Tell us about your contribution that has been recognised through the professorship.
I have been talking about applying for my professorship for several years but either I never prioritised it against a busy day job or had imposter syndrome based on my different academic and professional programme. The introduction of the External and Professional Engagement (E&PE) strand of the Academic Careers Framework focused my mind that I could and should apply. On that basis I gathered my evidence to demonstrate my outstanding contribution to E&PE and significant contribution to Teaching and Learning (T&L).
Since 2008 I have worked in the ‘middle space’ of university and external engagement. This includes commercial employer engagement, regional economic development and a strong commitment to, and leadership of, student employability and enterprise.
The last six years has seen significant changes to the HE landscape with an increased focus on applied learning; the introduction of higher and degree apprenticeships (HDA’s) and focus on graduate outcomes has challenged universities across the country to develop innovative and highly applied provision. At Sheffield Hallam, we have made significant progress to embrace these new challenges and to significantly reshape our offer to support the skills and workforce challenges of the modern economic and policy context.
The professorship recognised my contribution to work-based learning and external engagement with highlights including:
- Development of work-based learning and employer provision across apprenticeships, leadership and CPD
- Development of HE/FE collaboration across the region to support widening participation and economic development
- Strategic delivery of highly skilled employment to support In-curriculum employability, employer engagement and graduate outcomes
- Broader role of universities and their contribution to regional economy and skills.
Externally, I have significant external engagement with the HE community; in particular the interface between universities business, FE and regional policy-makers. This includes keynote speech invitations, directorship roles within sector representative body, international advisory positions and expert review requests.
What does it mean personally to you to be a Professor at Sheffield Hallam?
I am obviously very proud, honoured and humbled to be recognised for my contribution; it was a proud moment for me, and my family and we were lucky to be able to meet in Ireland over the summer to celebrate accordingly.
From a work perspective it is a sign that a career mixing both professional services and academia can be recognised as meeting the professorship criteria. I’m thankful to the University for their enlightened approach and recent review of the ACF. It demonstrates a commitment to being a truly applied university.
Tell us a bit about your career story so far.
I have worked in HE in one form or another for 22 years. I started my career teaching HE in FE at Sheffield College on programmes validated by Sheffield Hallam. 20 years since leaving FE in HE I continue to work with our colleagues in FE to support progression and the skills system. I also spent some time teaching HE sector in Melbourne before returning to work at University of Derby for 10 years prior to joining Hallam in 2013.
I have had the most amazing career to date which has spanned both senior academic and professional services roles. I have always worked in institutions with a commitment to widening participation, applied learning and a commitment to broader external engagement and impact. At Hallam I worked for two years in Sheffield Business School before moving into a Director role for Education and Employer Partnerships (DEEP) and now as Group Director for Business Engagement, Skills and Employability and Dean of Work-Based Learning.
Education has changed my life. It has provided me, a working-class lad from West Belfast, with choice and opportunity. I have benefited through the transformative power of education and remain committed to helping others from all backgrounds achieve more than they could ever have imagined.
If you could go back in time and give yourself some career advice, what would it be?
Don’t be so hard on yourself (particularly early career). It will work out in the end. I would probably say slow down, reflect, enjoy the moments more and get a better work/life balance. I haven’t always had a clear plan for my career, however I always embraced change and was on the lookout for new opportunities to collaborate, challenge and develop personally and professionally. I’m not convinced I’d change much of that but there have been a few times I could have been more strategic. Finally, get a mentor and surround yourself with brilliant people.
What’s next? Tell us about how you want to further develop your contribution.
I want to further my contribution to applied and work-based learning within and beyond the University. I have been working in the field of work-based learning for 13 years and with the growth of degree apprenticeships, I have seen significant positive change in practice across the sector. There has been great progress in the design and delivery of highly applied provision, and I want to continue to support colleagues to develop their knowledge and skills in this space and to support others to be recognised for their amazing contributions.
From an employability perspective, I want to continue to support colleagues across both professional services and academia to design curricula and co-curricular practice that transforms our students’ lives by providing new opportunities and experiences for them to be successful in their life and career.