Author: Charlie Nettle
As I sit here contemplating this challenge I reflect on my own career to date. Has it really taken chopping up frozen chicken, testing explosives and flying an RAF fighter jet to realise what I wanted to do with my life?
For me, that seems to have been the case. It started with a lack of any idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up and also what many of you would probably describe as a limiting belief - a view that I’m a Jack-of-all-trades but master of none. Throughout my entire life, I’ve always felt I was remarkably average at everything, whether it be school subjects, sports, or just getting on in the wider world. I’ve always been up for having a crack at anything though, including undertaking some pretty challenging DIY jobs with the support of you-tube, which I describe as the Dad I never had (not that my Dad was ever absent, but he never really had any experience in the trades).
When I properly reflect, I did do well in my GCSEs and was usually in the top of my class for most sports. I then had a clattering when I failed most of my A-levels, which when you consider that I even resorted to cheating in my French A-level by writing the answers up my arm, just illustrates how badly I did. The underlying reason for me failing my A-levels was that I’d stopped putting the effort in and I’d become distracted with the independence that comes at that age, particularly cars and girlfriends. This whole experience, which to this day I feel is probably the most disappointing thing I’ve ever done, letting both myself and my parents down, reinforced the view that I may even be well below average at everything. While I’d generally been an honest person up until this point, this experience certainly taught me never to cheat at anything again! It also reinforced that I needed to work hard at anything I wanted, and this relentless drive has stayed with me thereafter.
The one A-level I did manage to pass was Business Studies, for which I got a grade C. It possibly won’t surprise you to hear that my Business Studies teacher was my favourite teacher. Whether I did well because I enjoyed the subject or because the teacher was good, or whether it was a combination of the two is open for debate. I do feel that you probably need to enjoy something to be any good at it though and particularly at that age - if you have a poor teacher, you’ll likely struggle to achieve your full potential regardless of how much you enjoy the subject. This only goes to illustrate the huge responsibility on teachers’ shoulders today. It does worry me that teaching appears to be considered by some as a ‘convenience career’ that can neatly fit around family life, as opposed to necessarily attracting the people that are passionate about teaching and are driven everyday to create those light-bulb moments for young people.
I could bang on about my concerns about the school system no end – the subjects that are taught, the way they are delivered and how they are related to the real world, the prioritisation of a particular religion as opposed to understanding all religions and the lack of focus on life skills such as budgeting, money management, health, travel, negotiation, selling and emotional intelligence.
Some might well question the value of studying music at school, however, I have a very different view. I was really put off music when I was younger, not only at school but with private piano lessons I had when I was eight years old, where my teacher pushed me to just play Good King Wenceslas rather than The Beatles’ hits I wanted to learn. I’ve picked up music again in later life and play guitar, drums and piano now. I’ve learnt a lot about music theory and now that I understand the music ‘code’ a light has switched on for me that has enabled me to play the music I want to hear. This has been hugely empowering and unlocked a new area of life and enjoyment for me. Other than spending time with my wife and children, playing my piano is the next biggest area that I allocate my free time to. Listening and playing music has become my main source of relaxation and I’m saddened by the fact I was put off so young. It makes me wonder how many people have locked potential in this area – either to make an impact on the world or simply to achieve the relaxation and enjoyment that music can provide as a hobby or pass-time.
Anyway, it was not really my intention to slate the education system and to be fair, while I think there is still a long way to go, I can see huge improvements since I was at school.
A lack of careers advice was another issue that really didn’t help me identify what job I wanted to do. Careers advice still seems to be a massive issue today. Speaking with some of the schools we support in my role at AV Dawson, the job of ‘careers adviser’ seems to be something teachers have to draw straws for to see who has to do this on top of their existing workload. For fairness, but in fact only making matters worse, this is often rotated each year, so people struggle to build the required knowledge and connections to be able to have half a hope of doing the job well. The truth is that cracking this issue is a massive challenge and one that the education sector cannot deliver on its own, it needs all of us as businesses to support this and I’m pleased to see that the local authorities are putting huge emphasis and resource on trying to coordinate it.
Through my teens and beyond, I can remember feeling so overwhelmed, trying to identify what I wanted to be and therefore what education choices I should take when I had no career advice, was average at everything and didn’t like anything in particular. I took the decision to delay making a decision for as long as possible. I bumbled along from one education option to another, just doing what I felt was least difficult and delaying the decision to get a full-time job for as long as possible. I actually managed to ‘bumble’ all the way up to doing a Business degree, before finding marketing as a module within this course. This grabbed my interest and from there I did a Masters in Marketing Communications, which was enough to spark my passion in pursuing marketing as a full time role and potentially a career. Not long after this, I joined the Chartered Institute of Marketing as I felt this was an important step for me to be recognised as a professional marketer.
As I mentioned earlier, I was always keen to try new things and also to have money, so as an additional strategy to identify my future career, I chose to use my free time to build my work experience and of course make a bit of money. Whether it was through placements, volunteering or paid work I was always looking to build a knowledge of the work environment and try to work out what I wanted to do, AND what I didn’t want to do! Of course, I did my stint in McDonalds and riding a moped for Pizza Hut’s delivery team when I was 16 was one of the best jobs I ever had. I’ve undertaken various volunteering roles including in social care, the Samaritans and as a Special Constable. My work placements have included working on a Royal Airforce base testing Harrier jump jets and flying in the giant Hercules aircrafts and I’ve been employed in a diverse range of roles, from selling expensive frozen fish out of the back of a van, to office work for the NHS and factory jobs cutting up frozen chicken and making explosives. I’ve worked across a number of sectors including IT, construction, logistics, training and business support. Spending 11 years working for the Chambers of Commerce further illustrated to me the huge range of businesses and jobs out there and made me question whether we can truly ever understand all the career options open to us. On that basis, I would argue that, to some extent, we have probably all fallen into the professions we have and the companies we work for.
On reflection, its probably not a bad thing that it’s taken me until the age of 40 to recognise that I am actually a marketer and that I have managed to find the career that I should have been following. It has enabled me to bring not only a wealth of business knowledge into my role but also an ever questioning and ever enquiring mind. I know many examples of people that have done totally unrelated degrees, such as IT and history, before finding themselves in marketing jobs and realising that this is their passion and profession. In fact, this experience actually brings so much into the marketing industry.
All that said, I do feel there is a massive issue with the visibility, understanding and recognition of marketing – the interest, variety and opportunity it can provide as a career and the value it can deliver for businesses and the economy. Resolving this would increase demand for marketing, resulting in more and better marketing jobs. It would also inspire more people into a career in marketing and attract more talent into the industry.
A bunch of marketers in the North East are now working together to address this issue. We believe that the answer is not a 200-page report, but a one-page infographic that clearly explains what marketing is today and the value it delivers so we can all use this to consistently promote marketing. How do we ensure this is fit for purpose and we all buy into it? Well, we want everyone to contribute so we can be confident it is relevant to everyone, regardless of sector or industry. I would encourage everyone to get involved and do their bit by completing our 3-minute survey at www.thisismarketing.co.uk. We will then send you the draft infographic to critique and a final copy when its available. So, let’s work together to ensure our profession is properly recognised and start marketing marketing!