Primary careers conference

The primary careers conference, organised by the Knowledge Quarter, saw nearly 200 pupils from schools across Camden and Islington come together for a day of learning about careers. The theme was “steps I take, marks I make”, the idea being to communicate to the children the range of career options open to them, how they can take up those opportunities and inspire them to want to, by each of the speakers talking about why they are passionate about what they do.

I shared the stage in the afternoon with three amazing women: Chrissie Giles, Emily Jost and Merlin Evans. All of us had different, but overlapping, stories to tell and I hope that the audience found what we did inspiring. Everyone was so passionate, interesting and funny. It was slightly intimidating going on after Chrissie who had made brilliant use of props to have the audience cheering, laughing and screeching with disgust.

In addition to speakers, the event also included numerous stalls and workshops, where the children could learn about crafts, careers in Science Technology Engineering and Maths, compose news stories and lots more!

The organisers are still working on the write up of this year’s event and a video montage, to find out more go to:

Since starting the CILIP Leadership Programme I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can all inspire each other within the profession and beyond. A particular passion of mine is inspiring children in inner city communities – having grown up in one myself. The adage about the “poverty of aspiration” is in my opinion inaccurate. However, there is a small grain of truth there. Growing up I knew about many of the obvious careers, but there were plenty of careers I didn’t even know existed, let alone how you would go about pursuing that career. Hence I was pleased to be asked to be part of this event, which was about opening the audience’s mind to the possibilities open to them, complemented by concrete advice about how to get there.

I ad libbed a lot of my speech – I’d expected to have a lecturn to put my notes on and didn’t, which meant I had to go from memory as my A4 sheets weren’t easy to hold and read. So a practical learning point – if going to an unfamiliar venue, ask these kinds of questions.

Here is what I’d planned to say, what I actually said was a slightly rambly approximation of this text.

Steps I take, marks I make

Hello everyone, my name is Elly and I am a Senior Analyst working in healthcare. In my job we research different health topics so that we can make sure that patients are being given the best treatment and the government doesn’t waste money on treatments that don’t work.

I was asked to come and talk to you today by the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals, which represents librarians and information professionals like me. Their work includes running courses so that people like me can learn new skills and campaigning for libraries, which is important at the moment as many of them are closing.

Today I want to talk to you about how I have got to where I am now in terms of my career, in particular about transferrable skills, and the way in which I feel that my work contributes in some small way to making the world a better place.

Steps I’ve taken (Transferrable skills) –

I grew up in Tottenham in Haringey, so not far from a lot of you. I went to local schools which at the time were very poorly performing. But with my own determination and the support of my family and some amazing teachers, I did well in my GCSEs.

My first job was right here at the British Library! I worked as a library assistant with Rare Books on Saturdays. To give me some more money while I was studying.

When I decided that I wanted another job, I thought “I like working in this library, so I’ll try another”. I didn’t intend to become a Librarian. But because I found that I enjoyed helping people to find the information they need, I decided that’s what I would do.

I did an English degree. A lot of people at work are surprised by my background – they expect me to have medical qualifications. And this is what I meant when I mentioned transferrable skills. These are skills that we build up but that aren’t necessarily linked to a particular subject.

For example, my English degree gave me skills that I use in medical literature. So the approach I use to analysing a medical article are the same skills I’d use to analyse the meaning of a poem during my degree.

What you’ll find in the future is that employers often just ask for qualifications – GCSEs, A-levels or a degree, they don’t always specify what those should be in and that is because they are often interested in these transferable skills.

And linked to that I would tell you not to box yourself in in terms of what you can do or let anyone else box you in. I’ve always thought of myself as “not a maths person”, it was my weakest subject at school. But now for my job I’m having to learn and relearn maths. And the big challenge I’ve had is in changing my own attitude not in actually learning the skills. Your learning doesn’t end when you leave school and don’t stop challenging yourself.

Marks I make

I’ve had quite a few careers in my head that I planned out in every detail, what course I was going to do, how I was going to get there etc. These ranged from wanting to be a person who answers 999 emergency calls, to being a criminal barrister. A break-through moment for me was realising that the common theme of all of the jobs I thought I might want to do or have done, was that I wanted to help people.

The other realisation was that I could make a small difference that has a big impact. So it’s not necessarily about being the next Nelson Mandela, or someone who makes a once in a generation impact. Whether that was helping stressed out students to print their essays on time or now helping doctors and nurses to treat their patients using the best treatment, both of these roles have value and help people. For me it is about finishing every day and feeling happy with what I’ve done and achieved in that day.

Being passionate about what you do is very important. I originally signed up to study Psychology, I wanted to be a psychologist working in prisons to try to help understand why people commit crimes and help them to not commit more crimes. I think the moment that really changed everything for me was suddenly realising that I was interested in psychology, but it wasn’t what I wanted to study for the next three years of my life. When I thought about what I was really passionate about and was good at, it was English literature. So I switched my degree with only three months to go until I started university. Following my heart in that way is something I have never regretted.

So as closing remark I would say to you all, be passionate about whatever you do and be brave enough to follow your passion. That will make you happier and more fulfilled. I wish you all the very best of luck and every happiness in your future lives and careers.


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