PA Consulting: It’s never too late to change your career

  • Community and Engagement Expert at PA, Laura Lavery, outlines how her change in perspective led her to the tech sector.

    Q. Did you always want to work for a global technology company?

    A. Honestly, if you’d asked me ten years ago where I thought I’d be today, I would have definitely said that I’d still be in the hospitality industry! I worked in restaurants and bars for about ten years before joining my last firm, PwC, where I did a variety of people-focused roles. I went on to do a higher apprenticeship in accountancy, did my two years to get qualified, and quickly realised that wasn’t the path for me.

    Good fortune put a fantastic opportunity in front of me to work with a great leader in a different part of the business and I spent the next 6 years working on people and culture, recognition, D&I, wellbeing, and even a brief stint managing an immigration team. I’ll confess, I didn’t learn much about immigration, but I learned an awful lot about leadership and resilience and got to work with some incredible people.

    I never really saw myself in this industry, to be honest. I think like a lot of other people I had my own misconception about the type of person you need to be, and the type of experience you need to have and I didn’t think I fit that mould.

    Q. Do you need a technology background to work in Digital?

    A. I suppose it will depend on the role but to get your foot in the door I would say that is definitely not a pre-requisite. I don’t work in a technical role so my path was always going to be different but within our Digital teams in PA in Belfast, we have people who were librarians, musicians, physios, bar staff, retail staff, teachers and so much more in past careers.

    I’m a big believer in diversity within teams, and I think this goes beyond the usual gender and race discussions – though those are also critical for the industry. People who come to us from different pathways and backgrounds bring a whole different set of skills, be that in their relationships with stakeholders, industry expertise, or just different ways of working. They may even present solutions that a team of digital experts with similar backgrounds might not have thought of.

    Q. What pathways are available for people looking for careers in technology?

    A. Now is a really brilliant time to get into the industry - there are loads of different options available. Our local universities and colleges do introductory and career-changer courses in lots of relevant subjects, depending on the area you want to get into. There are Masters Conversion courses if you already hold a degree – and it doesn’t need to be a directly related subject. My brother did a degree in Music Technology and a few years later did the UU one-year Masters in Software Development – he’s now doing fantastically for himself as a QA in another local tech firm.

    There are Assured Skills courses, which we’ve used really successfully in the past, which tend to be shorter-form intro courses, with a weekly training allowance, and guarantee you an interview with the sponsoring company at the end of it. I’d also recommend anyone to look into placements, internships, work shadowing and other short-term opportunities. These really help bring to life what it’s like to work in the industry, and how your technical skills actually translate to a real-world career.

    Q. What do you think differentiates employers who take on people at the start of their careers in tech?

    A. The competition for talent in NI has never been fiercer and I think that more and more employers are realising the benefits of taking on early careers or career changer folk and growing their talent within their organisation. There are so many options for people now, they can be spoilt for choice.

    When it comes to choosing the type of organisation you want to work for, you can look at things like the type of work they do, progression opportunities, the package, and that’s all really important, but more and more now people are looking at the values of the organisation. Do they have a genuine commitment to D&I? Are they supportive of their people’s wellbeing? Are they making a difference in their communities? You might be able to get some of these answers on the company website but more often than not, you can’t substitute getting in some time with the people who work there.

    Our approach within PA in Belfast is to actually get in a room with the students and talk about what a career in this industry and what PA is like. As a company and as a group of people, we have so much to offer in terms of helping students make that transition into the world of work, whether it’s with us or another organisation and the plan for 2023 is to create as many of those opportunities as possible.

    Q. What advice would you offer to students and graduates considering a career in technology?

    A. This is a really interesting one, as I’m so new to it myself, but maybe that positions me better to give advice!

    The one piece of advice I’d give anyone entering a new role, a new industry or even the world of work for the first time is to go easy on yourself! I’ve always held myself to really high standards – call it perfectionism or competitiveness – so starting from scratch somewhere new was really daunting. I had to ask what I thought were stupid questions, I made mistakes and sometimes it felt like everyone was speaking a different language.

    You just have to take a deep breath and accept that you’ve lots to learn. As it turned out, all those times I had to reach out to someone for help, I met a new colleague and made a new friend. No one knows everything and in the right organisation, you’ll have the support you need to make that transition easier.

    In terms of tech-specific though, I would say just do it! Reach out to people on LinkedIn who are in the types of roles you’re interested in, attend as many events as you can, build your network and go from there. I didn’t know what to expect going in but I found such a warm welcome, a supportive network inside PA and a real sense of anything being possible if you have the right team around you.

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