What does the future hold? Part 3.

It’s been an interesting few months since finishing university, from moving to London due to my wife’s job to finding myself enrolled on a TEFL course (my wife insisted, if we end up moving back to China after my wife has completed her current course of study than it’ll aid in getting a job teaching English).

It was a little tough at first when moving to London, particularly on the job front. I’ve reminded of just how much I dislike job hunting, from looking for what type of job to apply for to attending interviews. Fortunately, my current workplace decided that they didn’t want to lose me and have let me work from home three days of the week, although the commute to Cambridge two days a week makes up for it!

The TEFL course is interesting, particularly the grammar section – I hadn’t realised how many nouns there are! Time permitting I’ll upload my notes under my personal development page, just have to pare them down a bit.

January IT Issues

This January I certainly got one of my wishes for when I setup my website, finding out more about the backend of the websites programming that can cause issues to occur (while yes, as it turns out I could have asked my internet hosting service to resolve as it was a plugin issue, it just didn't seem right to delegate when I could fix it myself).

Two plugins decided that, after the latest updates, to stop working which had the knock on effect on the rest of the website causing the site not to load. This was resolved with a bit of detective work and going through the file manager to identify the issue (at first, I wasn't aware that it was the plugins, and only found the two after first checking that there was no issues with the server itself and the use of google).

However, having found and disabled the plugins which were causing the site not to load a new issue appeared. In this case the dashboard and plugins pages had some trouble being found, an "Opps! That page can't be found" issue. As it turns out I did have to ask my hosting service for some help in the end, although this help did end up being a transfer to a new server which resolved the remaining issues…

At least I learnt a couple of things:

  1. Plugins can go bad when updating, and how to identify which ones are causing issues.
  2. Keep a regular backup, my previous backup was when I was making numerous changes in April last year!

One Year On

It’s been a year now since I first started my blog, and looking back I have to say that I’m a little disappointed in myself.

My goals when I started this website were to:

  1. Blog about events that occurred and subjects that I found interesting. 
  2. Learn more about running a website, including the back functions.  
  3. Learn a bit of code to eventually create my own website design rather than the current pre-made version.  
  4. Promote myself, my activities and projects.

So far I’ve managed a bit of the first, maybe some of the second, none of the third and a little of the last. This is particularly disappointing when considering that a number of my posts refer to events/topics that I planned on writing and posting within a month or two of the first post.
Looking back at why I can identify several trends:

  1. Procrastination, a lot of procrastination and wasting time that could be spent on productive activities.  
  2. Not devoting the time required despite saying to myself to spend at least a couple of hours a week on writing content/learning more about running a website. 
  3. Prioritising other activities such as the Enterprise and International Business Societies, work, spending time with family, my girlfriend… wait, ignore that last one! 
  4. Life – life just gets in the way, the hunt for next years accommodation, increased commuting time (although when I manage to get a seat on the train it’s not too bad).  
  5. Tired after work, work is exhausting and spending my day in front of a computer screen doesn’t help. I’ve got to get away from the screen sometimes… 

Some of the above could be considered laziness, oh well.

In an attempt to rectify some of the above I’m setting myself a set of SMART objectives for the remainder of the year. The first to encourage writing posts and the second for adding content to the website.

Objective: Blog once a month 

Specific

Post once a month on my blog with a university related subject that either covers an activity I took part in, an event I attended, or an item of interest that occurred. 

Measurable

The posting of one blog post a month that involves university. 

Achievable

Very achievable. 

Relevant 

A post for my blog that is related to an aspect of my life. 

Time 

 The last day of each month per post. 

Objective: Update the Recommended Reading page

Specific 

Update the recommended reading page with the latest books I’ve read that I recommend for anyone who seeks to better understand or improves themselves, to learn new things and build on their knowledge base, or alternatively is a good read. This includes writing a brief blurb and personal thoughts of the books.

Measurable 

At least 5 books with a blurb and personal thoughts are added.

Achievable

There is a moderate chance that this objective is achievable.

Relevant

Self-improvement is always vital, as is learning new things even if they may not appear relevant at the time. By recommending some of the more interesting books that I’ve read than I hope that it’ll encourage others to read them.

Time

By the end of December 2017.

Let’s see when I revisit them at the end of the year how I’ve done!

Freshers and Employability Skills

As promised in a previous post here are the activities from the fresher’s fair linked to the employability skills. I had intended for this post to be uploaded sooner, however between illness and a hectic couple of months it’s taken longer to write than I expected. In addition, I resigned from the committee in November due to personal reasons.

Self-Management

Running a society requires self-management, there is no one above you to ‘motivate’ you to work, or in this case run a society.

For fresher’s we were required to develop our resources (although we were spared the job of printing out the leaflets, saving the society some money). This included developing our skills, e.g. IT, to match what was required/identified, designing the marketing material, making and attending meetings, including between the committee and with SU staff to finalise arrangements for both the fair and taster event, marketing, and networking (the week after was a busy one with various events going on including the Creative Minds launch event).

Teamwork

The committee is a team, and we have to work together to ensure the success of the fashion society for the benefit of its members. Throughout fresher’s we had to communicate, solve problems together, and most importantly, compromise to an agreeable solution when we had different opinions.

Business and Commercial Awareness

Business and Commercial awareness played a small role in the planning for fresher’s, but a greater one in planning for events throughout the year. At a minimum a basic understanding of the fashion industry was, and will continue to be, required.

Problem Solving

A problem that occurred on the day of the taster event was finding out that the gazebo was locked, and that the booking hadn’t been passed to security. Fortunately this was relatively easy to solve as it involved finding a member of the student union staff to confirm the booking.

Communication and Literacy

Communication between committee members, and society members. Communication between the fresher’s fair and the taster event reminding those who signed up to the mailing list of the taster event.

Application of IT

Application of IT fell into three main uses:

  • Use of design software and Microsoft PowerPoint to design the posters/leaflets,
  • Facebook to promote the society online,
  • Use of Mail Chimp to setup the subscriber mailing list,

With the design software, none of the committee members had prior experience, but after a bit of trial and error, came up with a suitable flyer to promote the taster event. We also discovered that Microsoft PowerPoint allows you to design fold over leaflets.

Numeracy

Estimating number of attendees based on feedback and identifying costs from these, while ensuring to remain within budget.

Project Management

As the fresher’s fair and taster event were one off events they can be classed as projects (or alternatively as activities of an overall project).

Languages and Cultural Sensitivity

As Anglia Ruskin has an international student base we had to consider our words carefully when promoting at the fresher’s fair. While slang was avoided as a matter of professionalism, we also had to remember that not everyone has the same level of proficiency.

Social Responsibility

As volunteers we’re giving something back to the student body.

Employability Week 2016

This last week the business school at Anglia Ruskin (ARU) held its employability week for the first and second years, with third years having a reading week. Activities were held over two days for each year. Monday for first years, Tuesday for second years, with both on Thursday.

Despite the low number of attendees, at least on the Tuesday and Thursday, there were some interesting parts.

On the Thursday, during the ‘Ace Your Interview’ one thing stands to mind. We had to choose one strength based question to answer, however I didn’t answer at the time as I had written a long response to a previous question which was to choose one competency based question to answer. When the advisor asked if I would like to give my answer to the room I just said no…. On reflection thou I should have just blagged it!

So rather than choose one, I’m going to answer all four of the questions.

1. Why did you choose your degree course and what influenced your choice?

Out of the four questions, this is probably the hardest for me to answer, for the simple reason is that I choose to attend university on the basis of I just decided to. I woke up one Friday morning and decided to apply to university during clearing, went onto ARU’s website (I didn’t look at any other universities, for a number of reasons with the main one being its location, and that I rely on public transport) and looked at the courses available through clearing. Of the courses I was interested in I narrowed the list down to two; Business and Human Resource Management, and International Business Management.

The main reasons for these two courses were due to the modules available on the courses. Both had modules that interested me the most compared to say Business Management (there is overlap between the majorities of business courses, but in this case the module difference between International and normal Business Management swung towards International).

When I called through to the hotline, I spoke to the operator who then put me through to the head of the Economics and International Business department and that was that. I wrote a 2,000 word statement (1,000 on why I wanted to apply to the course, and 1,000 on my work experience) over the weekend and sent it off on Monday. A week later I was accepted and here I am now.

In short, I choose my degree course based on what was available through clearing, and the modules on the course. I also hope that no one asks me about my reasons in an interview, as the honest answer may not be the one they were hoping for!

2. What do you consider your greatest achievement and why?

Next hardest question to answer, mostly because I’ve worked on and done many different things. It would be easier to answer if I broke it down into two: what do I consider my greatest achievement in my personal life, and my greatest achievement in my professional life.

For my personal life, I would say that it was achieving my black belt. Five years of training, blood, sweat, injuries (broken bones, fractured bones, burst blood vessels – there’s nothing like the entire top of your foot going black!), late nights, early mornings, out in weather that’s either boiling or freezing, and above all; meeting new people that help you push on, who’ll be there for you every step of the way, and friends all around the world.

Professional life, there are a number to choose from, but the greatest? One that stands to mind is when I took on, and made my own, the development of training packs at one organisation I worked for.

Bear with me, it’s more interesting than it sounds!

When I first started there, the training packs were loose sheets of paper in plastic wallets. We may also have been lucky to need more than 20 a month (the training service at the time was only a minor part of the company, and had only one member of staff in the organisation; the business development manager who also oversaw the development of services in the organisation, which at the time made up the majority of their work).

I should also point out that the organisation is a charity, so available resources were limited, and consisted of:

  • A copier that was old, only printed in mono and had no extra functions, and I mean none. The copier had been donated to the organisation years before.
  • A inkjet printer, that printed only one sided, this limited colour printing.
  • A desktop scanner for scanning documents.
  • All master copies of the handouts were paper based,
  • Plastic wallets to hold the packs together, although shortly after I started we moved to clip files to “upscale” the packs.

I should also note, the documents in the packs were loose, with no page numbers, a contents page, or a cover page. These were one of the first things that were solved, even if it did involve prick sticking page numbers to the master copies before copying them!

The ‘upgrading’ of the training packs fell into three stages:

  1. Binding of the packs; this involved creating a case plan for why the organisation should invest into a binding machine. The costs of the current binding (clip files), how much the bindings would cost (in this case a plastic comb, cover sheet and back sheet), and the cost of the machine itself. Most importantly, how much money we would save over the long run (we ended up making back the cost in 3 months, partly thanks due to a sudden increase in interest in mental health training within organisations).
  2. Upgrading the copier. Upgrading the copier was the most involving of the three as it involved arranging meetings with, and negotiating with, suppliers. As the copier would be for the entire organisation and not only for the training packs I had to look at how the copier would benefit the organisation as a whole. Fortunately because of this I was also able to gain sufficient support among staff for an upgrade that getting the idea past senior management was more of a formality (more so because senior management also supported the idea!). Despite this, I still had to put together a cost/benefit analysis and write a case on why we should upgrade.
  3. Creating electronic documents of all training packs, this allowed for easy editing and most importantly for crisp printing.

When I left the organisation, the training service had gone from delivering training to maybe 20 delegates a month to that many, and usually more, a week. It was common during busy periods to be delivering training to 80 delegates per week, and in one case had a contract for a local college to deliver training to 300 staff over a week. We had gone from one staff member delivering the training to a bank of associate trainers, with the in-house staff from a single individual to four.

While not originally part of my role, I took on the office side of the training service and helped to develop the training packs with the trainers, the marketing and communications, and developing a system to analysis the evaluations of the training.

3.What motivates you?

Easy question! What motives me is when coming across a challenge that requires me to actually think and engage with the task I’m attempting. If I find something too easy I lose interest and have to force myself to complete. If the challenge is also in area that interests me than that’s a plus, however this does not always have to be the case as long as it’s an area that I can find value in.

3. Do you prefer to start tasks or to finish them? Give a reason for your answer.

I usually prefer to start tasks, and can struggle to finish them at times (especially if they’re not interesting, see above). The longer the task takes is also a factor, with time consuming tasks being put on hold or dropped all together when other things come up.

I’d say that I’m more likely to finish longer tasks if they’re interesting, while non-interesting tasks if I can complete quickly.

That’s the four questions, I hope that you enjoyed reading them. Comments/criticisms are welcome.

Japanese for Busy People

Sometimes I wonder about my own sanity. This year ARU has offered (or re-offered, according to a member of staff I spoke to, the option was available until a few years ago) the option for a student to study a language module, and on completion (and having attended a minimum of 80% of seminars) receive a certificate, however there are no credits for the module, but on the plus side you don’t have to take the exam that students for whom the module is a core module will have to take.

Fortunately I also have the right book, and the provider of todays post title, Japanese for Busy People. Yep, I have taken the opportunity and started Japanese Foundation 1. However, the recommended text is the Kana version, requiring me to at least learn Hiragana (one of three styles of writing in Japanese) to fully read.

Wish me luck!

Well that didn’t go to Plan…

By chance I picked up a book over the summer titled ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed (currently on buy 1 get 1 half price at Waterstones). Black Box Thinking gave me some new perspectives and ways of reflecting when things go wrong, how to ask why they went wrong and what can be improved on. Most importantly thou it helped emphasise why it’s important to admit that things went wrong in the first place. By freely admitting what went wrong you are able to start the process of finding out why, and crucially, reduce the chances of it happening in the future.

Events over the past week have already provided me with a good cause to exercise these.

Let’s set the stage. Last week was fresher’s week at Anglia Ruskin and on Friday it was the fresher’s fair. As a committee member of the ARU Fashion Society I was part of the team that planned the society’s materials for the fresher’s fair and the organisation of the taster event.

What happened?

At the fair:

  • We ran out of leaflets within 3 hours,
  • We ran out of signup sheets and resorted to the back of the sheets,
  • Our signup sheets were too cramped which meant that the writing was cramped, thus difficult to type up after,
  • Few people signed up as members (OK, this one is fair enough. At the fair it’s important to interest people in the society and convince them to attend the taster event),

I also didn’t get a chance to look around and collect free pens to last me throughout the year (minor gripe).

A Lot of things did go right however, we generated interest in the society and had 143 names on our mailing list. We met new people who are interested in fashion and connected with some of the other ARU societies and are looking forward to cooperating on future events.

At the taster event, the catwalk and dance performance we hosted did go as planned and we were able to recruit volunteers from the fair to take part, however there were only a handful of attendees.

At the taster event there were two main points we identified that could have been improved on:

  1. Don’t have the taster event on a Saturday. Next time we’ll conduct our own market research for the ideal time for the taster event rather than relying on second hand information.
  2. Introduce a presentation between the dance performance and catwalk. Of the handful of attendees all left within half an hour of arriving as we had the show reoccurring while waiting for more to arrive before we started the presentation. For those who had arrived at the start the wait was too long, and had we started the presentation earlier we could have informed them about the society before they decided to leave.

Despite this setup we are still committed to delivering activities and events throughout the year, moral may be dented by the lack of attendees and few signups for membership, but we still have time to recover.

Watch out for my next post where I’ll be linking the activities from fresher’s to the employability skills from my previous post.

The Summer and Personal Development

During the first semester of university one of the modules taken was ‘Academic Skills’, and part of the assignment was to submit a Personal Development Plan (PDP).

Over the summer I expanded on the original document I submitted, and updated as a number of short term goals & objectives had been completed during the second semester. While expanding I decided to include my past employment and development, including my employment history and courses that I had taken prior to starting university.

I found that while writing about my past employment experiences, which included my roles, tasks and projects that I had taken part in, I was able to better identify my skills and knowledge. Thinking back also allowed me to identify areas of improvement.

Seeking to continue my personal development over the summer I was fortunate in that I had an excellent opportunity, and found (or, I should say, it found me) a summer job that enabled me practice old, and rusty, skills, and learn some new ones.

I was also able to keep up on my reading and, finally, got around to reading Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty, along with a number of books on technological developments, geography and politics (geopolitics), and tax (keep an eye out for a future post on this last one).

Going forward from here I plan on completing the Employability Program at Anglia Ruskin, writing about the ten key skills will be made easier thanks to my work on my PDP. I recommended having a look at the employability program to everyone, at the very least it helps you think about your experience and areas where you can improve.

The key skills are:

  • Self-Management,
  • Teamwork
  • Business and Commercial Awareness,
  • Problem Solving,
  • Communication and Literacy,
  • Application of IT,
  • Numeracy,
  • Project Management,
  • Languages and Cultural Sensitivity,
  • Social Responsibility,

As treasurer in the Fashion society this year is looking to be a busy one. As this will be the first full year of the society’s existence we’ve a full range of event ideas that are being implemented. Part of this involved building my awareness of the fashion industry (see key skills above, I’m able to link this is business and commercial awareness) and I am fortunate to be working with a veteran of the fashion world, who is also the president of the Fashion society.

In martial arts it can be said that you’re always training, from practicing your breathing to your movement (carrying a tray full of drinks, I found, has a way of focusing your mind to keep the tray balanced as you move). I applied this over the summer and took the opportunities to expand not only my skill set but also knowledge.

All C&C’s are welcome.