What is a career made of?
Is it your one true ambition, with everything else you’ve experienced falling by the wayside as unimportant?
Is it the person you become through your work life, wherever that has taken you, including all the dead ends and back roads?
Is it simply a list of the education and jobs you’ve had?
We think it’s a bit of all of the above – but most of all, it’s the journey you’ve travelled, the decisions you’ve made, and the reactions you’ve had to both victories and setbacks. Everyone’s career has different qualities, and we can all learn from each other.
So in this series, we talk to people about where they are and how they got there, in the hope of inspiring our readers to think about what they want from their own careers.
Leann, based in Glasgow, always knew she wanted to help people. Through gaining experience in a lot of different areas – student mentoring, employability support, blogging about her own challenges and continually updating her qualifications and skills – she found her current job as a co-ordinator with the MS Society, helping people to manage their lives with multiple sclerosis. We talk to her about how she found her own route into the right role, and how she developed an edge over other job-seekers.
Can you tell me a bit about your job at the moment?
I’m a Digital Programme Co-Ordinator working with the MS Society Scotland. My main role is to facilitate ‘Living Well with MS’ sessions online via a platform called Zoom. It connects everyone through video chat and I deliver sessions on Self-management, Fatigue, Life Balance and Stress. It’s open to anyone who lives in Scotland and particularly those who live in rural and remote areas who struggle to access support.
I work with a volunteer who co-facilitates sessions with me, and it’s good to have someone on hand who has experience of living with MS and can share their journey with the group. The online sessions are a great way for people to meet others from around Scotland and promotes peer support.
I provide advice, guidance and signposting to participants, and with my knowledge in career guidance and employability I can offer support with reasonable adjustments.
Is it anything like what you imagined you might do when you were young?
When I was at high school I wanted to get into a helping role, but was always signposted to nursing roles, which wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. I went onto do a BA Honours in Politics & Psychology and got involved in a Student Mentor programme helping high school pupils to achieve their goal of employment, college or university. From that I went on to do a postgraduate diploma and then later a masters in careers guidance and development at the University of the West of Scotland. I worked with school leavers, pupils who were making subject option choices and learned more about the labour market.
I graduated from the course and went on to be an Employment Specialist working with people with severe and enduring mental health conditions on a project with NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde. My role varied from one-on-one sessions to group work, and facilitating group work fast became the most enjoyable part of the role. I was supporting, advising and guiding people to achieve their goal and that tied in well with what I wanted to do while I was at high school.
What was your route into getting the job – was it a natural progression, or did you change around a few times?
I chose Social Sciences as my undergraduate course because I felt it would open up many avenues for me, as at the time I was unsure of exactly what I wanted to do. I got experience of working in the university as a Student Guide and Buddy, and went onto work as a Student Mentor. When I reached the third year of my course, I realised I wanted to make the most of the time I had and wanted to gain as much experience as possible and put myself forward for various roles and events. This helped me get a better idea of what I wanted to do, and through the Student Mentor role I worked in schools in the West of Scotland, which helped me decide on my next career step: a postgrad course in career guidance and development.
The postgraduate course in career guidance helped me gain employment as an Employment Specialist with the Scottish Association for Mental Health, and that was a role I did for six years. My time with SAMH helped me develop experience in facilitating group work, and I worked with DWP projects and PoppyScotland veterans’ service. I moved on to do more one-on-one sessions in Community Mental Health teams, and it was a chance to work in a multi-disciplinary team.
When I was off on maternity leave I decided that a career change was needed, not just for me but for my family. I could no longer do full time hours and wanted a job that was flexible that I could fit around my little boy.
I came across the opportunity with MS Society Scotland and jumped at the chance of applying. Self-management was something I was really interested in, and I had experience of managing my own conditions of arthritis and fibromyalgia. I had started a blog to share my experience of my journey and self-management techniques. I didn’t realise it at the time but blogging was helping me develop experience in skills which would help me gain employment as a programme co-ordinator. This experience alongside facilitating group work really did give me the edge over other participants who had applied for role.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
My favourite part of my job is delivering online sessions and meeting participants from all over Scotland. I never fully understand the impact the sessions have on people until they complete the evaluation forms and I love hearing how they benefited from the session and meeting others with MS.
I’m four months into my role and still very much riding the highs, so there’s no low points.
If this job didn’t exist, what would you be doing instead?
If I never progressed onto this role, I think I would still working as an employment specialist.
Are there any industry issues you think need to be addressed?
I’ve worked in the charity sector for over six years and fully understand the challenges that come with it, especially when it comes to funding for services. Challenges for people with MS include accessing services and support. I think more needs to be done by local areas, NHS and Scottish Government to address the inequality people face with support, as it seems to be a postcode lottery.
What advice do you have for anyone who’s interested in doing what you do?
Get experience in facilitating group work, work with different groups, experience the challenges and always be willing to learn new things and develop the service you’re providing.
What’s next for you, career-wise?
I’m funded in this role until January 2020 and will see my contract out and will aim to move onto a role which incorporates careers and facilitating group work.
You can join Stay Nimble for free and we can help you figure out what you want from your own career.