Saturday, 19 September 2015

Starting University and frozen chicken

Once term starts, it’s easy to get your head down, start ploughing through the reading lists, and chill out with your friends if you get spare time! After all, you've paid to come here and want to make the most of the experience academically. But while qualifications are important, more and more employers are saying that to be successful you also need to develop your attitude and mind-set that also needs to flourish to be successful in life.

You probably think we don’t know what we’re talking about. But believe it or not, we have been there as well. This is Alison’s story.

When I was eighteen, (many moons ago) I just wanted to dance and act. I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do as a "serious" career, nor did I even think about it. I pretty much spent my weekends in Year 13 going to Wigan Pier, a huge dance venue with the most fantastic DJs, and the infamous Hacienda in Manchester. So it’s no surprise that I did pretty badly in my A-levels, much to my parents' disgust, and didn't get into my university of choice. My friends who had paid attention and revised got the better deal. Fortunately, I managed to secure a place at another university through clearing to study Dance and Drama with English. Hurray!

I still remember my first day. I knew a couple of people, so veered towards finding them. But we weren’t in the same halls, so I had to make new friends. Once I’d found out more about campus, my course and the nightlife (of course), I started to think about me and my prospects. I started to think: you know what, I need to make the most of my time here and prove to myself what I'm really capable of.

To get a bit of money, I worked in the Students' Union collecting glasses and working in the cloakrooms at music events, so got to listen and dance free of charge! I learned how to DJ and regularly popped over to the local music shop in town to meet new people, meeting up with two classical guitarists who invited me to sing in local pub venues. I also lasted 2 days working in a frozen food distribution centre shoving frozen chicken into pallets going to various destinations. Amazingly, without knowing it, this is where I developed a few enterprising skills! It was so blooming cold, I convinced my fellow student temps, who were strangers to me, to lend me their coats (persuasive capabilities here we come) and because we were so cold (the permanent staff didn't seem to be affected), we began planning how we could reduce our time in the warehouse, whilst still getting the work done. We did it too! (Great strategy skills with the attitude to see it though!)

Whilst at University, I joined together with some friends from my drama course and we delivered performances and workshops to primary school children, showing them how to convey different emotions through story-telling and how to handle those emotions. This was when I realised I loved working with young people and making a difference to their lives. But looking back now, we could have done so much more. We could have started our own Theatre in Education Group, becoming self-employed and earning money for our hard efforts to pay for our set, travel - even ourselves. But we never gave it a thought. We only had in our minds that careers meant finding a graduate job - which it isn't. So don't make that same mistake!

Looking back at my time in university, the course gave me knowledge, confidence and certainly the ability to critically think and reflect as well as the importance of originality. But it was my time outside of my course that also contributed to who I am now. Seeking out opportunities, doing things independently, communicating with different people to set things up...these experiences developed my transferable skills and entrepreneurial capabilities. It was these initial steps that actually helped me to pursue and smoothly enter a variety of careers, with the confidence and self-belief to leave when it was the right time to do so.

Right now, and into the near future, employers and indeed governments from the UK and across the globe are stressing the need for a labour force that possesses this "can do attitude"; who can come up with ideas and make things happen. The world is an increasingly unpredictable place, and we are all facing many challenges that require the capabilities to not only think, but act, with the passion to know why we are doing it, caring about how we do it (collaborating with others) and utilising our strengths to perform at our best.

So, now you're back... why are you here at Birmingham?

Who are you? Do you know your strengths and interests? What would energise you to do something you enjoy and that’s worthwhile?

Get involved in many different opportunities here on campus and outside. Don't put it off like others, or hope the opportunity will come around again. Chances are it won't.

Do things that will shape who you are, and that will make a difference, so you can be proud of your efforts, even if you make mistakes along the way. You'll be glad you did when you go for interviews or work for yourself!

Alison Sharp

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