Career Connect

With National Careers Week and International Women’s Day in the same week, we’re celebrating the achievements and impact of women across our charity – and sharing insights into the variety of roles available in careers.

We’ve asked just some of our inspiring women at Career Connect to share their career journeys with us.

This is an image of Steff EdwardsWe begin with Steff Edwards, Service Manager in our Achieve team. Steff works on the Greater Manchester Education Training and Employment programme, which helps people on probation to take a new path away from offending.

What was your very first job?

I worked at McDonalds as a Crew Member when I turned 16, and I was able to transfer to a new branch when I moved cities for university.

As cheesy as it sounds, McDonalds was the first place I learned the importance and value of delivering compassionate and authentic customer service – a lesson which has served me well throughout my career.

How long have you been at Career Connect?

One year and two months. The time has flown by!

Did you know what you wanted to do when you were at school?

I wanted to be everything and anything when I was at school.

First, I wanted to be an entrepreneur, then a corporate lawyer, then (perhaps this was a result of the influence of some of the early noughties television at the time) a mergers and acquisitions banker and various iterations of corporate careers.

It wasn’t until I started at university that I realised I didn’t want to do that at all!

Can you tell us about your career journey?

I started my career working in customer service and social media, eventually moving into digital marketing. I found that whilst the work was interesting, it didn’t ignite a passion in me. I wanted to work in an environment where I knew my efforts were contributing to changing the lives of the most disadvantaged groups in society.

I stumbled upon a job posting that was looking for an employability Key Worker to support those with disabilities and those who were long-term unemployed into employment. I applied straight away and spoke on the phone to the Project Manager (a very inspiring, strong, compassionate, high performing and motivating Glaswegian woman).

I was brought in for an interview the next day and offered the job the same day. Over the next year, I learned everything that would form the basis of my knowledge in employability.

I’ll never forget the feeling of getting my first participant a job. It was unlike any other feeling I’d ever had in work. Knowing in that moment of supporting someone who hadn’t worked in years to get a job, that it would break the cycle of poverty and uplift their family’s standard of living, was incredibly moving.

Since then, I’ve worked in employability and mental health, progressing into roles in the criminal justice sector. I’ve really homed in on my passion and have found a great sense of purpose and fulfilment.

What attracted you to the careers sector?

I work on the GM ETE contract and what attracted me to it is the ability to help people on probation move into positive outcomes, whether that be education, training or employment.

It is a challenging sector to work in and requires constant problem solving, a strong team to achieve our goals and targets, and the ability to work with and build strong relationships with commissioners and stakeholders.

Despite the challenges, it’s incredibly rewarding.

What does your current role involve?

I currently oversee a team of 21. The team is made up of Key Workers (who work in probation offices and prisons across Greater Manchester), team leaders and business administrators.

I manage the performance of the team, creating and executing strategies to help us provide the best service possible.

This includes making sure the correct procedures are in place and being followed, sharing best practice, being the point of contact for safeguarding and Health and Safety issues, and delivering training.

I manage the contract budget and meet regularly with our commissioners, and liaise with local partners in creating referral pathways for participants.

It’s so important to have a strong team and harness the individual talents of our staff to achieve our goals – this includes feeding back ideas from the team to senior leaders or commissioners and implementing their suggestions for improving ways of working.

The list isn’t exhaustive but is a good snapshot!

What do you enjoy most?

I love the team I work with.

We have a really passionate and incredibly supportive group of people who are so enthusiastic about serving people on probation and delivering the best outcomes for them. Every member of our team is vital to our success.

I still get such a buzz when I hear a participant has secured employment and I hear the journey the Key Worker went on with them to overcome barriers.

I guess you could say what I enjoy most, is knowing that each day, our team is making a tangible and real contribution to reducing reoffending, helping people to change their lives and become upstanding members of society.

There are very few jobs where you can say this!

What opportunities do you get to help empower women in your role?

We work with women on probation and support them to overcome the unique challenges women in the justice system experience in terms of employment. Referring them to specialist agencies that they ordinarily would not be aware of can make a big difference to their future.

Within GM ETE, the management team are all women, and we work well to support each other achieve our personal and professional goals.

This year’s IWD theme is “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”. How can careers provision/and or employers make this happen?

I think the challenge for many women on probation is the lack of flexible working roles or training provision suited for women.

Many of the training opportunities are geared towards men and do not take into account caring responsibilities. Many of our women are single parents and so require flexible working arrangements, something which even today in a post-Covid environment, some employers are hesitant to consider.

Employers should recognise they are missing out on a wealth of talent due to these barriers which can be overcome.

I’d advise employers to consider creating job sharing, work from home roles or condensed hours. And reach out to organisations like Achieve that can help you attract and retain women on probation.  

What is your number one piece of advice for a woman/girl considering her career path?

Don’t worry about not having a linear career path. Very rarely is our first job – or fourth! – the one that sparks a sense of meaning or career fulfilment.

Every role you do is of value, and you will use what you’ve learned in future roles.

Don’t be afraid to take risks and change careers, it’s never too late to change.

In fact, the right moment to make the move is the moment you decide to do it!


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