In this time of quarantine you may be reevaluating your career and wondering how to change it to something more meaningful. I’m presenting a series of interviews not only to inspire, but help make practical steps towards a new career that you love.
June Jackson is Park Development Manager for Weald Country Park in Essex, UK. It has over 500 acres of woodland, lakes and meadows, a fallow deer park and roaming cattle. Her job is a far cry from her previous career as a civil servant in central London.
In this interview, June tell us how she made the transition from office life to working in nature conservation…
Give us a picture of your previous career. What were you responsible for? What was your typical working day like?
I worked for the civil service for nearly 20 years after seeing an advert in a national newspaper.
I had numerous roles progressing through the grades and gaining more responsibility and experience. I focused my career on procurement and operational delivery, then project management and finally on national policy development.
Working in the civil service was never boring and every day bought something new as events changed in politics and the country. A change of Minister or a general election would trigger the need for briefing papers on various national policies and then delivering on manifesto commitments. I would be called upon to brief Ministers face to face and provided support in the House of Lords.
So what made you start thinking about a career change and working in nature?
I reached a point in my life where I was getting fed up with travelling into London every day and sitting in an office, so I started to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my working life.
I also had major concerns about our natural environment. I had always been interested in nature but the only practical work I’d done had been gardening. When I moved to East London I wanted to meet new people and do some voluntary work and when I was out in my local park saw an interpretation board showing what wildlife was in a meadow. It mentioned volunteering with the local nature conservation team so I contacted them and started volunteering as often as I could.
What was the first step you took towards your career transition?
Studying was the first step, and I had to find a way of doing that while still working in my job. An opportunity arose at work to move roles and I suggested to my manager that I could do the role part time. Luckily she agreed, so off I went to college to study countryside management.
What were your expectations? What fears or doubts did you have?
One of the issues with the conservation sector is that many of the jobs are for a fixed term, often as short as twelve months. Having had the same employer for so many years this did worry me but I was confident I had a good range of transferable skills and so with every job I would build more experience in conservation to get me the next one.
The other downside to working in this industry is that it’s not very well paid and I did have to take a pay cut. So I had to ask myself how much is happiness worth; what impact would a pay cut have and even whether it would affect my marriage. My outgoings dropped quite significantly so this helped to balance out the loss of earnings.
I thought if it didn’t pan out I would just get another job in a different sector. I had made some fantastic like-minded friends at college and enjoyed the two year countryside management course, so it still would have been worth it.
How did you feel when you walked out of the doors of the Department of Health for the last time?
I honestly don’t remember. Maybe a little nervous about the future as the job I was going to was only a 12 month contract.
What was your first ‘new’ job like working for a charitable trust running local parks?
It was great having a role that meant I had to be out and about more and it was local so no more spending upwards of two and half hours on the tube every day. Most days I would be out in parks meeting local residents, doing wildlife surveys and conservation projects or overseeing infrastructure projects.
In many ways I was using the experience I learned in the civil service and it was rewarding applying project management skills to large tree planting projects.
How have things progressed since then? What have you learned along the way?
My contract was extended long enough for me to secure my current role. Thankfully it is a permanent role and I’ve been in post nearly a year. I think people shouldn’t underestimate core skills even if they’ve worked in a different sector. Many roles do involve finance, staff management and running projects for example and the principles are the same even if the subject matter varies.
What are the best aspects about your new job as a manager of public green spaces? Have you been pleasantly surprised by anything?
I have the flexibility to be able to manage my day and being able to walk sections of the park and discover new things, especially as the seasons change, is very satisfying. It’s been reassuring to see that the public sector operates in a similar way at the different levels and so I haven’t really had the culture shock that one might expect.
What is it like to be responsible for 520 acres of land and wildlife?
I’m completely comfortable with it. I have a great team with many years of experience and I think it’s important to draw from their knowledge when developing ideas. I used to visit the park as a child and have been back a few times over the years so I had a strong emotional connection already.
What are the ‘not so great’ things about your job now?
I probably spend too much time in the office! Now the weather is getting better it will be easier to get around the park and I can make sure I don’t lose sight of why I changed my career.
How do you feel now when you look back on your career in the civil service?
Extremely proud. I helped to develop and deliver many projects that I believe will have long term positive effects on the lives of many people. I also worked with some amazing people who taught me so much and gave me the time to undertake training which has stood me in good stead.
Do you have any regrets?
No. I think things have happened at the right time for me and I wouldn’t change anything.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of radically changing their career?
Life is too short to spend so much of your life doing something and getting nothing out of it. Find something you have a passion for and go for it.
You do have to be realistic though. It took me a year and half after I’d finished college to get a job but this was mainly because I was only prepared to take a salary cut to a certain level. I also wasn’t prepared to take a junior role as I knew I would quickly find this extremely frustrating.
So, you also have to be realistic about who you are and what really is important to you.
If this interview has made you think about where you’re headed, get in touch. Or if you want to share your career transition story, I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org