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Reskilling isn’t a one-way process

Reskilling isn’t a one-way process

Viana Maya is the first of four new writers as part of the Pass the Mic project to diversify expert voices in media

Whoever thought of the ‘Rethink, Reskill and Reboot’ advert should have taken a moment to Reflect on what they were asking others to do.

As an ex-actress, I know all too well about reskilling to reboot my career to overcome the spiral of working poverty while trying to provide the best for my daughter.

Let me tell you a story…

On August 20th 2014 I had experienced the most soul-destroying employment rejection of my life. I had just been let go after my probation period as a marketing assistant for an award-winning family business in Exeter.

The blow was worse because the company had already given the job to someone else three months before I had even arrived in Exeter to start my probation. It gets weirder. While they had three months of transition time to inform me of the change of heart, they chose instead to string me along and apparently create a new position for me, in admin, but then later said I would best suit the marketing role I was doing, but ‘unfortunately’ that post was already gone – to the other guy!

This awful experience was the final straw for us as a family, following a series of events that led to homelessness, temporary accommodation, and heavy debt brought on by us deciding to work instead of receiving benefits for five years.

I have always used education as a way to move forward. However, this time the stress, first-time mum insecurities, personal health issues, and employment rejection had dented my confidence in my abilities. 

However, the situation became a fight or flight. We had nothing else to lose but the roof over our heads. Looking at my daughter, how bright she was and the dreams we had for her, it was time to plan, research and act. Take control.

I looked at my options, Googled ‘jobs of the future’ and ‘in demand skills of the future’. I also knew how to cope with job rejection and was adept at picking myself up again blow after blow. I decided I needed an accredited qualification and enough experience to never have to find myself so vulnerable again.

I was claiming contribution-based benefits and I had a limited time before this ran out and my partner was working a zero-hour contract as a coach driver. I asked my DWP adviser if there was any funding support for a digital marketing course. I was told point blank ‘no’, they only had English or basic maths courses available.

I went home, calculated our budget, rent and bills and searched the most affordable, reputable, and accredited provider. I rang the online college and the friendly person on the other side of the call supported me and arranged my course instalment plan.

In little over a week after I was let go from the job that I thought I had secured, I had enrolled on a CAM Diploma in digital marketing. This was the beginning of my online learning journey while job seeking.

I graduated in 2017. Meanwhile I had made over 100 job applications, moved back to Edinburgh, and completed over 20 short social media and digital courses, FREE-lanced to gain experience and received rejection feedback ranging from:

  • “Not experienced enough for entry level role” (one-year agency experience required)
  • “You don’t have a degree, or you would have been perfect” (an acting degree didn’t count)
  • “Not enough software skills”
  • “Sorry we need you to be proficient in web design, WordPress and SEO too”
  • “You would have been our number one choice; however, we think you will be bored in the job as we think you will suit something more creative”
  • “You need a first or 2:1 for this role”
  • My personal best is: “We thought you were overqualified for the role.” What does that even mean?

Now fast forward 2020 I am a BSc Web Design and Development graduate and have successfully launched an organisation that is supporting people experiencing similar barriers to employment.

That was my SIX years of Rethinking, Reskilling and Rebooting!

I can tell you this: my acting training prepared me for rejections, it allowed me to be creative in my job seeking and to be disciplined in my online courses to gain opportunities to move forward, and it has given me the resilience to power through some of the hurdles my family has faced moving from deep poverty and homelessness to get to where we are now. 

It is great the government is offering learning opportunities to get more people into the growing digital industry. However, they need to also acknowledge that reskilling will not work if it is a one-sided ask. Barriers to employment need to be addressed and removed. Support with learning will need to be provided and people need to be given the opportunity to select which growing sector of the future they would like to upskill for. 

And they still need to be able to hang onto their dreams – even ballet dancing, Fatima.

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