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Alan Simmons, retired NHS Health Careers Specialist, speaks to Birkdale Collective

Alan Simmons, retired NHS Health Careers Specialist, speaks to Birkdale Collective

Birkdale Collective endeavour to bring the best advice possible for students or those considering a career change and as a part of that, we would like to share with you viewpoints of those who have been very successful in their industries.

In his own words “just about everyone knows someone working in the NHS.” Alan Simmons was a Careers Specialist there and worked in the sector for decades prior to his retirement in late 2019. Alan is certainly well placed to offer advice on the area for us as he speaks with Birkdale Collective…

Can you tell us about your education and how that put you on your career path?

After A-levels, I took a degree in humanities (Geography and Sociology) followed by a postgraduate diploma in careers guidance. This was the basis for my career, providing careers support to a broad range of people during my working life.

Can you tell us a bit about your career, where you worked and the roles you held?

I worked in several roles as a careers advisor in the careers service provided by the education department of a local authority.  This involved working primarily in schools and local further education colleges, providing careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) on a face-to-face basis and helping employers to fill job and training vacancies. I did this for around 10 years.

I stayed with the service for a further 7 years, when it was privatised, gaining experience in managing careers service staff and specialising in advice on getting into higher education. I then joined a new national careers service that was being set up to provide information about careers in the National Health Service in England. The role was quite different in that it was primarily contact centre based and involved supporting a small team of staff giving information over the phone. The role also involved developing the service and representing it at meetings with a number of stakeholders.

During my 20 years with NHS Careers (and when it later became NHS Health Careers), I made a significant contribution to its evolution into a multi-channel service (calls, email, website, printed literature, social media, etc.), providing information on the 350+ roles in the NHS. The role was incredibly varied and included training and supporting contact centre staff, speaking at national and regional events, writing and editing webpages as well as articles for the media. 

What advice would you give yourself before you hit 30 about your career?

Be prepared to be flexible and take opportunities as they come available. Also, be prepared to take risks (outside of your comfort zone) and new opportunities as they are presented to you. 

What would you say are the main challenges of a career in the field?

Just about everyone knows someone working in the NHS! It has a high profile and is always in the news. Try and keep abreast of what’s happening in the sector. There are several good sources, for example the NHS UK website, NHS employers and NHS jobs. In terms of careers, the NHS Health Careers website is an excellent source of information. 

What advice could you offer students now in terms of how they approach a career in the sector?

Be flexible. I once arrived at a national conference of around 150 delegates, ready to exhibit alongside a number of other organisations.  However, on arrival, the organisers said that their keynote speaker had had to pull out and asked if I would be able to deliver a presentation in their place. Fortunately, I had a presentation with me and gave it! As a consequence, I was asked back the following year as the keynote speaker.

Networking sounds like a cliché but can help you get and stay connected. LinkedIn is a great example of a tool to help you with this.

Use social media to your advantage and in a professional way. I wish I’d had access to this earlier in my career. For example, I used Twitter a lot in my role with NHS Careers and NHS Health Careers and found it a great way to share information,  promote activities I was involved with, etc.

Thanks, Alan, for your time. Alan can now be found volunteering his time at the beautiful Cheddar Gorge in Somerset – should you ever visit, do say hello. If you found this advice inspiring do have a read of our talk with experienced Lawyer Kevin Carpenter by clicking here.

For more information about how Birkdale Collective can be helpful to students, click here.

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