“People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but never forget how you made them feel.”
We sat down with Employability Tutor, Bev Haigh, and discussed how facing difficult times can often provide the best opportunities to grow. The outcome? An inspiring career story that shows how you can utilise experiences of overcoming incredibly difficult challenges to support others to change their lives.
Did you pursue further or higher education?
I initially studied a business course at college while re-sitting GCSE’s to improve some grades and gain some extra qualifications, but after a year, I decided to leave education and join the RAF as an Air Traffic Controller. This is the rashest decision I have ever made but not one I regret as I thoroughly enjoyed the unique challenges that the role offered. Unfortunately, a few years into my service I had to leave due to personal circumstances, and for a few years following the role, I held various positions across London – this is where my career journey really began.
What direction did you take post-education?
At age 23 I moved back to Swansea and spent some time searching for work, which was a completely new experience for me as I had always been in education or employment. At the time, HM Coastguard were re-structuring the organisation and had a number of upcoming roles that were of interest to me; I wanted a role with meaningful purpose behind it and I was really intrigued about working for HM Coastguard due to its unique set of challenges and how I could transfer and utilise my previous experience from the RAF. I submitted an application for a Coastguard Watch Assistant position and was successful, marking the beginning of my 19 year career with HM Coastguard! From my initial role I progressed to Watch Officer and Watch Manager, where I was responsible for a team of seven coastguards at the Swansea Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, co-ordinating maritime search and rescue incidents. This was a busy responsibility, but I loved it and learned so much from the role and the people that I worked with.
How has your career journey developed?
Unfortunately, after 19 years working for HM Coastguard, my team and I were made redundant, which was without a doubt one of the worst experiences of my life. I was so disheartened to lose a role through no fault of my own and with no choice in the matter. I felt powerless and I began to really worry about the future for myself and my family. I also realised the startling lack of employability support available for those who had been made redundant; with a lack of direction and experience in such a unique role, I didn’t know what other opportunities could and would be suitable for me. I had no understanding of what transferrable skills I could offer another organisation, and I really struggled to find support to help me take the next steps. This was a really low point in my career and in my life; I was trapped, had no confidence in myself, and felt really unsure about where to turn for help.
I am a proactive person and I tried to make sure I was always moving forward, even if they were the smallest steps in the right direction. I utilised a redundancy resettlement fund to re-train as I really wanted to expand my experience and gain new skills that would make me more employable and competitive within the job market. I chose to use this time to decide what I really wanted to do, and used the funding to study a Level 6 Teaching qualification; I enjoyed the learning and development elements of my previous role, and I wanted to build on my experience. I was very lucky as my family were incredibly supportive at this time, helping me overcome various challenges from part-time studying, teaching and working alongside raising my daughter. In 2016, I graduated with a merit which I was so proud of, and faced another period of unemployment while I searched for a new opportunity. I eventually secured an Employability Coach role with a local employability organisation, working with clients in one-to-one and group settings. I found this role fascinating and it provided a great opportunity to offer support to those in similar situations to myself; I was able to help people through shared experience and I could relate to and empathise with the barriers people faced, and provide practical support to overcome them.
I became aware of a new job opportunity with Gower College Swansea on the Better Jobs, Better Futures programme which really appealed to me. I successfully secured a Career Coach role and I was absolutely delighted! My success gave me a huge amount of confidence and I knew this was the perfect opportunity to do what I loved and make a real positive difference to people’s lives. Joining Better Jobs, Better Futures was a turning point where I realised that there was a life full of purpose and enjoyment to be experienced outside of the working environment that I had spent most of my life in. I felt really excited and I was inspired to be working with such a brilliant group of like-minded people.
Is there one thing you wish you’d known when you were younger?
I wish I had known the value and importance that personal development can have on your career journey. At school, I didn’t give my work the time or energy that it deserved as at the time, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and perhaps didn’t appreciate the opportunities that education could give me. I now wish I had focused more earlier on in my life, as it took me too long to realise and appreciate the value of education. I consider myself very lucky that I was able to return to study what I was truly passionate about and have a second chance to give myself the best prospects. It’s easy to say all this with hindsight, but I am still very proud of the progress I’ve made; I may have been a bit later than other people to realise the path I wanted to pursue, but I made sure I got there in the end. If I can do it, anyone can!
Top tip when applying for jobs?
My best advice would be to let your personality shine through the application process. It is of course essential to address the details in the job description, but employers also love to see your individuality as this can be a useful reflection of what additional qualities you can bring to a role. You want your potential employer to know that not only are you suitable for the role, but that you have a wealth of additional skills, experience and attributes that you can offer the organisation. Be ambitious but make sure there is a balance between showcasing your personality and demonstrating your professionalism.
What is your ultimate piece of advice?
Every experience is a valuable one. The only source of knowledge is experience, and it is so important to learn and grow from every situation you find yourself in. Don’t let setbacks stop you from moving forward altogether; if you’re struggling, reach out for help and let people around you support you. A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty – it’s not easy but stay positive, commit to your goals and have fun along the way!