I’ve really enjoyed Michael Robinson’s recent series on BBC Radio 4 in which he’s been exploring the trends and challenges of the UK’s work environment – The New Workplace. In the last of the series he invited spokespersons representing different aspects of the world of work to give their views on such questions as:
- Do we have to get used to a low wage, low skill economy?
- What is the future for self-employment?
- Is the idea of a lifelong career outdated?
- Will trade unions become more relevant to the great majority of workers?
As a warm up session he asked each what was their first paid job and what, if anything, they had learned from it. The responses had the hallmarks of being unrehearsed and, as a result, were fairly uninspiring, but the question rather than the answers did stimulate two streams of thought:
- Would I have been any more inspiring if asked about what I’d learned from my first job?
- Thinking about my recent jobs or roles, are they still providing me with learning opportunities or has it become a case of SSDD (Same S**t, Different Day)?
I realised that the answer to the first was undoubtedly no as, crafting pithy soundbites to virtually any question requires time and consideration, so any off-the-cuff response is almost inevitably going to be fairly bland.
And am I still learning in the jobs that I do? The answer to that is best captured by French composer Michel Legrand’s expansion of an Albert Einstein quote:
“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize the less I know.”
My career path has been opportunistic and unpredictable. The freelance consulting route (which is where I’ve ended up) is not a career path I planned but what it lacks in financial stability it more than compensates in terms of challenge, learning opportunities and personal as well as professional growth. Each role seems to offer more challenges than the last, which is why the Legrand/Einstein quote resonates with me.
We all experience days when our job’s reward / pain equation appears too far on the debit side and begs the question “Is it time to look for something else”? On these days, it’s worth taking 5 minutes to answer the following question: “What was my last learning opportunity in this role”? The answer to that question should either help you to battle on through or give you another reason to re-evaluate your current role.
Can you match the panellists above to the first jobs and learns listed below? (Answers at the bottom.)
The panel of spokespersons:
- Frances O’Grady – the General Secretary of the TUC
- Justin King – for 10 years the Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s
- Alison Wolf – Professor of Public Management at Kings College, London who has long specialised in skills and training policy
- David Willetts – minister for Universities and Skills in the coalition government and now the Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation – a think tank that aims to improve living standards for people on low and middle incomes.
First paid jobs and learns:
a. Counting and banking the takings of a local store: making sure it balanced
b. Worked in a factory in Birmingham in my gap year: how to move even large items of
office furniture by applying a bit of ingenuity
c. Two jobs – weekend job at a newsagent and kitchen assistant at an Oxford college:
broadened knowledge of the world by reading the papers and, as a kitchen assistant,
joined the union
d. Paper round: learns: turn up on time and be nice to customers – bigger tips at
1 : c // 2 : d // 3 : a // 4 : b