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?


  1. Hi Niall,
    Very interesting insight into your working life. I understand your concern about the graduate generation. About 3 and 2 years ago, just after I finished Unis, I was in a similar position to where today’s graduates are. I have 3 degrees (including MA degree) but it was still very challenging to land a job in my career. But I threw myself out there and to gain experience I worked either for free or for travel and lunch expenses for various companies, started a blog to be able to show examples of my writing, and armed myself with lots of can-do attitude and positive approach to looking for a job (including, don’t put yourself down with any job-rejections, just keep going). And it really helped. I think determination is vital landing a job you want. I think it’s the only thing that can actually get you places: self-determination. Anything else will follow.
    Confidence and good personal communication are also important because this is something that people need most at the interview. You need to believe in your own abilities to convince the employer about you be able to do what’s will be required of you.
    Best of luck to Tash, Sam and Mandy 
    Ps. Have a look at the blog post I’ve written when I was a graduate fresh out of the Uni.

  2. This post led to a few comments on twitter and a couple of retweets, as well as Aneta's insightful post and blog link above. I've captured all this in a Storify at and added some more 'life skills' to the list I proposed above, as a result of the responses received. Please feel free to add any comments you may have here or in the Storify. Thanks again. Niall.

  3. Hi Niall - sorry this is later than I intended... It's an important question and if I can't even try to answer it for my own children then how on earth am I preparing them for adulthood?

    There's a lot that could be very important - in fact the wish list is probably daunting if you showed it to an eleven year old as they start high school. That concerns me - daunting lists don't motivate.

    So for me, and I'm very aware this is influenced by who I am, there are 3 things that I think might be paramount...

    1. Scanning the environment
    The world is getting busy, more complex and is changing fast. In other respects the same old patterns repeat. Being able to scan the environment and see what is happening and what might happen next feels like a hugely beneficial skill

    2. Developing teams from within or without
    Self development is important but it likely means naught if we either can't work in teams or if the teams we work in can't self-repair & self-improve. Teams in many guises will remain the norm and I believe the ones that function best (healthily) will perform the best long term. How can you help the team work well together?

    3. Communicating authentically
    I don't know what it is or when it happens but at some stage in life we all seem to run the risk of forgetting who we are and what we believe in. The guff, bluff and management speak take over. We also know that true engagement comes from authentic communication. We can only attract and work with people who believe what we believe. To be able to always communicate authentically, as though it was your lifeblood, seems like a lifelong skill that will keep on paying dividends.

    Would love to hear yours/others thoughts on these.

    1. David, as ever, I appreciate your taking the time to read my blog and your insightful comments. Totally get what you say about lists, but that's just they way this 'story' has developed, with the kind input from other contributors. Connor Moss added a comment to my related 'Storify', saying that he considered the subject to be of equal, if not more, importance to the education community as well.
      As I say in my bio, 'I know a little about a lot and a lot about very little' - and for me that's 'environmental scanning' in a nutshell. Without knowing every youth in the country, I can only go on what I see of my own children's 'expertise' in this area - and I have to say, it's not great. Both are knowledgeable in specific areas, but neither have an overall awareness of politics, economics, current affairs or geography - things I consider to be the contextual underpinning of everyday life. More work to be done here, I feel.
      I agree also about teamwork - both my young adults have grown up participating in a Jewish youth movement, attending, contributing to, developing and ultimately leading Spring and Summer camps in the UK and abroad. A real opportunity for them to work and lead teams.
      As both look for work - Tash for a Yr.3 Internship during her university course, & Sam looking for part-time/weekend work - we have encouraged them to speak in their own voice, to show up as genuine, authentic individuals. Both have found a voice in social media - Sam with his YouTube video review channel and new blog and Tash in Twitter and facebook - and it's in this media that I see real opportunities for the authentic voice to be heard.
      Thanks again David.