Tania, a former student of The Littlehampton Academy in West Sussex, on overcoming barriers to build a career in a profession still dominated by privately educated employees.
What was your career journey from leaving school to joining the civil service?
I left secondary school and drifted from job to job that I often got fired from; I decided to do something to change this pattern after I got fired from a good job that I really liked. I started by going doing my A-levels at an adult education centre and it was this experience that help me to decide to study for a degree part time. Whilst I was studying I worked full time with the civil service; a happy accident which was challenging but not as hard as you might think. Because the civil service allows you to do move around and do different jobs my career has been there ever since.
What career did you see yourself going into when you were at school?
I had no idea what I wanted to do all I knew is that I wanted to do something that made a positive impact and paid me enough so that I didn’t have to worry about money.
How do you feel your education prepared you for your career both academically and socially?
Poorly. I’m a child of the 70s, a time when there was a really heavy focus on where you came from. I felt I was judged on my background not what I was capable of. Education in the 80s was constantly changing, there was a lot of strike action and I was often taught by supply teacher. I was also in the first year group to do GCSEs when they were introduced, which was handled very badly. This ‘political football’ aspect of education can be very damaging. This is what motivates me to do the job I do. The Department for Education is striving for better education and my job puts me in a strong position to make a positive change.
What were the main difficulties or barriers you faced when building your career in the civil service?
The civil service has been entirely supportive. I’ve consistently worked alongside Oxbridge graduates and never felt judged or different. The civil service genuinely looks at what you think, what you produce how good it is rather than where you come from. They are also flexible and supportive in recognising that things happen in life which means someone performance temporarily dip and they’ll work to make sure there are measures in place to support you. The main thing difficulties and barriers I’ve faced come from within, previously I’ve had a slight chip on my shoulder about where I’ve come from and I have to work hard to stop this from hindering me.
What would have helped you to overcome these barriers?
The thing that would have helped me in school is really strong careers advice. This needs to be impartial and supportive of a variety of career directions students may be interested in. At school we had a careers advisor and, I don’t know if this was the case, but I felt like some people were cherry picked for that support; it certainly wasn’t universal. It’s so important that careers advice in school is universally accessible.
What Future First is doing, getting grown up yet relatable people into schools to speak to students about their journeys and barriers they’ve overcome can make a huge impact. The things adults talk about when they’re giving careers advice can seem alien and very far in the future for a lot of young people so the relatable aspect of alumni can help bridge this gap.
What would be your advice to state school students trying to build a career in the civil service?
Just go for it. The civil service is a really fair employer especially now that social mobility is so high on the agenda. The civil service provides a really supportive environment where high standards are expected but you get the support you need to achieve them. I would also say don’t be put off by the people who like to seem clever because you are too!
What does ‘social capital’ mean to you?
To me in means the future economic resource of the country and it’s about tapping into untapped resource to build this. Without social mobility and building social capital you’ll stagnate because you’re just perpetuating the same attitudes and not bringing in fresh talent. Social capital is about tapping into all the human resource across the country to make a better Britain.