel at best, incompetent and at worst, not in control of my own thoughts and actions - and as we fly back from Rome today, with my 58th birthday to look forward to tomorrow, it scares me for the future. 
Having watched and lived through the gradual dying of the light of older relations and friends, I am more and more aware that modern medicine and health care has prolonged our physical longevity, but our poor old brains have not developed quickly enough to cope and are failing us before our bodies do. We are outliving our brains! And worryingly,

there are going to be even more of us in that situation come 2025!

Of course, my recent little mistakes are just symptoms of me being a bit tired and stressed and needing a break, nothing more. But it does make me wonder what it's going to be like when I get older. If dementia or Alzheimer's does happen, will I be aware of 'losing the plot'? Or will it be a more insidious, creeping withdrawal of mental faculties, a gradual slipping away, 'blessed' by an unaware ignorance of the fact, that others will have to deal with on my behalf?
Maybe - hopefully - none of the above.

For now, I am responsible for, and in charge of, my mental well-being and longevity. I try to keep my brain as active and 'fit' as possible. I read a lot, I do Su Doku puzzles every day, I work, I interact with others in person and online, I tweet, I blog - and I will continue to do so for as long as I possibly can. And, as we fly back to the UK today, Saturday, after a fantastic couple of days exploring Rome, I am resolved to take more holidays and travel more. That should do it for now.
So, come 2025, when I turn 70, maybe those clever scientists and doctors, who are about to get all those G8 research funds and collaboration opportunities, will have a little pill I can take if and when my brain is no longer able to keep up with my body.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Not so well travelled

I was recently invited to write an article for the 'Inside Learning Technologies' magazine link and so I produced a piece entitled "What I would say to my younger self", wherein I shared some of the stuff I wish I'd known when I was 'growing up' (which assumes, of course, that I have indeed grown up. The jury's still out on that one). 

Number 3 of my messages in a bottle to myself was "Don't pass up the opportunity to travel". I went on "...get into the habit while you're young and can do it on the cheap... If you don't do it now, you'll find it all the more challenging when you get older".

Well, I never did. I'm one of the least travelled people you'll ever meet.  For a variety of reasons, I didn't hear that message from my future self in time and, as a result, can pretty much count on one hand the countries I have managed to visit, and within those countries, the destinations and sights I have managed to explore.  I've been OK with that over the years, have managed to holiday and travel within the UK both as a callow youth and as a husband and dad on family holidays. To be honest, the idea of foreign travel with young children always struck as way too much hard work - just child care in a different climate! Funnily enough, both children, now nearly 22 and solidly 18, have managed to travel more through their friendship groups and opportunities already, than I have.

But now, as I approach 58, I can hear my travel alarm ticking away. Someone said to me a while ago "Do the difficult travel while you still can; save the easy stuff for when you're older and can't - the cruises, the Great Train Journeys, etc.  Mandy and I cruised for the first time three years ago, our Silver Wedding Anniversary present to ourselves, and absolutely loved it. We're thinking about what to do for our 30th in 2015, but are we going to go for the easy and luxurious, or the more challenging? We'll need to wait and see.

So this brings me to my 58th Birthday present from my daughter and my wife - Mandy and I are off to Rome on Thursday for a couple of days! Basically, it's all booked, flights, private Colosseum tour guide and Vatican tickets arranged. All I've got to do is turn up and go! I am very excited about this. And I'm loving that excitement. I've bought and am working my way through the Lonely Planet guide to Rome, I've asked my network for their recommendations of places to see and places to eat, and I can't wait.

In my message to my younger self, I also said "It's easy and it will broaden your knowledge, perceptions and experience." I may have left it a bit late, but in terms of my ever-continuing learning journey, Rome looks like just the place to do that. 

The only question left is, where next?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Best Conference I've Never Attended

It was the CIPD's 100th Anniversary Conference and Exhibition in Manchester this week.  I couldn't attend - had too much to do at work and travel planned accordingly.  But I did manage to multi-task (men can do it too!) and follow the live backchannel on Twitter. Many of my Twitter PLN (Personal Learning Network) were either attending, presenting, facilitating, blogging or just simply commentating via social media during the two days and, whilst I couldn't keep up with the constant flurry of tweets and blog links being shared, I did what I usually do in these circumstances, which is to 'favourite' the tweets of particular interest, so that I could revisit them in my Twitter 'faves' column later and work my way through them in slow time.  This also allows me time to absorb and reflect, 'cos my brain can't take it all in at the same speed as the 'flying fingers' of my PLN can push it out.

So now it's Saturday and I'm starting to work my way through the list, only to find that most of the individual tweets and links I had saved had already been curated and replayed on the CIPD Tumblr site by Doug Shaw ( @dougshaw1 ), along with many other tweets and links that I had missed. Top Man, Doug!  Now I can use the Tumblr site as a reference book and take my time reading, absorbing, thinking and maybe even commenting on the wisdom and commentary therein.

The CIPD is changing. I now understand the new focus and direction of the organisation and have heard its new voice, not only from the conference floor, but from the breakouts and the coffee shops and the pubs and restaurants around the event itself, where everyone meets and discusses the news of the day.

And that's why I love Twitter and the community of people I have grown to know and respect through it, active in my professional field. Much time, effort and wisdom is shared freely and enthusiastically by way too many people to mention, but suffice it to say that I cannot think of a better explanation of why social media should be considered as a vital part of our individual and collective professional development.  I wasn't at the conference, but I am as well informed and engaged, sitting here at my breakfast bar at home, as if I had been, and it's thanks to those people that I am able to say so.
Now, back to catching up on the rest of those Conference Blogs....

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Train Took the Strain

OK, so I travelled First Class, but really, business travel by train is so much more restful and productive than flying or driving. Yes, it was only Paddington to Swansea, but that's still three hours there and three hours back during which time I was able to prepare for, and then reflect on, the two appraisal meetings - and joint lunch - which I have just conducted with two of my team. And deal with incoming emails. And make some phone calls. Oh, and write this quick blog!

OK, so I left home (Brighton) at 5:30 this morning and I won't get home until 9ish tonight, but I can't fall asleep at the wheel either. In our virtually connected world, I could have conducted these conversations via Webex, but I would also have missed the opportunity to chat with M and R over lunch. The value of doing appraisals in face-to-face discussion, with added non-verbal communication, is what makes the travel even more worthwhile.

That's all I wanted to share really. Just the kind of thinking that business train travel tends to inspire.  

Birmingham tomorrow, by train, to conduct two more appraisals. Looking forward to it already.

Update: Schadenfreude! No sooner had I published this blog and got back into London to continue my journey home by my usual commute, than I found my regular line hit by delays and cancellations. I had to get back on the Tube, go to Victoria Station and get a later train home from there. Everyone on that train seemed to have bought their takeaway dinner and the carriage stunk like a cheap kebab house. I was not best pleased, but the irony was not lost on me either!

Pleased to report that today's journeys from home via London to Birmingham and back, to conduct my other two appraisals, went like clockwork. It's still the only way to travel and be productive at the same time.

Remind me to tell you about the London-Glasgow or London-Aberdeen Sleeper train some time! Your travel and overnight accommodation in the one neat package!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Head versus Heart

I'm sitting on our decking in 24 degrees heat, drinking a beer, having just come home from a walk along the Hove seafront with Mandy, and I'm wondering how we can ever contemplate leaving this house.

I realised this afternoon that it's 23 years to the day (August Bank Holiday Monday 2000) that we first saw this house. We'd come down from Stratford, East London, for that weekend, to investigate moving to Brighton, as we were contemplating starting a family and didn't see that as possible in our little Victorian two-up two-down terrace house in Henniker Road E3. We saw various properties, had the details for this house, but could not get a viewing, as the occupants were away for the weekend. Before we went back to London, we took a last drive past - and saw the residents unloading their car outside. Cheekily we drove round the block, gave them five minutes to get settled back in, then knocked on their door, estate agent details in hand, and pleaded our case for a viewing. Mrs Stevens very kindly showed us around and we fell in love with it. We returned to London that evening, in the morning made an offer and by the end of that week had secured our new home. 23 years, two young adults and several remortgages later, we are now having to think about moving on.

If you read my previous blog "Not Moving On" you'll be aware that, for various financial and health reasons, we are seriously looking at selling up, paying off the outstanding mortgage and relocating as cash buyers to somewhere else. We've looked at the North East and Newcastle-upon-Tyne but decided it's not for us. I asked my network, via my blog, where they would recommend as a good place to live. Several folks queried whether or not we had really looked at elsewhere in Sussex. Good points - well made!

On Sunday therefore, we took ourselves over to Seaford in East Sussex. Bit of a well-kept secret, is Seaford. Between Newhaven and Eastbourne, it's half an hour from Brighton, 20 minutes from Eastbourne, and hour and a half from London by train. It's a 'proper' town in its own right (see Morpeth in previous blog), and from what we could see on this exploratory visit, house prices appear to be within our anticipated range. This could work!

Our criteria appear to be met. The financials look as if they stand up. My head tells me it's the right thing to do. But as I sit here in the late afternoon sunshine, in the (albeit shabby) garden of the home we have built over the last 23 years, my heart is hurting. 

So many emotional ties - we fell in love with this house exactly 23 years ago. Tash and Sam ran around this garden and up and down that tree for many of those years (as did I). This is the only home they have ever known. We only built the kitchen extension (The "Nessie Gavin Memorial Wing") three years ago. Many parties, celebrations, Shabbat candle lightings and cosy evenings in front of the telly have happened here.

Much reflecting, processing, calculating and decision-making ahead of us. Our Heads are clear. Our Hearts are heavy.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Not Moving On...

We have just returned from a week's 'holiday' in the North East of England. "Why the quotation marks around 'holiday'?", I hear you ask. The purpose of our break was two-fold - one, to have exactly that, a holiday, and two, to seriously investigate the Newcastle-upon-Tyne area as an early, pre-retirement, life-change opportunity. Recent events have made Mandy and I question how sustainable our current lifestyle and commitments are over the next few years.  Saddled with a draining mortgage and other outgoings (all of our own making, I hasten to add) which require us both to work and earn no less than what we're currently earning until 2020 at the earliest, coupled with some health issues and work uncertainties, have made us wonder how long we can keep going like this.

So we have started to investigate selling up in the South East, paying off the remaining mortgage and, as cash buyers, relocating somewhere else.  Not downsizing yet - we still have two young adults in further education - but relocating to find an equivalent family home without the burden of a monthly mortgage repayment hanging over our heads.

Anyone who knows us will be aware that Mandy has been studying for the last three years to become a Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist. The plan was for her to stop working as an IT Training Manager within the next couple of years and start practising as a Counsellor/Psychotherapist either from home or rented studio wherever we ended up. We have holidayed in the North East/Northumberland area and loved it. We wondered if the more urbanised Newcastle-Upon-Tyne area would fit the bill. I will still need to work and be able to get to National Rail and Airport locations for work travel.

So we booked a week in Newcastle, with the intention of spending three days investigating areas that had been recommended to us, talking to estate agents, and touring around where likely property was suggested.  Then we would have a few days off and just holiday on the wonderful Northumberland Coast and surrounding areas...

And now we're back home.  Long story short... We're not moving to the North East! Everywhere we liked, the estate agents - kindly - suggested that our anticipated buying power was insufficient for us to achieve our objectives of housing equivalence, urban transport, convenience, culture etc (in other words, Brighton up North!). Everywhere we looked, we ended up travelling further out to large 70s, 80s or in some cases, 30s(!) residential estates, with no centre, soul, or decent public transport links.

Now, this is not, I hasten to add, the end of the world.  We currently live in a fantastic area, which satisfies all of our work, living and family criteria. Emotionally, we have no desire to move. We would love to retire and live out our time in Brighton and Hove, if we can.  The burden is the mortgage.  The imponderables in the equation are our continued health and our ability to work and earn the living required to keep that whole ship afloat.

Call it niaivity, call it 'Southern' arrogance, we honestly thought that we had started to see some light at the end of the mortgage/work tunnel and that our 'selling power' in the South East would give us the wherewithall to maximise our 'buying power' elsewhere. On this experience, it would appear that we were mistaken and will have to rethink our plans.

However, let me put the question out to you, dear reader, who may live in or know well other areas of this glorious country of ours which might 'fit the bill'.  Where else should we consider for our life-changing move? We make great neighbours! All suggestions welcome, so please comment. Thanks.

All that said, we spent the remainder of our holiday, doing just that - having a holiday!  And we had a great time, spending time in Newcastle and Gateshead, walking the Northumberland Coast at Druridge Bay, visiting the Beamish Open Air Museum and the National Trust's Wallington House and Gardens.  See some photos here.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Getting the Get-Together Together

You might remember that I'm organising a 40-Year Drama College reunion in Edinburgh in September.  If not, well, I am. Moving on...

I've mentioned before about how different this experience is being/was going to be since I organised our 20-Year reunion in '93, thanks to the wonders of social media, most especially facebook. 

But those already on facebook are in different groups, different event pages and different friends lists; some people are only on Friends Reunited. And here's another thing - News Flash! Not everyone's on facebook, or Friends Reunited, or email... I know; who'd have thought it? So it's been a bit more challenging to track people down and to get as many people as possible invited. Oh, and the college alumni office was a total waste of time and energy - two phone calls, two emails asking for some support and I heard nothing back, not even an acknowledgement.
So, I've delegated those who have engaged on facebook or with whom I'm already in touch via email or telephone, with tracking down as many others as they could. And, as a result, I've had a fair number of email addresses, phone numbers and facebook page referrals. Today, I did a round of mails, calls and facebook messages and it looks like we have a quorum. We are good to go!

I also delegated (well, begged for help on facebook) the task of finding a venue to those still living/working in the Edinburgh area.  And one or two did, with one person in particular - step forward Evelyn Langland - putting some real effort into narrowing it down. So today, I was able to finally book our venue and announce same to the facebook community.

Now I just need to encourage everyone to make sure everyone else is aware of the details - date, time, venue - book my own travel and accommodation, confirm final numbers with the restaurant nearer the time - and my work is done.

And my learning from this? Social Media is not the answer to everything. Sometimes, it gives the impression of connection, when in fact, all you've got is a name on a list. If you ain't talking, you ain't connecting.  Just as face-to-face #tweetups and #unconnect conferences bring my Twitter professional connections to life, so this reunion is bringing my ex-college, 40 year old, virtual connections into focus and reality.
I can't wait.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Recent Reflection #3 - A Challenge

What did I do?

A week ago today (Tuesday 18th June) I took part in a session at the Learning and Skills Group Summer Conference at Olympia in London. The idea was that three L&D professionals 'compete' in public to showcase our proposed learning design solution for a piece of compliance training on Data Protection. The session was coordinated by Julie Wedgwood and Chaired by Alan Bellinger.  The contenders were myself, Matt Brewer and Craig Taylor - stiff competition!  We had 10 minutes to present our idea and 5 minutes to be grilled by the audience.

Straws were drawn, Craig went first, me second and Matt third.  Alan was a firm timekeeper and it all ran to time.  The audience voted and the results were declared - and I got first mention! 'Cos I came third. Craig took second place and Matt was the well-deserved winner. By all accounts, the session was a great success, by putting up three real-world practitioners - not theoreticians or experts - to share our thinking and the realities of developing compliance training within the context of our own organisations and experience.

What did I learn?

I learned loads!
  1. Beware Don Taylor inviting you onto a 'panel discussion' - it might not be quite what you thought it was going to be!
  2. Competition - albeit friendly - and tight timelines don't half focus the mind, the attention and the effort, both in the preparation of and during sessions.
  3. Bravery will get rewarded.  Matt had timed his presentation to the second and had his slides on auto-advance, leaving himself no room for waffle.
  4. There (is/are?) more than one (way/ways?) to skin a cat (my wife and kids will hate that analogy).
  5. Make it Visual.  Both Craig and Matt had some great ideas and tools for using and enhancing graphics as part of the learning offering - either online or for printed/presented materials.  I really liked the cartooning tools and the use of Infographics as a communication medium.
  6. Keep it Real.  All three of us contextualised our learning propositions based on our organisations and our knowledge of our own audience, their tolerance for innovation and the technologies available to us.  Hence, whilst we all came up with different solutions, we also overlapped on several key concepts and ideas - Campaigns, Branding, Engaging, Visual and Sticky.
What am I going to do with this Learning?

I'm going to walk the talk. I had deliberately not shared my proposal with anyone at work, because I wanted to treat the challenge almost as a 'thought experiment', to try out some ideas that we haven't used before.  We are already running Data Protection training at my company, and I built my challenge proposition based on the work we have already done and what we still have to do. But now that it's been aired in public, I'm going to throw myself under the scrutiny of my stakeholders - the Data Protection Sponsor, Legal Expert, DP Subject Matter Expert and my own team of trainers, to see if they think it has legs.

It needs some work and the application of some of the ideas and inspiration I got from Craig and Matt, and the review and input from all of the above.  It may well not end up as I presented it at conference last Tuesday.  And that's a good thing.

And that's why I'm glad I took part.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Recent Reflection #2 - A Responsibility

What did I do?

We have just held our internal 2013 HR Conference.  Back in January, I volunteered to help with organising this event.  My boss immediately put me in charge (that'll teach me!) and suggested I assemble a planning and co-ordinating team of HR Business Partners from across our various companies.  Four of our HR Directors nominated one of their HRBS each.  In the early days of planning, I held virtual meetings via Webex and Conference Calls with the team, as we put together the basic requirements - dates, times, location, venue, content - and allocated tasks accordingly.

As we got nearer to the dates, we were struggling to find a suitable venue in the Manchester area and, despite the efforts of individuals in the team to investigate suitable sites, we were in danger of not being able to hit the dates already selected and pre-publicised with the HR Leadership team across the business.  Eventually, I called our hotel and conference booking service and passed the task to them.  Within 24 hours, they came back with a proposal which fitted all our requirements and I made the booking.

We were then able to concentrate on the programme and on a couple of visits to Manchester, we firmed up our proposed agenda, which, whilst approved in principle by the senior HR team, was tweaked and changed right up to and including the days of the conference itself.  This led to some frustration on the initially enthusiastic organising team's part, whilst I had to take a more pragmatic view.  I managed to handle a degree of frustration with the team to keep everyone on track to deliver what was required.  Ultimately, the team were great - all admin and preparatory tasks were completed and they ran the check-in and people management tasks faultlessly and with enthusiasm and humour.  I could not have done it without them.

Late in the run-up, I got the full-time assistance of our HR Programme Manager, who quickly pulled the remaining plan together and held us all to account on the tasks required.

As it happened, the arrangements worked and the conference went well. Some 95 HR staff from across the UK, travelled to, stayed at the hotel and attended our 2013 HR Conference in mid-June.  Speakers spoke, key messages were delivered, presentations were displayed, workshops run, discussions had and feedback captured.  We are now in the process of collating the materials for distribution and compiling the post-conference evaluation questionnaire.

What did I learn?

Sometimes a democratic approach isn't always the most effective - sometimes you have to take control and be very directive.  This may not always suit everyone, but management is not a popularity contest.  By the same token, it's important to acknowledge commitment and effort and to say 'thank you'!

There are more people and resources available to assist within our organisation than were immediately apparent.  Lots of people came up to me during the conference itself to ask why I hadn't asked for their help.  I didn't know that there was experience and resource which I could have called on.  Equally, good people and event management with your chosen venue is essential. The team at our venue were fantastic; they anticipated and reacted to our needs before and during the conference and helped make it the success it was.

Good audio visual support is essential and needs to be slick and unobtrusive.

Flexibility and adaptability before and during an event, thinking on your feet and making snap decisions is part and parcel of this kind of event.  That said, rehearsal of key points and speaker sessions would have prevented some slight hold-ups and resulting impact on timing.

What am I going to do with this learning?

I will organise a 'lessons learned' session with the Programme Manager and Planning Team, to capture their feedback and build into a resource pack/project plan template for anyone running future similar events.  This will also be informed by the feedback we get from the attendees via the online post-conference evaluation survey.

If I am organising any such event again, I will start the planning and get the fundamental arrangements - date, location, venue, speakers - made and booked as early as possible.

Also, now that I know it exists, I will not hesitate to ask for support and resource across the business as early as possible, get it booked and in place at the appropriate time and place.
I will ensure that any and all audio visual provision is of the highest standard and reliability.

Finally, I'm going to be very careful about what I volunteer for in the future!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Recent Reflection #1 - An Opportunity

This is the first of the promised "quick and dirty" blogs arising out of my previous blog Reflection? I don't have time for reflection wherein I undertook to blog more often and more quickly, on three different topics.  This blog captures my quick thoughts on a recent personal management development opportunity at work. 

What did I do?

I recently took over resonsibity for the delivery - and the team leadership - of our Management Development training and, in doing so, amalgamating the MD Training team with my small Learning Technologies team at the same time.

This is as a result of a temporary (18 months) reorganisation of our HR leadership team responsibilities, to enable each of the HR Heads to to focus our efforts on better supporting the organisation's key strategic objectives.


What did I Learn?

By meeting with the MD Team Leader regularly and speaking with each of the team members individually, I have learned that there is a wealth of knowledge, talent and enthusiasm in the combined team. Individually and collectively, they have expressed excitement and/or interest in exploring how we can deliver a relevant and effective learning programme in support of the strategic objectives - by working and training smarter - and in further developing their skills to be able to do so. 


What am I going to do with this learning?

Both teams bring with them a previously agreed set of objectives and a delivery plan, which has to be honoured while we finess the integration into one cohesive team, the upskilling - where necessary - of the individual team members therein and we identify the 'quick win' opportunities to develop and deliver learning that's relevant and accessible to the business.  I will lead the team quickly through this forming/storming period, ensuring that everyone is engaged and empowered to participate and collaborate.  I will carefully manage my own workload and calendar and ensure that I pay attention to my own health and wellbeing during this period as well as monitoring that of the team. By the end of the calendar year, we will be 'normed' and performing.

P.S: On another 'lesson learned' note, I previously updated my social media feeds about my new responsibility in such a way that it could have been interpreted that I had been promoted at someone else's expense, and this led to some awkwardness for another colleague and some guidance for me from my own line manager.  I am pleased to say we have cleared the air around this and I have clarified the temporary nature of the reorganisation. I learned to be more sensitive to the impacts of discussing internal matters externally where there may be ambiguity, and I will self-check more attentively before posting in the future - this blog being part of that process.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Reflection? I don't have time for reflection!

Or do I?  I've been a bit quiet on the social media and blogging front recently, due mainly to work and other professional activities, some of which mean significant change and others, working out of my comfort zone, but with a high profile.  As a result, I've been pretty much 'full on' and haven't found - or made - the time to sit back and reflect on impacts, lessons learned or, indeed, just to 'be' in a quiet place.

So this blog is my statement of intent to do just that - to make the space to reflect on recent activities and to look for the learning, links and opportunities arising from three separate events. I will write several quick blogs - one on each - using a model I like, and a concluding blog which will pull it all together. This is also an opportunity for me to practice something which I previously identified as an area for development - blogging faster and more often.

For consistency, I'll use the model of:

1. What did I do?
2. What did I learn?
3. What am I going to do with that learning?

So I invite you to challenge me if you do not see some quick and dirty blogs over the next couple of weeks, reflecting on a) a management opportunity at work, b) organising and running our internal HR conference in Manchester and c) speaking in the Design Challenge session at this week's Learning and Skills Group Summer Conference at Olympia in London.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Just the Job!

As my children approach the end of another academic year -Tash, Yr2 at University and Sam starting his A Level exams at 6th Form College - and as Mandy has recently started another new job with a Law Firm in London, I've been reflecting on what getting, having, doing and keeping a job really feels like nowadays.

I've been with my current employer for 7½ years now, was with my previous employer for
8½ years, and the one before that for 2½ years.  Previously, Mandy and I were in business with another couple, running our own moderately successful IT Training company.

But neither of us ever intended to be doing those things.  We met at Christmas 1982, doing panto in Stafford.  We were actors.  That's what we had trained for, had been doing for years (but see below) and intended (hoped) to be doing for the rest of our lives.

If you have read any of my social media bios, you will no doubt have noticed the number of jobs I have had.  This was not from choice, but rather from the choice I made to be an actor.  In a professional career of some 12 years, I probably worked as an actor for about 4.  The rest of the time, I was 'resting', as they say (a crappier euphemism I have yet to see - I wasn't resting, I was bloody surviving!).  These other jobs were fill-in roles, just part of the deal when not acting, to ensure the rent was paid and that I could eat. 

But that's where my previous education, personal & learned capabilities and professional experience paid off.  I could type (SCE 'O' Grade in Audio Typing), so I temped in offices; I could drive (passed my driving test when I was 17), so I drove delivery vans and lorries; I could read and deliver a script, so I did some telesales work (lasted two weeks - hated it!).  Bottom line, I managed to keep the wolf from the door because I had some life skills and had learned some stuff along the way to enable me to develop further.  I took this to be the norm and it was at a time when jobs like that were many and available.

However, when Mandy and I (still actors) became a couple and later married, this situation was no longer tenable.  We both took on more structured, permanent roles, found ourselves working with what we now call 'information and learning technologies', but back then we called 'computers', 'word-processors', 'spreadsheets' and 'computer-based training' - and the rest, as they say, is history...

But the landscape's changed now.  I've been lucky to keep my jobs until I was ready to move on (except being made redundant once, 16 years ago), but  in the last two years Mandy's been made redundant once, had to leave her next position due to a clash of understanding about organisational culture and, most recently, her last contract was unexpectedly terminated early and at very short notice.  This is not a reflection on her skills or abilities, but the knife-edge, short-termist economics stalking the business world today. Many of our friends and colleagues have found themselves in the same situation and not always been lucky enough to find other work!

I'd suggest that NO-ONE can rely on a job for life any more.  It seems to me that no long-term career planning is  possible - that we are ALL actors, moving from one job to another, having to prove ourselves time and again to yet another numpty (I had another word lined up here, but good taste prevailed) and starting afresh with new colleagues, work practices, rules, values etc.  In itself, this is no bad thing - much learning and growing to be had and done - but it's the longueurs in between, often of several months or even years, while the coffers slowly empty and the debts begin to mount that really take their toll.

So, as the children (young adults) start to look at further education and career-wards beyond that, what lessons have we learned from this that we can share with them?  What challenges have they got ahead that are the same as - or are very different from - our challenges? What does the world of work look like for Graduates and young people today?

The UK Guardian newspaper reported only last week that a UN Agency, The International Labour Office International Labour Organisation said that young people across the world continue to be almost three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. There are 979,000 unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK, after a 20,000 rise in the three months to February The Guardian 

How can we help prepare our young people to survive in this environment? 

I'd suggest that there are some essential 'life' skills required nowadays, over and above the academic. When I needed them, I relied on my communication skills, my typing skills and the fact that I could drive to keep me in work. Today, I would add to/change those skills, thus: articulacy and good verbal/conversational skills (a key differentiator in my opinion), good written and digital communication skills, driving, curiosity, flexibility, tenacity - and patience.  All these to underpin any other skills they may have or develop.

I'd love to grow that list to pass it on to our young people, maybe with some resource links to assist them.  What other essential skills would you suggest to enable them to enter the world of work with the best fighting chance?