What Do You Actually Do? Episode 44: Graduation Special

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To celebrate graduation week here in York we have a special episode covering the key things you need to know about graduating in 2021 in the middle of a global pandemic. We cover how to start a new job from home, what to do if Covid stopped you from getting work experience, how to future-proof your career, and more!

We listen back to podcast highlights from our year of lockdown episodes and Kate chats to Dr Enrico Reuter, Lecturer in Public and Social Policy, about exactly what’s going on in the job market at the moment.

In the episode you hear clips from the following past episodes:

A career in corporate social responsibility, with Daniel Arda

Working in heritage, with Paul Backhouse

From TV to tech, with Vivien Chung

Talking census: a career in genealogy, with Christina Copland

Changing fast: working in agile project management, with Alison Critchley

Starting a Startup, with Phil Daneshyar

Running an advertising firm, with Luke D’Arcy

Placement year in a political think tank, with Andrew Gloag

Marketing in the museum, with Tasha McNaught

Making a splash, with Tom Pagett

How to make a portfolio career work, with Dan Rutstein

Flirting with Algorithms, with Harpal Sahota

Training to be a lawyer, with Alex Stewart-Moreno

Changing careers: switching heritage for accounting, with Alice Yevko

Transcript:

Kate:

You’re listening to the ‘What Do You Actually Do?’ podcast. Each week we want to bring you an inspiring interview, a useful tip or encouraging message to help you find your place in the professional world. Hello and welcome to this special episode of ‘What Do You Actually Do?’. My name is Kate Morris and I’ll be your host today. In today’s episode we’ll be talking about the key career questions you need the answers to if you’re graduating this year. Today we’re joined by Dr. Enrico Reuter, lecturer in Public and Social Policy at the University of York. So in the spirit of this show, Enrico, what do you actually do? 

Enrico: 

Well, if you ask my two year old daughter, she would say that I speak to people on the computer, which summarises it quite neatly, because I’ve spent many, many weeks and hours on Zoom meetings, and all sorts of things like that. But normally, if things are normal, I teach students online and on campus, undergrads and postgrads in Public Policy, in Social Policy, in Public Administration, so around public services. And I have a special interest in labour market policies, and particularly self-employment and the challenges that this type of employment can create. 

Kate: 

So an interesting time for you. 

Enrico: 

Yeah, definitely. 

Kate: 

Well, for today’s episode, we’ve gathered the top questions being asked by students, and we’re going to revisit some of the insights and experiences shared by our podcast guests throughout the pandemic so far. So let’s hear the first question. 

Question 1: 

Which industries have struggled in the pandemic? And are there any which have thrived? 

Kate: 

So it’s a great question from Taylor. And looking back from this year, we’ve got some insights from a range of people reflecting on the impact of Covid on both their sector and their role. 

Vivien Chung:

When the pandemic hit, in some ways we were already ready for it, because we work from home so much as a business. 

Daniel Arda:

Admittedly, a lot of the events that I’d usually be running and planning, and making happen are on pause at the moment. So a lot of it is around, if you will, more of the back end stuff. Just keeping everything ticking over from an administrative point of view. 

Vivien Chung: 

As someone who works in the technology sector, I think it’s so interesting where the pandemic will take us, because things like Teams and Zoom – they are going to become the norm. It might reduce not only the carbon footprint, especially in my business, but also I think it’ll help us save so much time, because there are some projects I spend up to 10 hours a week travelling for, which, I’m not going to lie, is not fun. 

Luke D’Arcy: 

We’re at the real sharp end here, because, you know, so much of the stuff we do might be live music concerts etc. And suddenly we’ve had to pivot and adapt our entire business strategy to be much more digitally focussed, much more virtual experiences. And suddenly that’s changed the entire dynamic, really pivoting our business and accelerating it in a way that hasn’t happened before. 

Kate: 

So there’s a mixed bag there from the sound of it. Some sectors have pivoted quite well, others had to sort of really change what they’re doing. From your perspective, Enrico, are there any sort of key standout sectors that have really suffered because of the pandemic, and any that have particularly thrived? 

Enrico: 

Yeah, I think that there are three points worth bearing in mind here. The first is that clearly any sector that is dependent very strongly on direct social contact – be it hospitality, the leisure industries, arts, in this interview there was just mentioned the life music, for example – those have suffered, of course, quite substantially from the restrictions that had to be imposed by the government on direct interpersonal contact. Whereas those sectors where this isn’t a requirement and where perhaps the needs for those economic inputs, such as IT, of course also other types of public services on which we have come to rely even more, you know, all those sectors in which the so-called key workers are active, so the basic infrastructure that has come to the fore as being really essential in the pandemic, those are the sectors that have not been suffering to the same extent. So it’s very difficult to have a general assessment, but the main dividing line is indeed between those that have been shut down substantially due to those social contract restrictions. 

The second point is that – and this has also come through in those comments – some industries, or some companies, some businesses have been better able to adapt to the conditions of the pandemic. They have been better able to switch, let’s say, to homeworking, to remote working, they have been able to find new ways of serving their customers on virtual platforms, for example. Whereas other sectors have found this much more difficult to arrange. The third point I wanted to make is that – I think it makes sense in this context to differentiate between short term and long term issues. On the short term side, it is clear that those contract restrictions have led to a substantive economic slump and a massive drop in GDP. And it is assumed, of course, that many of those activities will resume as soon as the restrictions are lifted and the situation with respect to the pandemic is improving. So there is an expectation that things will go back to normal, and this was just the kind of an intermediary period of difficulties. But then we also have more long term changes. It is fair to say that some of the things that we could observe already in the longer run in the past, such as changes around how we work, where we work, changes as to which services, especially person centered services around the work of care are seen as particularly important. Those more long term changes that have been already in the making for quite a while have arguably been accelerated by the pandemic. If we try to understand which industries have been affected more or less, I think it helps a lot to differentiate between the immediate, or short term, and the long term changes that are likely to continue to happen after Covid, and where the pandemic has rather been like a catalyst that has sped things up a little bit, if that makes sense. 

Kate: 

I think that’s a really interesting point, actually, and I think that seems true with what’s happening on the high street as well, because so many shops were shutting down, weren’t they, because people were buying stuff online instead, like pre-Covid. But that has, you know… There was talk in the media – “Oh, it’s changing the high street, etc”. But then since Covid, it has just speeded up that whole process so much more.

Enrico: 

And if you think about self-employed people, you know. If you’re a self-employed delivery driver, which is a quite precarious profession, but this is, of course, the kind of economic activity that has thrived, because people have ordered predominantly online. If, however, you are a wedding party organiser, for example, you obviously will have been affected very, very heavily by the pandemic. So it depends really very much on the impact of the social restrictions on your business. 

Kate: 

Yeah, so I guess for students graduating now – there are still jobs out there, not everybody has closed their business as a result of the pandemic. Of course there are those who have massively suffered, but there are still opportunities out there. And as you say, I think it’s important to think about that short term and long term impact. And even if there’s perhaps a need to change plans in the short term, in the longer term you could still pursue the thing that you’re really interested in, if it is something more people focussed, events focus, that kind of thing. Okay, let’s hear the next question, which is from Stephen. 

Question 2:

I don’t know what jobs I can do with my degree, or even what’s possible now because of the pandemic. How can I make sure I don’t make a mistake and get stuck in the wrong job? 

Kate: 

So lots of our guests shared that feeling of uncertainty about the future when they were graduating. So either because of the pandemic, a previous recession, or because they just didn’t have a career plan. Let’s hear from a few different people. 

Alison Critchley: 

I remember just wanting the guarantee of something being at the end of the university, because you kind of see this cliff coming at the end of third year and wonder what on earth you’re going to do when you get to the end of it. And I think sometimes that can lead you to take a role that’s maybe not exactly what you want, but don’t feel that pressure to make that first job straight from graduating be exactly the job that you always imagined that you would want to have. 

Andrew Gloag: 

I think the thing with this kind of job is it very easily transfers into other types of similarly related things as well. 

Alice Yevko: 

I am the most surprised person that I’ve ended up working in finance in a way, because certainly when I first graduated, I was the sort of person who thought that I would, you know with a history degree, that if I go off and work in finance, then I’m selling out in some way to what I’ve previously worked for. 

Vivien Chung: 

I think it’s much more interesting to have worked in a couple of industries and had lots of trials and tribulations, and learnt from that experience, than it is to go from university straight into a job and just go – “OK, I’m content with this”, and do that for the rest of your life. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and I think that’s very admirable, but I think that’s not uncommon. 

Kate: 

So I think there’s some really interesting points there about the value in any experience. But also, I’m interested to hear your views, Enrico, on something that’s been developing for a while now – this concept of a portfolio career, and the idea that people will make many career changes throughout their life rather than just having one particular profession that, you know – ‘that’s what you do for the next 40 years’. What are your thoughts around that?

Enrico: 

Yeah, I mean, this traditional career that you train, perhaps even on the job or do an apprenticeship, or study, and then you stay in the same profession in the same line of work for the rest of your life and then one day retire happily. I mean, this model indeed has become much more kind of a rarity than it used to be in the past. And people are switching jobs more frequently, they change industry, they change the economic sector. And what is worth bearing in mind from a perspective of graduating students is that – just having a degree is already a substantive advantage. And of course, there is a lot of discussion about this ‘graduate premium’ being slightly eroded. But still, there is a very wide range of jobs that are only open to people who have a university degree. And even if perhaps the first job that someone is getting is not exactly their dream job, and it’s not exactly what they wanted to do – there are opportunities to move into, or to accumulate experiences that then enable people to get to the jobs where they perhaps wanted to go, or to end up in a job where they didn’t intend to go, but where they are nevertheless quite happy. And I think as often in those questions regarding work and employment, there is a degree of ambiguity. We have on the one hand in the UK a very flexible labour market which enables these kinds of transitions and facilitates the having a portfolio career, for example, combining different types of activities either after another in kind of a linear fashion, or at the same time even, which can be of course very stressful. But the downside, of course, of this flexibility is also that a number of jobs are not very secure, or that very well paid, so it is about navigating these quite difficult waters. But with a degree and with the skills that come with a university degree, it is much easier, if that’s the right word, or less difficult to navigate through those quite tricky waters of the labour market. And the flexibility can be an opportunity as well, it’s not necessarily always a huge problem. And even though it can, of course, impose a number of concerns and burdens upon people, if you aim for the security that would come from a more stable job. So it also depends to an extent on personality types, how much people can thrive in this more volatile and more insecure labour market. 

Kate: 

As a careers consultant, I see so many people who feel really under pressure to make a decision about what they’re going to do with their life, that’s the feeling, like – “I have to know. I have to have this epiphany of what is my vocation”. 

Enrico: 

There’s so much choice, isn’t there, as well? 

Kate: 

Yeah, there really is. And of course, you know, the speed of the development of technology, and so many other things are changing around us all the time. There’s new jobs and new sectors being created all the time as well.So I think you’re right, that having those transferable skills that you get from a degree allows you to adapt and change, and be flexible to what’s required, rather than having that fixed training necessarily just on one role and one profession. And sometimes it does just take time to work it out, and you have to test out a few things to find out what you do and don’t like. It’s hard to just necessarily think about that, imagine that, visualise it without any experience to help clarify those thoughts. 

Enrico: 

And the way in which we work and the way in which skills and capabilities evolve over time, and what the requirements are in different types of jobs – is of course subject to quite substantive change. If you are able to adapt, if you have the skills that enable you to learn and to be, in a sense, flexible in responding to changing working environments, for example, that gives you, of course, substantial advantages as opposed to someone, as you said, who has very specific set of skills, and struggles with adapting those and expanding those when necessary. 

Kate: 

We’ve got a question from Katy now. Let’s hear that. 

Question 3: 

I’m nervous about starting my first graduate job remotely. What’s it like trying to learn a new role and get to know a company or a team without actually going anywhere? 

Kate: 

So we’ve spoken to a few recent graduates who started their professional careers during the last 18 months, as well as the president of an international company about how remote working actually works. 

Alex Stewart-Moreno: 

One of the phrases that seems to go around is learning by osmosis, which is obviously a lot easier when you’re in an office with your team. So you can, not overhear conversations, but you’re kind of always exposed to everything that’s going on. 

Alice Yevko: 

I have been able to talk to trainees who are kind of in years two and three who have had experience of doing this pre-pandemic. 

Alex Stewart-Moreno: 

I suppose one of the challenges of the pandemic is that you are not that exposed. Sometimes it does feel a little bit enclosed, you’re in your own little bubble doing tasks. But I mean, everybody is quite open to just calling each other, or just sending each other an instant message on Skype to figure out what needs to be done. So, I mean, it’s very different to being in an office and being actually with it face to face with somebody. But I mean, it’s definitely making the most of a bad situation. 

Luke D’Arcy: 

The notion of, you know, the nine to five, five days a week in an office is I believe in our industry a thing of the past. I think there’s going to be a hybrid sense of working there as well, where, you know, we will appreciate the balance that there is between bringing people together for creative collisions, but also there are many functions of our business that can be done remotely, which is good, both economically, socially and mentally for the workforce of the future. 

Kate: 

So I think it’s quite a unique thing for recent graduates to start their career like this – or for anyone who’s getting a new job – it’s pretty strange to not meet any of your colleagues in person and see what the office looks like, but it sounds like it’s possible. And also that it’s maybe not just a one off thing because of the pandemic. What are your sort of perspectives on this, Enrico? 

Enrico: 

I think it is challenging and it is quite a strange environment, because you miss out on all those interpersonal relationships that you are building if you join a new team or a new company. or a new organisation. And also this kind of tacit knowledge which isn’t written down in the rulebook, but that you acquire just by being in the office, this office osmosis that was mentioned there. So I do think that there is something missing, but, you know, there are ways for people who join a new organisation, and if you do a new job, to nevertheless do well. And I think there are two or three things which are quite essential. The first is – you might be missing out on those social interactions, but in those virtual environments of working together on virtual platforms or by communicating in remote ways, if you are professional, if you show the degree of competence that you have for that new role, if you are, secondly, collegiate, friendly without being in any way kind of overbearing and perhaps trying too hard to appeal on those communication channels, if you, in a sense, focus on those things for which you have been employed, I do believe in the end, when the situation normalises again, this will be a very solid foundation for building those more interpersonal relationships as well. So it is kind of stripped back almost; when normally you join a new place of work there is a whole sort of things that are going on, social interactions, this office osmosis, getting a footing into your new role, showing that you know what you’re doing, adapting to all sorts of office routines. But in this instance, given the constraints of the pandemic, I think focussing on just showing that you’re competent, that you know what you’re doing, being committed, and that you collegiate and an overall friendly is, I think, what is within everyone’s grasp and what lays a very good foundation for the future. 

Kate: 

Yeah, I think that’s really good advice. And it sort of demonstrates that you can start to build genuine relationships, even if it is virtually. From my work as a career consultant, I’ve really got the impression that employers are handling this very differently. Some are great at providing alternative ways to induct new members of staff into the team and into the role, they’re providing fun, sociable things, albeit remote, but they’re still sort of finding that space to build the relationship and bond with each other. Others have been pretty poor, to be honest, so they’ve kind of not given clear instructions for things and left people to their own devices. So what I’ve taken from that is – I think as a graduate, you need to think about what you want and need from the company, and potentially be quite proactive in speaking to your line manager. If you’re feeling like it’s not working, and you’re not kind of learning by osmosis, and you’re not understanding things, you’re not knowing when you can speak up in virtual meetings, etc. So they are learning as well how to do this, it’s new for many of them. So I think not being afraid to think about – well, what factors would help me to feel more part of the team and more clear on what I’m supposed to be doing. And kind of, it’s a way of showing initiative as well – if you can suggest kind of instruction manual, or video guides, or suggest groups of support, or little sociable things that you could do on a Friday afternoon with each other. You know, being proactive, showing that initiative means that you will get the benefit of that. But it’s also a way of standing out of the crowd and making that positive impression, as you mentioned there Enrico. 

Enrico: 

And I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that this – and now it’s not that new anymore – but those remote meetings and virtual meetings, and these kind of strange ways of working, those are new and different for the people who are in the job as well. So even if you’re new to the company or to the organisation – those challenges about how to conduct yourself in Zoom on a Microsoft Teams meeting, for example, they apply also to other people. So it has a kind of almost an equalising aspect to it as well. 

Kate: 

Yeah, that’s true. So we’ve got a question from Ben now. 

Question 4: 

I’ve heard graduate jobs are really competitive. The pandemic has interrupted my academic studies and prevented me from getting work experience. Will graduate employers still be interested in me? 

Kate: 

So this is obviously an issue that will concern many people graduating right now. And a number of our previous guests have shared how there’s value in any experience, even if you don’t get your dream role straight out of university. 

Tom Pagett: 

What I would say to students coming out of academia is just that there’s a need to be flexible. There are very few roles that allow you to go straight into the job you want, and competition for those is quite extreme. 

Luke D’Arcy: 

Sometimes as employers, we can be very forgiving about academia, if you come with a passion and a sense of enthusiasm, I mean, that can separate people out. And certainly if it comes down to the academic qualifications, if they are all kind of the same for a group of people you’re seeing – the enthusiasm, the passion, the drive, the willingness to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into things, that is really worth its weight in gold. 

Tom Pagett: 

If you’re looking at big organisations, then take the opportunity to get in where you can, get yourself known, and that’s a good way of sort of building your reputation and getting more opportunities there. 

Paul Backhouse: 

I think I’ve learnt that I’ve applied for roles that have been a bit more kind of out of my comfort zone over the last sort of 10 years. And I have failed. I have failed at getting jobs that I thought I was really good at. But each failure has made me think more about what makes me happy and what do I want to do next in my career. 

Kate: 

So this issue of competition and again, this pressure to sort of get that ideal graduate role as soon as you leave, that’s still hanging around for a lot of people. What’s your perspective on this, Enrico? 

Enrico: 

I think it is, of course, correct that the labour market is highly competitive and the more attractive a job is that the more competitive it is. And competition is something that runs through our societies to a very large extent. If you think about getting into a university, or if you think about the league tables, which are everywhere for all sorts of schools and universities, companies; everything is rated and there is always a degree of competition. So this is something, whether you like this or not, it is a fact of life. It is something that is very strongly embedded in how we live. I think when it comes to jobs and finding a footing into the labour market is indeed, as we said before, quite fundamental to remain relatively flexible without losing sight of what you want to achieve. So trying to map out a path that leads you hopefully to the point where you want to be, but being relatively open about intermediary steps that might not be perfectly in line with your dream job. And the lack of work experience, for example, or the disruption to gaining work experience due to the pandemic is, of course, something that will affect many people. But again, in the fact that this is a problem for a very large number of people also lies a bit of a chance, because it means that if you as an individual are affected by this, you won’t be the only one who is suffering from this. And I think there is another aspect, in addition to the ones that were mentioned in the other contributions, it’s that there is often a discussion around the end of work or the idea that, you know, we might be running out of things to do and that we might end up in a situation where there is simply nothing else to be done anymore, because of technological progress or because of outsourcing of production to countries far, far away. But I think, if anything, the pandemic and the discussions around how we live together have shown – there is a substantive amount of work that needs to be done in the foreseeable future. If you think about the ecological transformation that will need to take place to tackle climate change and all those problems. if you think about the ways in which we rebuild the country after this pandemic, how we ensure that, for example, key concerns of social groups are taken into consideration, you know. If you think about the importance of voluntary sector organisations, that has become so much at the forefront in recent months. If we think about the digital skills, if we think about the infrastructure that we need to build in, for example, around, as I said, ecological transformation, but also with respect to information and communications technologies – there is a very, very wide range of areas of work, of economic activity that will become even more relevant than they are at the moment. So there are a lot of things to be done. And of course, you need to find employment, you need to find a place where you are paid for those activities. But the idea that we are running out of work, that we are running out of things to do, and that there is a general scarcity of work that we need to do is, in my view, not very convincing, which is not directly helping, of course, if you are in this competitive labour market, but it provides a degree of more long term assurance that things are not necessarily only going downhill, if you want to use that expression.                   

Kate: 

Yeah, and I think students I meet when they talk about competition, they are almost talking themselves out of a shot at it. And it’s kind of, just because something’s competitive doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance. And speaking to lots of graduate employers over the years, not just at the moment, a key thing that everybody’s interested in is someone’s attitude, they say they recruit on attitude, so if you’ve got that positive attitude, you’re genuinely interested in the work and what the organisation does, that enthusiasm and interest goes a really long way, and could potentially offset areas that you’ve sort of felt less competitive in. OK, so let’s hear now from Anna. 

Question 5: 

I’m not really sure how to break into the sector I’m interested in, as I haven’t had the chance to do work experience or build up any contacts. Is there anyone who can help me? 

Kate: 

So many of our guests have shared stories about the power of asking for help and the benefits of networking, sometimes in unexpected contexts. 

Christina Copland: 

I found on LinkedIn somebody who had gone to USC as well. I saw that she worked at Ancestry. I just thought, you know, I’ll just try to message her and maybe she just be receptive to talking a little bit more about the company, you know, just in a low key kind of way. 

Dan Rutstein: 

I have been amazed at how generous people are with their time and their experience. If you’re thinking about doing a job – I use LinkedIn a lot – you know, look around, work out who you know or look up people who you’re interested in and frankly, reach out and ask for advice. You’ll be amazed at how many people would help. 

Christina Copland: 

She was just so amazingly friendly and helpful, and we had a chat with each other. She really helped me to confirm that this is something that I should go for. 

Luke D’Arcy: 

Even in the most mundane tasks or mundane job, or when you think – Oh, great, I’m being sent down the road to go and pick something up. But you never, you know… The point is – you could meet somebody interesting on that journey. You can meet somebody when you’re going in and picking something up for your agency that you work for, you know, at 11 o’clock at night on a pitch or something. And suddenly you’re like… There are creative collisions that happen – I’m a firm believer in it – that happen for a reason. 

Kate: 

So the concept of networking is something people often have such negative connotations of. Kind of thinking of, you know, people in a shiny suit, very corporate, eating executive nibbles, and it’s all very business related. But in reality, the building of relationships, kind of learning from others is so important, not just at the start of your career, but throughout it. Have you sort of explored much about the power of networking relationship building in the work that you research, Enrico? 

Enrico: 

Not directly, I will admit, but I agree that networking comes in many different forms and shapes, depending on the industry or the area of work. And of course, there are those cases where it aligns very much with, as you said, standing around in a nice suit and nibbling canapes, and making small talk. But of course, networking is always coming in a way that is aligned with the area of work that you’re in. So it might be about a discussion around a shared interest, you might go to a conference, you might go to a meeting of a professional association, and might be able to meet with people who work in the same area and have those shared interests. I think what is quite striking from my own personal experience is how generous more senior and more advanced people in their career usually are with their time. If you approach them, if you ask them questions – I know this from from academic context – for example, if you go to an academic conference and you meet someone who’s written a very interesting paper, or has a very long standing career in a certain field of study, they are usually very friendly and are more than happy to give you advice or share some recommendations with you, or to just stay in touch with you. So I do think that being, again, not too hung up about this more negative view of networking helps a lot, and really adapting to the kinds of networking that are relevant to the area of work that you’re aiming for as a graduate. I do admit, though, that it’s also, of course, to some extent hard work and it is harder work for some than for others. It depends, again, very much on personality type, how easy it comes to you to reach out to others and to be more outward going. And I think it is also quite useful, without having a negative view of networking, to also provide some reassurance to those who perhaps struggle with this a little bit, and who can’t go as far out in their networking activities than others. I very much believe that in the end, of course, it is important to know people and to have those contacts, and to learn from each other. But in the end, and this goes back to what I said earlier, the idea of just being good at your job and being competent, and being passionate about it, of going beyond the minimal short call of duty when necessary, to really be committed to what you want, and to just show to your colleagues and the people with whom you’re working that you know what you’re doing and that you aim to contribute substantially to the organisation, or to the company. I think that also goes a very long way. And the final thing I want to say is that it is also worth acknowledging, at least, again, in my personal experience, that career paths – if you want to use that word – often have a degree of randomness to them as well. So sometimes an opportunity arises that nobody has foreseen, it just pops up. And if you grasp it, that might be a good opportunity. And there is often, you know, you can plan to some extent and it is important to have a plan and to prepare yourself for what lies ahead. But often it is also, as silly as this may sound, about keeping your eyes open and acknowledge that sometimes life is unpredictable, or very often actually, life is unpredictable. And that applies to work lives as well -things are perhaps emerging, opportunities are emerging that you haven’t foreseen, and it is then worth checking whether they are worth pursuing and keeping an eye open on these is I think very, very important as well. So you can be strategic, you can be tactical, you can focus on networking and building those connections. But at the same time, sometimes things just happen, and they can also have a very positive impact on a career path. 

Kate: 

Yeah, I agree. I think seizing opportunities when they come up, and even if you don’t know where they’re going to lead, is such a powerful thing to do. I think on that point about personality type having an impact on networking, and how you build relationships, I think one of the benefits of the development of platforms like LinkedIn – you can do online networking now. So you don’t have that scary thing where you’re standing in a big room full of loads of different people who you don’t know, feeling like you’re an impostor. It’s just -you can sit at your computer and think about the message that you want to send to somebody. And, you know, it’s on your terms. And again, I think one of the benefits of the pandemic is it’s now normal to have an online meeting. So if you prefer to sort of take it slowly, and not organise a big sort of face to face thing, and go to an event, actually just organising a phone chat or Skype, or whatever with the person that you’re interested in can be still as valuable as physically going to a film festival or a conference, a networking event, whatever it is. So there are still those opportunities, regardless of personality type, or what other responsibilities you’ve got in life, if you’ve got children, or if you’ve got a disability that prevents you from sort of getting out and about as much. So I think taking advantage of these platforms, things like LinkedIn, we’ve got at York our York Profiles and Mentors, where you can kind of network with past graduates. And I know lots of other universities have that, too. So it’s just looking out for these opportunities to build relationships in a way that you feel comfortable with, but still allows you to learn from other people’s experience. And of course, that’s part of the point of this podcast, is that you can hear from different people and get an insight into their jobs in a really low risk way as a starting point. And then it gives you that hook to follow somebody up if you wanted to. OK, so let’s move into our sixth and final question now from Lisa. 

Question 6: 

I want to know how to future proof my career. What skills are essential now and is there anything I should be learning more about? 

Kate: 

So this is a really big question. We’ve spoken to graduates of all different ages, backgrounds, roles and sectors since the launch of this podcast in 2019. So here are some of the highlights. 

Paul Backhouse: 

I think the technology challenge is a really, really interesting. 

Harpal Sahota: 

I think that’s what is really going to be important in the future is data ethics. So if you want to become a data scientist, try to learn about data ethics to kind of future proof yourself as well. 

Paul Backhouse: 

I think that the ageing workforce within heritage means that we are not, as an industry, very strong on technology. We’ve got young members of staff and geeks who are kind of bringing some of that. But I think there are some real game changers going to happen. 

Tasha McNaught: 

The senior management team at the Railway Museum want to understand the CRM work I just spoke about, but most don’t. And so I’ve got to present that information to them in a way that they understand. And I’d say that’s the most crucial skill that you can have in business, no matter what your speciality is. 

Phil Daneshyar: 

The skill I’ve had to learn is to be able to sit in a cafe with my laptop and dive into something straight away, rather than what I used to do, especially when I was at university studying, was I had to sit there for like 40 minutes or an hour to get myself ready and prepped. You kind of don’t have that luxury. 

Kate: 

So, Enrico, you research a lot about entrepreneurs and kind of precarious professions, these kind of things. What is your view on the kind of skills for the future? What are we going to need more of?

Enrico: 

First of all, I would agree with just what has been said about the importance of technological and digital skills. The ways in which technological progress has advanced and has accelerated over the course of the last decades and years, ensures that this is really a fundamental feature. And if you start out now or even if you are in mid-career level, it is inevitable for most professions to be on top of those challenges and to have the appropriate skills. I also think that interpersonal skills are very important, and they are not taken care of by this technological progress. And arguably, the more we can rely on technology for communication, for analysis as well, the more important become those interpersonal relations and the ability to relate to other people, to have a degree of empathy, to have a degree of understanding, or the ability to understand how other people tick and to work with them. So I do think those skills are very important. I would say, though, that there are two other things which are really crucial in my view. The first is – and this is something for which university prepares you, of course, very, very well – is to have analytical skills that incorporate a degree of creativity. So basic analyses of finding causal relations or correlations between certain facts – that is likely to be done, and is already done by artificial intelligence. And some of those more menial analytical tasks, those more basic ones can, of course, be done by artificial intelligence in a very efficient way and a very effective way. But anything that involves the degree of creativity, of spotting patterns, of identifying problems and proposing solutions to problems, anything that is a little bit more high-scaled and higher level of complexity will continue to require human input. And I think being able to analyse situation, being able to unpack something, identify an issue that an organisation or a company is facing and proposing solutions with a degree of creativity, and finding perhaps pathways to tackle the problem that hasn’t been tried before. So this is something which is absolutely fundamental. And whatever subject you have studied at university, this critical analysis, this thinking, this creativity will have been part of your studies and therefore you would be very well prepared for this. The second aspect, which I think is also quite important, is that we live in networked societies. We are part of very complex networks of interdependence – technologically, socially, economically. So whatever your job is, you will be dependent on other people and other people will depend on you. And that means, whether you work in a small organisation, whether you work in a big one, whether you’re self-employed and an entrepreneur just working for yourself – you need to have those abilities and those skills to coordinate work with others, to be, in a sense, able to take perhaps leadership responsibilities, but in a collegiate way. I think this idea of there being a leader at the top of the organisation, and this leader being in charge and making all the right decisions, and being the big wise man of the wise woman – that is not really reflecting well the reality of organisations, which are much too complex, much too diverse to be led in this way. A good leader, for example, is someone who is able to encourage others to engage in the mission of an organisation, is to spot the talents of everyone, is ensuring that people are working well together. It’s a bit like someone who is coordinating an orchestra, for example. So it is a very specific skill set where those analytical skills that I’ve talked about, and those interpersonal skills that I’ve mentioned come together. And as university graduates, it is indeed likely that, perhaps not at the beginning of your career, but somewhere down the line, you will be taking on some kind of leadership responsibilities of sorts, and therefore having this skill set around this kind of network type of leadership, this ability to be a good leader in those more complex working environments, where I need to be collegiate, I need to encourage people to give their best – I think this is also a very fundamental skill. So it’s both interpersonal, but also, again, going back to your own competencies, being good at analysing and solving problems. And these are, of course, all transferable skills. These are all common skills, regardless of degree programme. And that is then, of course, needs to be combined with the most specific skills that come from the subject that you have studied, and where you can then combine these two things in a quite productive and purposeful way. 

Kate: 

So it’s kind of sounds like there aren’t these magical new skills that no one’s heard of that we need to be developing. It’s actually using the transferable skills from degrees, using your mind in different ways. But I really find that interesting, the point about the interpersonal relationships as well, and perhaps that’s even more important with remote working, etc., that we still need to find ways to connect and work as a team to overcome the unexpected challenges that can keep coming along. I think that confidence using technology is something that’s really important as well, that it’s coming across every sector. So interestingly, I think there’s an assumption that younger people are all very confident using tech and digital, and not everybody is. So it’s just taking advantage of opportunities within university, or just through sort of online tutorials on YouTube or whatever, not to necessarily learn how to code and that kind of stuff, but just to feel confident in doing the basics, understanding some of the terminology and using sort of tech in different ways. And I think also thinking about how it could be used, again, for different sectors. As I said, we’ve spoken to people across, you know, everything from heritage to the care sector, and technology is impacting on all of those sectors. So kind of getting confident with that is a useful thing to do. Well, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today, Enrico. It was really, really interesting. I think there’s a lot of food for thought there. For full details of all the previous episodes that we’ve referenced today, I’m going to add some relevant links to the show notes and a link to the transcript of today’s show. But yeah, just thank you very much for joining us. 

Enrico: 

Thank you for inviting me. 

Kate: 

Oh, you’re welcome. And I hope this is helpful and reassuring to anybody who’s kind of graduating at the moment, and looking to break into their new career. Thank you for joining us this week on ‘What Do You Actually Do?’. This episode was hosted by me, Kate Morris, edited by Stephen Furlong, and produced by both of us. If you love this podcast, spread the word and follow us. Are you eager to get more tips? Follow University of York Careers and Placements on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. All useful links are in this episode’s description. This has been produced at the University of York Careers and Placements. For more information visit york.ac.uk/careers