Careers service: the redraft

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Are the next few years to be spent in terminal decline and turmoil, with Stoke’s prospects for work consigned only to a few? It doesn’t have to be so. There are many big differences between the 80s and now. Then, the best thing to do was to get on your bike. Now, Stoke has its advantages, many of which have been highlighted in this blog, which is about assets, not deficit (it’s impossible to link to a deficit).

There are lots of new career paths open that either didn’t exist or weren’t possible on the same scale, plus a lot of jobs are now less dependent on being able to spend all your time in London getting to know the right people. Our houses are affordable and our transport links fast.

In this post I’ve written about a few new careers and I’ll cover some more as time allows. It’s not stuff I’ve just made up, these are real things where people are making a living. I’m on the lookout for more and will tag them newjobs – all suggestions gratefully received. Many of these require some learning, but you can do it online or get help from local colleges and community education organisations.

Community developer
If you’re addicted to Facebook, you may be surprised to learn that you have very marketable skills. Although the opportunities are still fairly limited, it is worth thinking about how the online stuff you do in your personal life can be added to your CV. Community managers, or any jobs that use interchangable words like social and media, involve the cultivation of online spaces in which the power of networks are harnessed for different purposes such as selling more things to people, reducing complaints or increasing involvement in a charity.
Many organisations across all sectors are desperate for these skills because they see it working for other people and their staff haven’t had time or are unwilling to learn it yet. Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t a sector in which you have to be young, people of all ages are mastering the skills and very often a mixed background of experience is an advantage in this ever-changing world.
How to start: If your online activities are entirely personal, start moving out into communities that are still interesting to you but where you might be able to establish some sort of professional brand. For example, if you’re a dog-lover, you could help to moderate a rescue charity’s online community. There is masses of material online about how to do social media effectively, read them critically, make your own judgments on what works well in your own social circles and learn the language.
Go freelance
Portfolio work is the new Steady job. These are the ‘hobby jobs’, the ones without enough hours to make it worthwhile, the things that advisers can’t see the point of and indeed that many local people will dismiss with a sneer. Never mind that, the old days of 8 till 5 and a job for 45 years are long gone. Often to be found in the creative sector in North Staffordshire, but also in areas like cleaning, dog walking and fixing cars, freelancing can build into a busy worklife.
How to start: you’ll need to be good at some basic organisational things to avoid a lot of hassle if you’re going self-employed. A box and the ability to make lists is a good starting point, and if you’re particularly good at these things you might find a niche for yourself supporting some of the people who find it more challenging. Network, network, network till you find people you can work with and supplement your income while you’re starting out with part-time and temporary jobs that won’t sap too much of your energy. If you are on benefits, there is some flexibility available to support you while you’re starting out, but you’ll need to be very upfront and clear with your advisers and may find it helpful to seek advice from external projects such as Bizfizz or CAB.
Hyperlocal blogger
Ever wondered what’s going on in your local high street? Haven’t we all. Hyperlocal is what people used to call ‘parochial’ when they looked down on that sort of thing, before they rediscovered that there was actually value in people talking to each other and shopping locally. If this is missing where you are, start a brilliant local website. The ‘business model’ for these websites is still, as they say, under development (ie I don’t know of anyone directly making a living from it), but indirectly it often leads to work for people as you develop and more importantly demonstrate all sorts of skills, such as website developer, social reporter or community consultant. If you’re in need of an excuse to get out of the house and meet people, this is unbeatable.
How to start: Talk About Local has lots of tutorials and examples of different sites that are reconnecting communities across the UK. There is no cost except time – you can spend anything from a few minutes a day maintaining it, to most of your life really doing it well. Be prepared to start out alone, but ideally you will be able to develop a team of other volunteers to share the workload with you.
Virtual shop keeper
If you’re already trading in Stoke, you’ll know that footfall is the big challenge for the high streets. The web, however, is a global marketplace and we in Stoke have some big advantages with low costs and easy logistics. Follow in the footsteps of Josiah Wedgwood and start selling your wares everywhere.
How to start: Etsy, for crafts, and Ebay, for everything, are two good starting points. You’ll need to learn about online security and might want to study and copy the methods of popular online traders. Good photography and well-targetted writing will help your sales, so again you should learn these skills or look for collaborators.
It might go against every scrap of wisdom you’ve heard in the last thirty years, but people creating beautiful things are still making a living in the Potteries. They’re selling fireplaces to Dubai, pots and paintings to Londoners. The luxury market is growing thanks to people in countries like Russia, China and India getting outrageously rich. And while you may struggle to sell anything for more than a fiver in our fair city there are places where people want to splash out with some conspicuous spending. Cheshire, for starters.
How to start: I’ll leave you to have your own debates on whether good craftspeople a formed from hard experience, going to college or simply talent. The people making a living in it tend to flourish in a collegiate atmosphere, so hanging out with other artists is a good way to start and keep yourself motivated. Like stars, artists can seem invisible at first in North Staffordshire, but once you start looking for them there’s bloody masses of them. Luckily, a number of artists networks online is making them easier to find and there are a number of real-life spaces dotted around the city too – a number of whom can help you exhibit and sell your work – including the Burslem School of Art, Artwaves, Artbay, Barewall and Airspace.
Apps developer

As our phones get smarter, they’re increasingly likely to include applications. Smaller laptops and the iPad are also driven by these little tools, cutting down on clunky old software. Meanwhile, the learning curve for developing apps is decreasing. Google has launched a new platform to allow people to build applications without programming knowledge. This and many other tools aim to give people an entry point into coding, where competition is high but the rewards for creating a hit and selling it for £1 on the Android or iPhone marketplaces are potentially very good.

How to start: as with any new language, there is a massive learning curve involved in programming, but this shouldn’t put you off if you are excited; there are plenty of beginner’s guides to coding online and increasing numbers of emulators that will help you dip your toes in the water. Python is said to be a relatively accessible starting point, with resources and hosted practice spaces available once you start to understand the language. It’s what the kids are learning too. Google have a lot of starting points to encourage people into this sphere and you could start building small applications for iGoogle before venturing into more advanced coding.
So now what? Well, all of these paths will take time. But if you’ve spotted something that looks interesting, you can make a start today – find out everything you can, search Google for answers to all your burning questions and start making connections in communities that share your interests. Nobody makes a living overnight, but all these things can be developed as a sideline. Don’t forget if you are on benefits, be sure you’re not breaking any rules; after all, online activities are very transparent.Hopefully, ultimately, this will be something you no longer have to worry about.

The internet makes nearly all of this possible, so if you’ve read this and thought of  people who are offline, then there is something you can do to help.

Also, I’m gathering examples of people whose jobs are different from what we learnt about in school, so if you have a few minutes to share what you’re doing and how others could follow you (remember, it’s not competition, it’s sector development), I’d be delighted to add it to this blog.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: links for 2010-11-14 « Social Stoke
  2. Trackback: links for 2010-11-15 « Social Stoke

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