18 July 2019

Fiona shares her career experiences with current Witchford students

Fiona Smith is an alumnus of Witchford Village College and has attended two world of work days. In November 2018 and March 2019 Fiona returned to inspire a group of Year 9 and 10 students.

While I was at school I was quite a shy student and was not particularly confident. I had a tough time and was bullied during the first few years of school, leading to being timid and guarded. Although I did not enjoy the first few years of school, by GCSE I began to have a change of mind set. I made some new friends and began to take control of my own time which really helped so by the time I left Witchford Village College in 1991, I was beginning to enjoy school.

My career pathway has been based more on experience and work related learning and looking back, my career development was defined by work place opportunities. I have been with the same company, DS Smith, for over 20 years. I started off working as an administrator and then I would work during the evening and at weekends in their factory. After gaining some experience I took a role in their flagship office in customer services where I was offered a place on the key development programme. This enabled me to really look at my development and pinpoint any gaps in my experience. In my work I always made sure to make the most of the opportunities offered which led to my completion of the ILM Level 4 and participating in courses on topics such as negotiation and dispensation. I progressed to become a team leader within the customer services team which then led to being offered a trainee-ship in an external sales role. I am now a Key Account Director overseeing the Mondelez International account for my company.

One of the reasons I signed up to support my old school was that I recognised through my own experience that there is a lot of pressure on young people to access further education. I understand that higher education is an option for some students but I also wanted to let students know that it’s ok to not know what to do. I think it is really important that students make the most of their opportunities and I wanted to make them aware that there are a variety of experiences out there. To let them know that you can be successful regardless of whether it works out to how you expected when you were 16!

I felt really excited to go back to Witchford and to see myself as I am now in the same environment I grew up in. When we arrived all the former students were gathered together and we were briefed on the format of the day and the workshop content. Before the day we were also given a briefing call so we were prepared for the kind of questions that the students may ask us. This gave me a chance to think about how I might phrase my answers to ensure the students would understand my role. We then entered a very high energy environment and were sharing our experiences and background with the young people. I was not prepared for how exhausting it can be to answer so many questions! After the initial question stage we then supported the next activities and helped guide the students through a variety of content.

I would highly recommend volunteering in your old school to other people. Partly because I think it is so important for the young people to have access to a cross section of volunteers from a variety of industries. For me, I think it is really important to expose the students to a broad range of people. As an adult, you can really lose sight of how confusing the world of work can be because we are in it. My own children are even unsure about what I do! If they can’t understand that or the roles around me, then they are missing out on knowing what could be available to them. Aside from doctors, lawyers etc, the world of work can seem a mysterious thing. Alumni have some great stories to tell and can bring the working world to life.

My best advice to students would be that your opportunities are what you make of them. Success is down to you, and you alone and not only do you make your own luck but you get back what you put in. The world is a busy and changing please and I think it is important for all young people to not lose sight of how to communicate, present themselves and engage the people around them.

I was really pleased to be part of the world of work days and was excited to be involved. It was a fantastic experience for me and I got a lot out of it. It was rewarding to hear feedback from students who said they felt they should work harder in school after speaking to us in the session. I hope more volunteers will be encouraged to sign up to their old school’s network.