In our next Sector Spotlight on Career Education, we hear from Gemma Mackay, who is a Careers Adviser with Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Orkney.
An interest in social subjects at school led Gemma to study History at the University of Strathclyde. She then applied for a postgraduate teaching qualification but wasn’t successful so came home to Orkney, where she did some work shadowing with the team at SDS Orkney and when a position opened up soon afterwards, she applied.
Can you describe a typical day in your role as a Careers Adviser?
At the moment I work in KGS. On a typical day, I would come into the careers interview room at 9am and get logged in, catch up on emails, etc. I would then have a mixture of group sessions and one-to-one career interviews with school pupils. Yesterday I did a group session with a group of new S1 pupils – my ‘props’ included a pair of welly boots, a torch and a measuring tape! At one-to-one appointments, I help pupils to plan for the future, and this can be very varied. Some pupils are looking for help with job-searching, for others it might be looking at entry requirements for courses, researching gap years or discussing how to develop their skills. At the end of the day, I write up my notes and do any follow-up that’s required, for example sending pupils links to useful websites or phoning partner agencies.
How did you end up in this role?
I was really interested in social subjects at school and went to the University of Strathclyde to do a degree in History. I applied to do the postgraduate teaching course at the end of my degree but wasn’t accepted, so I came home, picked up work in a local café and started to think more about my long-term options. I’d actually met with a careers adviser when I was still at uni, and two areas of work had emerged as potentially being a good fit for me – library work and career guidance. I contacted the Careers Scotland office in Kirkwall to see whether they would let me do some shadowing, which they did, and I discovered that I was well-suited to the work. By pure chance, a job then came up with them a few months later. I applied and was successful – just as well really as I had an interview for a job at the library the same day, which I didn’t get!
I wasn’t qualified in career guidance at that stage, and the role was more about career information – making sure that our careers library was well-stocked and helping the advisers. In 2010 I was given the opportunity to undertake a postgraduate course in Career Guidance, which involved studying alongside my work. After two years of studying at home interspersed with trips to the University of the West of Scotland for tutorials, I was fully qualified and moved into the role of Careers Adviser. During my time in this role I’ve worked with adults in the careers centre, and with school pupils at Stromness Academy, Kirkwall Grammar School, and the Junior High Schools in Sanday, Westray and Stronsay.
What is the best thing about your job?
My job is so varied that it’s impossible to get bored – everyone you meet has their own story and it’s so interesting speaking to people and helping them develop their career management skills. Being able to work with people from age 11 up to retirement and beyond, and in a mix of one-to-one and group settings, means I’m constantly developing my practice and learning. It’s an extremely rewarding job too, as you do feel that you’re able to make a positive impact in people’s lives and help them to reach their full potential. I particularly enjoyed my time working in the north isles, and getting the ‘peedie plane’ to work was such a privilege. There are always opportunities to get involved with interesting projects too, for example, the Careers Fair that we ran this September – never a dull moment!
What is the worst thing about your job?
Keeping on top of paperwork is a challenge, as it is in many roles nowadays. We have to keep careful records of our group sessions and one-to-one meetings, as well as setting up appointments in advance on our computer system, and finding the time to fit that in isn’t always easy.
What skills do you need to undertake your role?
You must be able to relate to people from all walks of life, and be non-judgemental and trustworthy. It’s also really important to be able to work in a team – we’re a small team here in Orkney and really rely on each other to get everything done. Being flexible is also really important – you might have your day all mapped out but be asked to see a pupil urgently, so you have to be willing to move things around as necessary. It’s also helpful to have good research skills as you help others to navigate complicated educational landscapes and labour markets – but this can definitely be developed on the job.
What qualifications do you have?
I have nine Standard Grades, five Highers, two Advanced Highers, a 2:1 BA in History and the Postgraduate Diploma in Career Guidance and Development.
Would you recommend this job to young people, if so why?
Absolutely! I was only 22 when I first started working in a careers role, and it was actually really useful to have recent experience of the education system, UCAS, etc when speaking to pupils. Having said that, careers advisers come from all walks of life and some of my colleagues didn’t undertake the postgraduate course until much later in life, bringing with them a wealth of work and life experience.
The Skills Development Scotland team in Orkney are currently recruiting for a Careers Adviser to join their team. For more information about the role contact the careers centre in Kirkwall on (01856) 872 460, or visit here.
Visit Skills Development Scotland on: