We sat down with Employability Programme Manager, Mark James, and spoke about how life is all about maximising opportunities to give yourself the best chance of success. The outcome? A motivating career story to remind us that our desire to succeed must always be stronger than our fear of failure, and if we really believe we can do it, we absolutely can!
Did you pursue further or higher education?
I did A-levels in Maths, Geography and Media Studies and never really knew what I wanted to do after school. I knew that I enjoyed business and tourism, so I was keen to find out more about pursuing these areas at a higher level. As a result, I went on to University in Swansea to do a degree in Tourism Management. I really enjoyed University and everything the course had to offer, but I lived at home and perhaps didn’t gain as much independence and life skills as I could have if I had moved away. However, University was a hugely positive experience for me where I learnt a lot, and pursuing higher education was a decision I was glad I made. During my degree I completed a work placement in the local authority, working on a project to support those not in employment, education, or training (NEET). I absolutely loved the practical experience I gained during this time, working closely with people who needed our support the most. I knew this type of role was where my skills and knowledge were best suited, and when I graduated, I was excited and optimistic about my career and the future.
What direction did you take after University?
After graduating, I worked for the local authority as a Youth Access Worker, working closely with young offenders and 16-19 year olds at risk of becoming NEET. The rehabilitation element of the role was hugely rewarding; I loved seeing young people gain new skills, confidence and ultimately transform their lives for the better. I stayed in this role for 3 years before successfully applying for a role as an Apprenticeship Officer, looking after construction apprentices all over South Wales: a very new and different challenge for me on my career journey. I loved supporting the development of businesses and individuals through apprenticeships, and I gained a great deal of satisfaction seeing people make progress. I felt privileged to mentor and support apprentices so that they achieved their goals and having this sense of purpose made me want to further pursue this type of guidance role so I could continue supporting people in any way possible.
What shape has your career taken since?
I stayed in the Apprenticeship Officer role for 3 years before looking for a new challenge to broaden my experience. An internal opportunity came up for an Employer Engagement and Communications Officer, and I applied and was successful. I was responsible for developing links with employers across the local area to support the provision of apprenticeship and training placement opportunities, as well as overseeing the services communications and marketing activities. I was grateful for the new level of responsibility. I did this role for a year before successfully applying for a position as an Employment Liaison Officer for Workways+ supporting long-term unemployed people. I gained a lot of useful experience as well as good exposure to a wide range of businesses, and my eagerness to build on this business-related experience led me to applying for a Workforce Adviser role at Gower College Swansea’s Better Jobs, Better Futures programme. The role pulled together my relevant experiences and seemed like the logical next step in my career. I absolutely loved my first 8 months in the position and I was thrilled to progress into a Programme Manager position. I am thoroughly enjoying this role which has massively broadened my knowledge and experience of management through leading on a number of projects from employer engagement to work with offenders. There have been some tough times along the way, but if you stay in your comfort zone you will never develop and grow. I am excited about the huge potential of the Employability Department going forward; every day I see the positive impact that it is having on people’s lives, and delighted to be playing a part in delivering such vital and meaningful support especially during such challenging economic times.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
I wish I had not worried so much about the future and stopped comparing myself to other people. I used to over think things a lot and worry about the ‘what if’s’ and I wish I had started believing in myself sooner. If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be to not pass up on any opportunity that comes your way; grab everything and put your all into making every experience a valuable one. I have learnt lots of different things in all my different roles and they have made me the person that I am today. Of course, there are always things that could have been done differently but I really believe that everything teaches you something. Life is just about being patient, working hard and (eventually) reaping the rewards. If I can do it, anyone can!
Are there any career decisions that you regret?
I do not regret things but there are definitely opportunities that have passed me by. I have been in a few different roles where promotion opportunities have come up and I have just been too comfortable or nervous to take advantage of them. This is only something I am realising after spending time reflecting on my career story, so I would say the realisation is more of a lesson than a regret. It is only now that I have started to believe in myself and my potential. I do not think I took my career seriously enough and never really had a plan for where I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve. I am much more settled now and feel like I am going in the right direction. If I believe I can do it, why not; the future can always be better than the present and we have the power to make it so!
Top tip when applying for jobs?
My top tip would be to stay patient as far as possible. Job searching can be hugely challenging and frustrating, but you must try and stay focussed and motivated. If you are looking for jobs my top tip would be to keep your search relevant to you and your skills, and if you are changing jobs, aim to do so thoughtfully to maximise opportunities. The more you know the more of a difference you can make, and it is so much easier to make progress if you keep building on your knowledge and experience. The way to success is to take determined action, and if you believe it, you can achieve it!
What is your ultimate piece of advice?
Do not be too afraid of taking risks; you will get setbacks and that is to be expected and can be learnt from. Do not let one bad application, interview, or career experience stop you in your pursuit of progression. I think it is important to get excited about what is potentially to come in your career and your life! Be ambitious but also try and establish a well-defined process to achieving your goals; know your worth and keep your desire to succeed greater than your fear of failure!