Having a portfolio career

 “You’re doing so well now with such a diverse portfolio career…”

What is a portfolio career? I had to think hard when someone said this to me recently. I was thinking… do I? Well if I do it’s not that successful because I’m skint!

Joking aside, I may be earning less than I did when I was in full time employment but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.

ruth in her home office

It made me think… if I have this cool portfolio career, can I take it to the next level? Could I thrive and succeed rather than just ‘getting by’?

A portfolio career means someone is earning from a combined stream of different incomes. This might include a mix of part-time and freelance employment; perhaps offering consultancy while you work on building your own business or service. It can be anything you want it to be! It can hard work, it can be frightening but it can also be the most liberating, fun and rewarding way of working.

This is exactly what I find myself doing now and it’s been great to have that flexibility, especially this year with so much uncertainty in the job market.

I’ve been working for myself in some way now for over ten years, with a stint doing both employed and freelance at the same time, which was intense. It’s definitely the best thing I did for my personal development and mental health. But it certainly wasn’t planned, and it hasn’t been easy, with ups and downs, successes and mistakes along the way.

What does my portfolio career look like?

I work for a number of very different businesses offering a sort of virtual marketing and administration service. I do all the marketing and event organisation for The Society for Location Analysis (www.thesla.org) who are my longest running client. I was involved with setting the SLA up when I was employed full-time at GeoBusiness Solutions back in 2002.

I also help Red Tiger Talent/Consulting/Coaching (www.redtigerconsulting.co.uk) responsible for driving their marketing strategy and execution.   I work closely with Meg, their new apprentice, to help train and guide her as she takes over some of the day-to-day marketing tasks and actions for the business. This is probably one of my most challenging roles because these guys are quite fast paced. They work hard and they are always looking forward, trying new things and pushing me to provide services I’m not always comfortable with at first. Like writing a new Marketing Strategy and plan for 2021, something I hadn’t done in a very long time. This has been a fun project to work on with Meg, exploring things like competitor analysis, analysing the business as it is now, doing a SWOT analysis and working out how marketing can help drive what we need to do as a business next year.

There are other clients like The Travellers Rest (https://www.thetravellers.rest  ), a pub in Cheshire who I help with simple social media activities and promotion, updating their website etc.  I’ve just picked up a new client through the Travs and am excited to help increase engagement and drive sales for this young and dynamic brewery Oaks Brewing company (https://www.theoaksbrewing.co/. Perhaps I’ll get paid in beer!

I also do copywriting for different businesses. This year has seen me write blogs about peanuts, cashews and nut butters – things that could kill me if I ate them myself, but that I actually found fascinating to research. I write blogs for different companies, sometimes skin, asthma and allergy related.

The positives

My favourite part of this kind of career is having the time to develop my own passions and dreams to write, blog and help improve the future for people with life threatening allergies, asthma and eczema.  Working as a patient expert with various pharmaceutical companies, charities and brands is both rewarding and challenging and adds some great variety to my days.

I’m also building on different revenue streams from my award winning blog, https://www.whatallergy.com which needs to earn its keep because it now costs me money to keep it hosted, secure and fresh. Some people pay for advertisements, advertorials, case studies, featured blog posts. I also have lots of affiliate links for products that I really believe in and love and these earn me a little bit of commission every time someone buys their product on my recommendation.

It has also allowed me the time to write my first book, “The Reluctant Allergy Expert: How to kill the fear that anaphylaxis could kill you”, which is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

I was also able to take a few months off work when I was going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW) back in April 2019. I was very ill at the beginning of 2019, but having flexible clients, scaling back so that I sometimes only did half day or a day’s work a week was really helpful.  I was able to work when I was awake, which was often between 2 and 6am in the morning, which allowed me to heal. It meant I could rest, really rest, and sleep when my body needed to. I would have really struggled having to go into an office or maintain normal daytime hours. I was also lucky to have some savings and family support financially during this time which I am very grateful for.

My second book of eczema poetry is at the first draft stage so I’m also very excited about that!

The mistakes I made

Taking on too much – I’ve made lots of mistakes. Haven’t we all?  It’s a necessary part of the learning journey.  The worst mistake I made, about five years ago was to start taking on too much. I took a part-time employed position (4 days a week) at a company which I loved; they had been a freelance client but wanted to make the role more permanent.  I ended up working very long hours and probably doing more than 5 days over the 4 days I worked. This was great at first as it offered me security, but I then decided I couldn’t part with some of my favourite clients and continued to do this work freelance in the evenings, weekends and holidays. This was not sustainable and didn’t help my mental health. It wasn’t much fun and so when I decided to go through TSW it made sense to cut my losses.  I left the employed job to rest, get better, write my book and return to freelance working. This way of life definitely suits me better.

Learning what works and what doesn’t – The other main mistake was not learning quicker when things weren’t going to plan. For instance, if a certain type of work isn’t fun or a client is really hard work. The beauty of working for yourself is that you can quite quickly and easily get out of working on projects and for people you find aren’t in your best interests. It takes a bit of planning and a deep breath when you tell them you need to plan your exit, but it feels amazing. Whey you tell someone you can’t take on any more business, you can use any reason or you don’t need to give a reason at all! It is empowering and freeing to have such control and is easier than leaving a ‘real job’.  Life is really too short to work for brands or people you don’t feel aligned to.

Ruth on a trail running holiday in Gower, Wales

Not ‘planning in’ down time and holidays – This was also something I didn’t learn to do at first. I kept thinking, ‘I’ll take time off when I run out of work or when I’m quiet’, which just never happened! I know I was fortunate. I was very lucky to pick up clients quite quickly and find that when one piece of work ended something else seems to come along to take its place. Now I’ve got better at seeing the opportunities to really take time out when it arises. So I now work short weeks, taking off the Monday and Friday, just because I can! I plan short breaks rather than long ones as this easier to plan around my clients. I also make sure I plan in my own down time every day, time to run, walk, meditate, practise yoga or just sit and read or listen to a podcast. All of these things help me feel more generally rested and happier in myself.

The Pro’s

  • Being your own boss is brilliant
  • It works for me as I work well on my own and in a team
  • Being very self-motivated also makes this career choice a good one for me
  • I get to choose who I work for, when I work and what I charge for my time.
  • I can take the day off when the sun is shining, and I don’t have to ask anyone for permission!
  • I am lucky to work with some fantastic clients who are great fun to work with, challenge me, respect me and teach me new skills
  • As long as you plan in time to meet humans, visits to client sites, work in a coffee shop for variety and some human contact (Works unless you are in a pandemic!)
  • You are in complete control of your destiny, what route your career takes and what you focus on
  • You don’t ever have to do an Annual Appraisal again! Although I recommend regularly reviewing the working status with all my clients. By doing this monthly we make sure we are all expecting realistic outcomes. I try to recap all meetings with actions shared and minutes.

The Cons

  • Work can be unreliable and can stop abruptly if businesses cut costs
  • You don’t get holiday or sick pay
  • No one maintains your laptop! So when things break you have to fix, replace and fathom out IT problems
  • People can be reluctant to pay a reasonable fee
  • Late paying clients can make paying the bills a worry and you have to regularly chase invoices
  • I hate doing invoices!
  • Doing the tax return every year!
  • You need to be able to see your skills and services and market yourself to ensure you maintain a reliable work pipeline
  • It can be lonely, especially in winter
  • I still feel naughty when I take time off in the day…
  • Sometimes people think you are having an easy time ‘working from home’ when in actual fact, you could be doing longer hours and working harder

Writing this blog has been quite fun. It’s made me feel really proud of what I’ve achieved in the last few years and also given me new motivation to get planning for 2021 and beyond. I’ve just finished the first draft of my second book, an as yet unnamed poetry book with poems about eczema, so watch this space.

Who knows what my portfolio will look like by the end of next year. But as we approach the end of this crazy year in lockdown and isolation, I realise that 2020 has taught me so much. Skills that you need as a freelancer, like working in isolation and using your time wisely, particularly daily physical activity when faced with this being rationed!

I’m looking forward to 2021, and in particular returning to my coffee shop days, seeing my clients in real life, conferences, exhibitions, speaking at events and days in London because that’s one thing I‘ve really missed. It’s the hardest part of working for yourself, too much time with yourself!

I’d love to hear from anyone who also has a portfolio career or who would love to have one. If I can do it, anyone can!

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

We have a number of new roles: November 2020

We are really excited to have a number of new job vacancies available. It’s a good sign that things are looking up.

Head of Logistics Consulting, London Based Consultancy

  • Key senior role responsible for driving forward the logistics consulting practice
  • Logistics and consulting experience a must
  • Great at dealing with all levels of stakeholder, including senior decision maker
  • A strategic thinker, with a range of ideas on how to develop and grow a sustainable consulting practice

Spatial Data Science Engineer, National Grocer (flexible working)

  • Working as part of a respected Analytics and Insight team who develop leading edge spatial applications and data for use across the business
  • Technical skills are a must: ideally strong in SQL, Alteryx, Tableau, ESRI technology (ArcGIS Pro/Server/Online), Snowflake
  • Ideal candidate has a good blend of technical skills and solutions oriented with the ability to translate stakeholder requirements into technical specification
  • Great opportunity to learn new skills and technology as part of a dynamic and growing team

Data Scientist, London Based Consultancy

  • Would suit a data analyst or junior data scientist wishing to take that next step in their career working in a small team within a big location analysis consultancy
  • You would be applying data science to a wide range of verticals, from retail, leisure, automotive and public sector
  • With a strong maths background you must have experience using large amounts of data (SQL), of building predictive models and algorithms (using tools such as Python, R, or Alteryx) and familiar with BI platforms (such as PowerBI or Tableau)
  • Ideally someone with experience of delivering solutions in one of the above verticals

Senior Data Scientist, London Based Boutique Consultancy

  • Requires someone with statistics/modelling background, ideally within customer analytics experience
  • If you like to challenge convention and like to think about new solutions to new problems then you could be ideal for this company
  • Requires someone who is passionate about data, ideally spatial data, and likes the challenge of using a data science toolkit to find solutions to client problems
  • Strong programming skills – in Python or R

Location Planning Associate, London Based Boutique Consultancy

  • Growing consultancy requires an experienced analyst/consultant to work as the link between clients and the delivery team
  • Must have experience of managing analytical projects and client facing activities
  • You must be passionate about the use of location data science in helping drive a range of business decisions
  • The ideal candidate has come from an analytical background, wishes to keep one hand in the technical, whilst also be thinking strategically about other solutions that the client may need
  • Finally you must be a confident communicator in person, on the phone or on video calls.

Senior Insight Analyst, London Based Boutique Consultancy

  • Established small consultancy require someone who is looking to step up from being an analyst and play a big part in the next stage in their own and the company’s growth
  • You must be a high energy analyst with an inquisitive mind, passionate about using data to support a variety of clients in the retail/property/public sector space.
  • Strong skills in Excel, Powerpoint and Word and very good at story telling with data
  • Experience of liaising directly with a range of client contacts is a must

Account Manager, London

  • Primary point of contact for all our clients that licence our GIS solution, as well as our data and BI solutions.
  • Candidate must expertly manage expectations of both clients and internal stakeholders and proactively account plan and develop roadmaps of future opportunities within each client account.
  • Required to be organised, good attention to detail and can multi-task across several requirements at any one time.
  • Proficient in all elements of Microsoft Office, particularly Excel & PowerPoint.

Junior Data Engineer, London

  • Unique opportunity to develop your technical skills, analytical techniques and commercial knowledge.
  • Reporting to the technical lead while working closely with project managers and analysts, supporting them from a technical point of view.
  • Experience with a Business Intelligence platform, a programming language (Python/R/SQL) and ETL tools (e.g Alteryx) needed.
  • Interested in processing spatial data, knowledge of the retail property market and awareness of machine learning techniques.

If you’re interested in any of the above positions, please email Steve Halsall: steve@redtigerconsulting.co.uk or call 07979756257.

Image source:

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels
Photo by fauxels from Pexels

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go!

Which dwarf has to stay at home with the rule of six? Happily since Snow White and her seven dwarves are in the same family bubble, they should be OK. 

The summer holidays are now a distant memory, the kids have gone back to school and the fortunate people with jobs to go back to have been relishing the opportunity to get properly stuck in to work with minimal outside distractions.  This blog reflects on our collective ‘return to work’ after the summer recess and questions whether it will ever revert back to pre-covid patterns of working. 

I personally saw the start of September as a key date to sharpen my focus, both in my work and personal life, after what seems like five months or so of ‘taking each day as it comes’.  In my work life I was operating at around 70% productivity in the preceding five months to September, with home schooling being added to the mix amongst other distractions.  Most of my business contacts with young children have relished the re-opening of schools so that they at least have some kid free time to be more efficient in their work life. September is when I consciously return the productivity dial back to pre-covid levels and enter the Autumn with a renewed vigour and spring (!) in my step. 

The late August/early September news (pre last week’s announcement of tightening of restrictions) was dominated by the Government’s call to arms around getting back into our places of work, if safe to do so, and supporting businesses, particularly those that have been so reliant on worker trade.  UK GDP fell by a record breaking 20.4% in Q2 (April to June 2020). In comparison, throughout the 2008 recession, GDP declined by no more than 2.1% in a single quarter.  GDP in July 2020 grew by 6.6%, which is the third consecutive monthly increase, but this has covered off just over half of the lost output as a result of coronavirus.  This is coupled with the recent news that 695,000 fewer people were on payroll in August 2020 compared to March 2020.  This is only going to increase as the furlough scheme winds down and companies look to remove costs in order to remain viable. 

Whilst it’s hard to ignore the ongoing covid doom and gloom, there do appear to be some green shoots of recovery.  Scouring the job boards shows that there are still a reasonable amount of roles out there – the challenge is that there will be many more candidates chasing down fewer roles.  We are helping candidates ensure that they stand out in that crowd.   I have just had an email from two of my clients who are looking to recruit into their team and need our help, which is the greatest number of new assignments we have had in a long while. 

This blog outlines four of my predictions in relation to changes at our work:

Working from home

Working 9 to 5 

Speaking to a variety of clients and candidates on a daily basis provides me with a great cross-sectional sample of how individuals (and businesses) are dealing with the pandemic.  Individuals are generally a little sick of constantly being on Zoom/Teams and having to stare at the same four walls of their office/bedroom/kitchen/lounge.  Quite a few people I speak to are now trying to break their lockdown routine by having a change of scenery once or twice a week.  Most are itching to engage face-to-face with their colleagues in some capacity.  There are a lot of benefits to home working but two downsides of it are the varying practicality of individuals being able to work from home and issues of isolation.  I recall one candidate I spoke to admitting that they just didn’t have the discipline to work from home. 

A lot of individuals are using the time to think about how work life will change post covid and if they have been used to a five day in the office pre-covid they are challenging the notion that they need to be in the office five days a week moving forward.  Many have proven that they can do a more than adequate job working from home.  I’d be interested to hear of any scientific studies that accurately quantify work productivity at home – anecdotal accounts suggest that home workers tend to start work earlier (as they don’t have the commute time to take into account) and are often working later as they are not subjected to that familiar signal at head office home time when co-workers start to leave.  True, there are distractions at home (deliveries, laundry, cleaning) but there are also may non-productive distractions in an office environment. 

Prediction 1: Finding balance

The days of the typical daily grind into an office are firmly over and will never fully return to previous patterns of commute. It is all about balance and I believe that many will settle on 2-3 days in the office and the rest of the time will be spent working from home (clearly this will depend on role/grade/location).  As long as this change doesn’t materially affect their ability to do their job.  This could also change the dynamic on where people live, relative to where they work; more on that in a future blog. 

Businesses, in the main, are being exceptionally flexible and supportive of their remote teams in coping with the pandemic.  There are some businesses that have closed their offices permanently and have no intention of getting a new office for the foreseeable future.  Most businesses are slowly opening up their offices, albeit with significant reductions in occupancy levels to ensure they remain covid-compliant.  These companies are often taking an individual level approach as everyone has a different perception of risk to the current pandemic.   This approach is contrasted by other businesses who are expecting colleagues to come in.  This is a scheduling/management challenge to have different groups of colleagues arriving on different days and starting/leaving at different times which has the potential to erode the face-to-face benefits of being in an office with colleagues. 

Prediction 2: More flexibility

Businesses in general need to improve their flexibility about how, when and where their teams work. If they fail to show flexibility to the new worker demands then they risk losing talent once the employment market recovers. 

I won’t be home for Christmas 

Prediction 3: Christmas sales suffer

Apologies for switching back to full on doom and gloom mode but the way things are going in the UK I think Xmas will effectively be ‘cancelled’.   Christmas is obviously a time for most families to come together but this year it will be very different.  Families will not be coming together in the way that they have traditionally.  I anticipate sales to be supressed at the grocers this Xmas (it will be interesting to see what the tone of their Xmas adverts will be this year) as the traditional seasonal uplift in spend from home family catering will be subdued.  The upside is there is likely to be less food waste! Average spend per household is likely to be down as people tighten their belts in anticipation of continued financial and economic uncertainty. I also anticipate the cost of domestic short-term holiday lets to sky rocket as more people will want to celebrate Christmas within their family bubble in a different setting. 

The Emperor’s New Clothes 

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the impact these work changes have had on work attire.  Over the last 5-10 years I have seen a general ‘softening’ of work attire from very formal to smart business casual.  I can’t recall the last time I wore a suit and tie – it was probably for a wedding or a funeral.  This increased working from home has created an entirely new set of work/home combinations.  I have been relatively casual when working from home (particularly in the hot weather), opting for comfort over style.  When I know I have video calls, depending on who with, I will tend to change into smarter attire.  Workers attire has moved from smart formalwear to smart casual workwear (pre-covid), to a wardrobe of casual day wear that they supplement with an occasional smart casual outfit that comes out at video conference call times during the working day.   I am yet to meet someone who has conducted a Zoom call with a full suit, shirt and tie on.  Let’s face it, it’s much easier to quickly change when you only have to modify what you wear from the waist up. 

We have seen the demise of TM Lewin as a result of covid-19 and the other formal wear specialists will certainly be assessing their existing portfolios and product ranging in order to survive.  This will  also have an impact on dry cleaners, as their volumes will reduce across the board as people tend to wear apparel that can be washed at home. 

Prediction 4: Christmas best sellers

Christmas best sellers, particularly catering for middle aged professional males (such as myself), will be a nice selection of casual shirts and polo shirts (with colour coordinated face masks).

Time will tell how we all adapt and how much our lives change to make way for new and hopefully better working practises. 

I’d love to hear what you think the impact of covid will be on our future working patterns. Have you already begun to reassess how you want to work next year?  

Please let us know in the comments below and if you need some advice on how you can stand out from the crowd, get in touch on 07979 756257 or email steve@redtigerconsulting.co.uk 

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

My first week as an apprentice

Throughout my time at college, despite enjoying studying and being relatively academic, university was never at the top of my list of paths to take after my A-levels. I took Business Studies, Geography and English Language, and after an unusual end to my college years I received BBB in my A-level results, and am currently waiting for my business studies appeal to go through (hopefully to an A). The fact I was unsure on my ideal career path, along with the growing student debt, meant I was on the search for alternative routes after college. After researching and learning more about apprenticeships, the idea of earning and learning seemed perfect for me. I applied for the Level 3 Business Administration Apprenticeship with Red Tiger Talent, in which I will receive a National Vocational Qualification (Level 3) after around 18 months.

Southport Office

Due to the current uncertain times, I wasn’t actively looking for a job/apprenticeship, and was considering continuing with my part-time shifts in a café, or looking for extra part-time work, for a year, or until an opportunity came along. However, I received an email from an “apprenticeship-finder” company who listed multiple business admin/marketing apprenticeships for me to potentially be interested in. The one with Red Tiger Talent particularly appealed me as it included areas from both administration and marketing, which I have had an interest in since starting business at college. I applied at the start of July and a week or so later had a call from Runshaw that I had been offered an interview. My first interview was through zoom, thanks to COVID, so I spoke to both Steve and Paul and they asked me general questions about myself and my experience and how I would approach the role. Shortly after, I received an email from Paul stating I had been accepted for a second interview, which this time would be face-to-face (socially distanced of course!). So I drove to Southport for a chat about the role and what I would hope to achieve if I was successful in becoming the apprentice. Within the same day, I had a call from Paul where I was offered the role and was set to start at the beginning of September.

On my first day at Red Tiger, I was introduced to the systems that I would be using and found out more about the business and what it does- a lot of information to take in! I learned that my duties include updating the customer database, along with helping with blogs and marketing on the business’ social media. Paul talked me through the different areas of Red Tiger, including Recruitment and Training, and how they are about to formally launch their Career Coaching services in the near future. Although the amount of information was slightly overwhelming, I feel I have a relatively clear understanding of the company so far and can see myself becoming more and more familiar in months to come.

Within my first week, I have listened in on candidate phone calls, watched multiple training videos and updated contact lists and candidate details. I’ve learned more about the type of jobs Red Tiger recruit for and how the process is carried out. Learning whilst on the job is much more interesting than simply learning at college, as with the 1:1 training I feel I am more engaged and can frequently ask questions. As well as being in the office, I’ve also had a small amount of days working from home, where I am set tasks to complete throughout the day, as well as sometimes having scheduled calls to join. On one of my days working from home, I joined a live webinar about Targeting on LinkedIn, which I made notes on, for me to use when I become comfortable with advertising on the site.

Within my next few months on the apprenticeship I hope to become confident using the systems introduced to me, and become comfortable with the marketing side, including advertising on social media platforms. I hope to get as much training as possible and to keep learning about different areas of the company, so that in a years’ time I will be capable of developing the marketing on social media, as well as being competent with keeping all the sites up to date. As well as this I plan to gain and improve skills on different software, like Excel, to widen my ability.

Algorithms Evolve – How human error, not Artificial Intelligence failed our A Level students

In a previous blog I waxed lyrical about how one benefit of COVID-19 has been the very clear use of data (not always the right data) and analytics/modelling to help drive decision making (not always the right decision!). Then the dominating UK news this week has been the right royal mess up over the A level results and the use of the ‘Algorithm’ to change some people’s final gradings, resulting in around 40% of results coming out lower than predicted. 

Exam results time is always stressful and there will always be winners, losers, and surprises in between.  The marking of most subjects is certainly going to be more art than science and in a ‘normal’ year there will always be a challenge around consistency of marking.  Allowing each student’s teacher to grade them is intrinsically going to impart bias that wouldn’t be there if it was handled by an external examiner.   This latest fiasco, with a last minute change in methodology, will mean that there is even more stress and uncertainly as a result.  There are students who have initially missed out on places who may now retrospectively get the grades they need and the place has been offered to someone else.   I personally think that the Universities with oversubscribed courses should scrap any offers to date and start the process all over again if it’s not too late to do so. 

Algorithms are becoming increasingly pervasive in our lives, and many people are not aware of their uses.  From insurance quotes based on home postcodes, to selective advertising on social media – our clicks, likes and location are being used by a number of Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to, in theory, serve us appropriate content.  It doesn’t always work – the number of times I am promoted hair care products is testimony to that!  There are plenty of examples where there are good applications of AI, from insurance costs based on how you drive through data collected via a black box, to uses in healthcare where speedier diagnosis and access to the most appropriate treatment can vastly improve outcomes.   The algorithms are only as good as the data they utilise in order to develop their ‘intelligence’ and in a lot of cases require use of inferences that are wide of the mark.  Timandra Harkness (@TimandraHarkness) summed it all up quite nicely: “the data used by an algorithm to make a decision about you is largely about other people, rather than you personally”. 

I stumbled upon an excellent piece in the Guardian by Dan Davies who succinctly summarised the A level issue by saying: “The problem was fundamentally insoluble, from a mathematical point of view. If the system is dependent on exams to allocate the grades, but it can’t have the exams, then it can’t allocate the grades. No statistical method in the world is going to be able to give you good results if the information you’re looking for is fundamentally not there in the dataset that you’re trying to extract it from.”  It’s worth looking into his article in more detail: 

Read: This year’s A-level results are a fiasco – but the system was already broken by Dan Davies

Ofqual’s Research and Analysis Findings

Ofqual, the Examinations watchdog have published their findings on their whole approach (be warned, it is a 318-page extravaganza).

I’d love to hear from anyone who has read the report from cover to cover!  

Ofqual have to be held accountable for this and I’m sure Gavin Williamson will be getting some tips from Dominic Cummings on self-preservation. 

Download Awarding GCSE, AS, Alevel, advanced extension awards and extended project qualifications in summer 2020: interim report.

Life is a Roller Coaster 

It’s been a roller coaster in our household, with my step-son being one of the Covid-affected students who did not manage to sit his A level finals this year.  At the start of it all, when he realised he wouldn’t be sitting exams and they announced his grades would largely be based on his mocks, he was all for re-doing the whole year again.  Like many students he didn’t apply himself in the run up to his mocks and was aiming to knuckle down and achieve at least one grade above his predicted grades in his finals.  I advised him that as long as he got to a decent University, studying a good course, his A levels wouldn’t really matter in the long run.   Granted, employers still look at A level subjects and grades to get an insight into the person (e.g. are they Arts/Maths/Science focused) but grades and subjects aren’t necessarily a guarantee of success in a role – strong marks merely indicate that the candidate is good at study and retaining information for test in exam conditions. 

Fast forward to last week’s results day and my step-son was much more philosophical – he was a little disappointed with his final grades but happy in the knowledge that he had been accepted into his first choice University on his first-choice course.    I was also happy as he had achieved his aim whilst coming in below what I’d budgeted for when I offered him a financial, grades based, incentive to encourage him to put the effort in. 

These are some of my tips for the weeks ahead: 

  • Don’t Panic – September is only around the corner but there are a lot of people in the same boat.  I know that Universities will be bombarded with enquiries so please be patient but persistent in your enquiries.  Remember that the admissions folk will be working flat out to ensure they deal with it as quickly and fairly as possible. 
  • You are not Alone  Every individual is different in terms of what they got, compared to what they expected, and where they will end up.  But you are united in the fact that you are the class of COVID-19 and there will be outpourings of empathy for what you have had to experience. 
  • Universities of the UK Unite – This is easier said than done and I know there has been a lot of work to date, but I do think that most Universities will be overly accommodating to the current situation and do their best to help students who have been unjustly failed by the system.  If they aren’t, then imagine what they may be like when they have already collected your fee income?! 
  • Employers’ Empathy – As someone working in recruitment, I do believe that the class of 2020 will have a special place in peoples’ (HR and hiring managers) hearts. There will be a degree of leniency towards those who went through that year and the grades achieved.  If necessary, make sure you stand out in other ways – your passion, knowledge, skills, experience and drive will get you much further than your A level grades. 

What next for this class of 2020?   I personally think Ofqual should not be seeking to fit a ‘bell shaped curve’ or attainment quota to the distribution of grades and just go all out to award people the grades that their teachers felt they could have achieved.  So what if this year more people than ever got higher grades compared to previous years – they deserve it for the disruptions that COVID-19 and this marking fiasco have provided to them. 

For me personally, I wait with baited breath as my step-son is already anticipating an improvement on his grades, which will mean additional ‘incentive payments’ due from me.  The impact of COVID-19 could have further financial implications for me personally I’m afraid! 

I’d love to hear your thoughts… let’s have a heated debate!

Feature image: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels