My career development journey
and Independent Consultant,
Vikki Goddard Consulting
Like many of us working in HE Professional Services, I didn’t grow up thinking this would be my career. In fact, I didn’t have a strong leaning towards anything at all so staying in HE after my degrees was probably as good a place as any. And that is one of the issues that we are thinking about as we undertake our fundamental strategic review of what AUA is here for … but more of that later.
I came into HE administration and management at a time when it was usual, and expected, that you would move around and do different things to see where you worked best, and develop your skillset. We didn’t talk about it in that way, and I didn’t think about the experience I was getting as training and development, but nevertheless it was. We also didn’t have the complexity and variety of roles available that there are now. I started off my career in the excitingly-named Committee Servicing and Academic Policy Division, supporting one of the Faculties with its academic administration in a medium-sized University. I learnt a lot in a short space of time, not least how to write a passable set of minutes (still an under-rated skill) and dealing with academic colleagues. Following that introduction to the world of what was then still generally called University Administration, I’ve worked in a variety of roles at different levels – research policy, strategy and planning, Faculty operations, international development, collaborative partnerships and as a Registrar and Chief Operating Officer.
Throughout that time what we do in what we now call Professional Services has changed immeasurably, but I would argue that the skills required for success are not that different from what was required all those years ago. Key among these is the ability to work in a number of different teams at once, taking on different roles and working across various areas. There is a lot of ‘translation’ required and getting under the skin of what is really needed. Working closely with academic colleagues, with students and with a variety of professional services is what makes my roles enjoyable and interesting. What this also means is that you need to be able to do a lot of things – listen actively, engage with the team, propose solutions when things are getting bogged down, try and see the bigger picture of how what you are doing fits, and how you get other people to prioritise what might be much more important to you than it is to them.
I’m often asked what advice I would give to others working in the profession. First and foremost, try different things until you find out what you enjoy, and don’t assume that something isn’t for you. Many years ago it was suggested to me that I might want to go and work in Planning. I thought it would be dull and very numbers-based, which wasn’t (I thought) my forte. I loved it and stayed in planning roles for over ten years. And it wasn’t very numbers-based – although you did need to understand some maths! Secondly, utilise the support you have from those around you. They may be your biggest critics but they are also your best allies. Everyone needs others who have your back and can point you to the different things available. Take opportunities that are offered to you. Women in particular are very bad at identifying what they can do and the experience they have. I had a colleague who had successfully introduced a new exams system, and when she was putting a job application in that needed evidence of ability in this area, she hadn’t even mentioned it because it was ‘just something she did’.
All of which brings me on to how AUA can help. We have two major areas of activity in AUA – professional development and networking. Both of these have been critical to my career positioning and advancement, all the more so now I have moved away from working for a single HE Institution and am an independent consultant, working with a variety of clients across the sector.
Our ability to continue to learn, to try new things, and to fail successfully, is for me at the heart of professional development. We do this in different ways, and what AUA and other providers attempt to do is to reflect those different styles and requirements. For example, I haven’t done any formal qualifications since I left full-time education many years ago, and I don’t think it would have been useful for me to do so, it isn’t my learning style. I have many colleagues and friends who have done PGCerts, MBAs, EdDs etc and have got a lot out of them. What we try to do in AUA is to reflect that – we have conferences, webinars, a PGCert and a CPD framework to enable that continuous learning. This is also reflected in our approach to networking, with established networks in key areas of the profession together with looser approaches through conferences and other events. Again I believe the importance of learning from others, of reflecting on what may have worked elsewhere and as importantly what’s not worked elsewhere is sometimes underrated.
Many members will know that we are currently undertaking a fundamental strategic review of AUA, what it does, how it works and asking whether it is doing the right things for professional services staff working in HE for the present and the future. We have been asking our members what they think and asking people who we think should probably be our members, but aren’t, for their views as well. What is coming out of this work is clear. People see a definite need for professional development and networking. They also want to see a clearer statement of what AUA is and its offer to the sector. Very few people like the word ‘administrator’ in the title and it makes a lot of them think that the organisation isn’t for them. This has always been a challenge for AUA. Our values are inclusive and welcoming, but by being this we feel unfocussed. The review is trying to square this circle.
Ultimately I do feel part of a profession, and part of a community of professionals. That community struggles to articulate itself, and to be part of a profession of choice. Ironic really, as we have easy access to people starting out on their careers and should be able to do better. We also have significant improvements to make in attracting a more diverse community and in being able to reflect better many of the audiences we support, especially students. This is changing, but not quickly enough, and I am keen to ensure that we reflect this need through AUA. After all, thirty years ago when I was starting out in my first University, all the senior administrators were men, and all the junior ones women. Things have significantly improved. Not enough, but it’s in the right direction. It is up to all of us to continue to be that change.
Vikki has been working as an independent consultant in the sector since May 2022 following senior roles at the Universities of Manchester, Salford and Liverpool. She is also currently Chair of the AUA.
You can find more about Vikki Goddard Consulting at www.vikkigoddardconsulting.co.uk
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