This post has been written by Jess Springthorpe, a second year History student.
The global job market is more competitive now than ever. The world is full of conflicting advice on how to “get ahead”, “stand out” and “be successful”. Everything is a bit loud, meaning that university, the “time of your life”, can actually be quite stressful, with thoughts of the future and careers looming. As a second year History undergraduate, I am incredibly aware of the fact that very soon I will be attempting to break into this world of work.
This is the most basic step to cutting through all the noise and getting to grips with what it is you want to do. If you are unsure about the future on any level, research it. For some, this will be the specifics of your ideal job, but for others, like myself, you may still be trying to find your future. Look into what it is the university has to offer and do not underestimate just how helpful the Careers Network can be. Contact those who potentially could answer your queries regarding any aspect of the career ladder. You will find if the person you get in touch with doesn’t have the information you need, they will usually redirect you to someone who has. Don’t ever assume you will merely be given generic advice or that you can simply get all the relevant information from the internet. To ensure you are certain about the next step you want to take, research and explore every viable path, listen to as many different advisors as possible and finally begin to plan your future. In particular with a History degree, many people often underestimate the number of different career paths you could follow and in reality, with the transferable skills you gain, the possibilities are immense.
Fortune favours the prepared.
This phrase has shaped my approach to life. Proactivity is the key to getting where you want to. You can’t wait around hoping that perhaps an opportunity might swing itself your way. It is for this reason I applied to the Professional Skills Module, to find out what it would be like to work in the heritage sector, an area admittedly I hadn’t previously given much thought. Employers today tend to lean towards candidates who can offer more than a degree; instead they look for graduates who can demonstrate that during their time at university they have pushed themselves out of their comfort zone, motivating themselves to undertake extra-curricular activities. This module provides the perfect opportunity to simultaneously develop and utilize some of the practical skills that prospective employers seek, such as leadership, teamwork, commercial awareness and organisation. Developing this skill set makes this module, in my opinion, significantly more rewarding than the Group Research as it so different from other university modules, allowing me to improve my employability prospects even further.
The Professional Skills Module
My placement is at the Black Country Living Museum, a twenty six acre, open-air site which covers over 200 years of West Midlands history between roughly 1750 and 1950.
I volunteer there for one day per week, six hours in total. My time is split between working in collections and archives with the various items that have been donated to the museum. The work is incredibly interesting, particularly as it is tangible, physical history. My main role when working with collections is to accession the various donations. This process has many different steps which include researching the object and manufacturer’s history, creating an ADBLIB database entry and filling out the various relevant fields, cleaning, labelling and marking the objects and finally finding storage locations for them all. Problems can arise in relation to object entry forms, the provenance of objects, damage to artefacts, all of which I help to overcome. The objects I have accessioned so far have included mid-19thC dolls, WWI pocket torches, a 1911 moneybox, a surveyor’s compass, photographs, pans, beer bottles and much more.
The museum has such an extensive collection of historical artefacts and I am privileged in that I get to work with them, helping to preserve my local heritage. My other role is accessioning within archives. Predominantly I have worked on the vast trade catalogue collection, amongst other things, which can be quite challenging work as many of the catalogues contain leaflets and letters. However, it is very rewarding work as each catalogue I successfully accession is then added to the trade catalogue collection which, when completed, will be put up online for public access and I will have been a part of that.
After Christmas I will be working on the extensive Kenrick collection doing similar work. Through my placement, I have greatly improved my knowledge of my local Black Country History as well as the heritage industry by working behind the scenes in this very unique museum. I am aware I am more confident in challenging myself and engaging in areas outside of my comfort zone.
I am incredibly pleased that I applied to do the Professional Skills Module as it has provided me with the unique opportunity to undertake invaluable work experience as part of my degree, whilst aiding my personal development and strengthening my CV. I recommend it to anyone who is considering it as an option!