Category Archives: Youth

Working for a living

This week is clearly careers week. I don’t think I’ve done a single careers talk since I arrived, and I’m doing two this week. On Monday we had someone from EPSO, our recruitment service, in the Rep holding open sessions for graduates (or soon-to-be-graduates) on the new round of recruitment and the new system. I was there to give a bit of a personal view of working in the Commission, describing my career path, and of course answering questions. The experience of new aspirants to an EU career will be a bit different from mine, as they will be taking tests designed to test competence and not knowledge. So no more questions about how many traffic accidents were there in the EU, or what is the weight of printer paper (both terrifyingly examples of questions in past competitions!). I was only at the final session of the day, but it was striking how many of the people who came along were from other Member States. Apparently this was less the case earlier in the day, but it raises yet again the issue I mentioned at Abingdon about the spectre of a loss of UK influence within the EU institutions.

Tonight I’m going to City University to talk to their Sociology MA candidates about possible careers for social science students. Given that I did a social science Bachelors and am starting a Sociology MA at City in September, it seems a shoe-in for me to do!

So, if I’m having to stand up in front of people and encourage them to consider a career here, I have obviously have had to think about what makes it a career I enjoy. So here is a purely personal look at the main things:

1) I love being able to use languages on a daily basis (and so that’s something I really miss here). As a spokesperson I got to do interviews in French and English, brief journalists in those languages and German and improve my minor languages by reading the press cuttings. Really made all those years of language learning worth it.

2) I’m a bit of a butterfly (5 different posts and 4 houses during my 15 years in Brussels), so working for an organisation with such a broad range of subjects means I can imagine about a lifelong career without worrying about getting stuck in a rut.

3) Leading on from that, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a really technical type, whose life revolves around widget regulations, then you can spend your whole career on widgets. If you want to move around a lot you can. There are many jobs giving an overview of a broad policy area, and many that are highly specialised.

4) The calibre of people you work with, both within the Commission/other institutions and their broader ecosystem of trade assocations, think tanks, law firms etc is very high. So intellectually it’s an amazing environment to be in. Like university with better food…

5) There is a strong element of idealism. I came to the view when I was a teenager that it is in our continent’s best interests to work together, and I was happy to be given the chance to work daily to make that happen.

I’m sure if I sat down for a beer and talked about this, more would come up, but that’s it for the moment. If any of this strikes a chord with you, why not apply for one of the recruitment competitions coming up? If you’re on Facebook you can follow developments via the EU Careers fan page.

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Filed under Coming Week, EC in UK, EU Careers, Languages, Personal, Youth

Doing the Boo

I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!

I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.

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Domino dancing

You might have heard about the dominoes that will be toppled this evening in Berlin, which have been painted by schools. You may NOT know that one of them is from a UK school, Chosen Hill in Gloucestershire, and photos are showing that their domino is right by the Brandenburg Gate. If you click here, it’s the 5th photo down on the left, and their domino is a black wall with a red tree on it. Congrats to Chosen Hill.

20 years ago I was an au pair, living and working in Frankfurt in Germany. I had had the chance to go to Berlin, but in August 1989, when I made my choice, Berlin seemed to be a divided city, with no prospect of being otherwise in my lifetime. It’s so astonishing, even now, that just 3 short months after my arrival it was all so different. I was doing my homework in my room when Ute, my au-pair mother, came down with a glass of bubbly telling me to come upstairs and watch the television as the Wall had been opened. A few weeks later we packed all the kids into the car and drove to Erfurt in the GDR. I remember eating Gulaschsuppe in the visitors cafe at the Wartburg for a few Ostmarks. And everyone tooted when they saw a Trabi on the West German roads. I was amazingly fortunate to have had such a direct connection with the events of that year, actually living in Germany.

Last week I attended an event at the London School of Economics entitled “20 years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain: have our dreams come true” with some of the major personalities from that time, including Vaclav Havel. You can listen/watch the event from the site. What I found interesting was the fact that unanimously they felt that yes, their dreams had come true, and that many of them articulated that through their involvement in the European Union.

I think that those who see the European Union as a purely federalist project bent upon the creation of a super-state are stuck in the pre-Wall past. The collapse of the Iron Curtain changed the terms of the game.

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Parlez-vous Francais?

The Commission held a briefing in Brussels yesterday entitled “Is English becoming a rare language?” It highlighted the lack of English-language interpreters and translators in the EU institutions. It might not seem logical, but as English becomes such a lingua franca in the work of the EU, the needs for interpreters and translators with English as a mother tongue goes up, not down. We risk losing a third of the current workforce in 2015 due to retirement, and the new people aren’t coming in.

If you read the blog regularly, you will know about the work we do here on languages. The two issues are of course intimately linked. If kids aren’t learning languauges at school, then they’re not studying them at uni. If there are no language graduates, there are no translators and interpreters.

Anyway, here’s a little clip showcasing the work of English-language interpreters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA2fWvtMPDU

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Back in the saddle

It’s been a bit quiet because I was away on holiday for a week, up in the Pyrenees mountains, far (mentally if not physically) from internet connections and the world of work. I had a busy couple of days before I left, which included a breakfast meeting (I was one of many there!) with Robert Peston of the BBC and being on the judging panel for a journalism award for diversity issues. We had the architects in all day yesterday finding out what we want from our new office in Smith Square. We won’t be moving for years, so we/they have to think about making it relevant to tomorrow, not today. I admire what they do – if you’ve ever looked at my other blog, you’ll know this was something I got really interested in when I was in the US – how the design of buildings influences their use.

We have a nice event today – a model EU Council, where 16-18 year olds from schools across London and the South East take the roles of different Member States (and the Commission and Council Secretariat) to debate 3 issues – GMOs/food safety, immigration and climate change. I was out at two of the schools before I went on leave, talking them through what the Commission and Council Sec do and hopefully pointing them in the right direction to get the Commission’s position on things. I’ll head over there later – once I’ve done this interview with Russia Today (!!).

Possibly the worst thing about being in London is the commuting. Just having a 45 minute trip into work is enough of a shock to the system (it was about 15 in Brussels) but squeezing onto packed trainsadds insult to injury. Yesterday, though, Southern managed to plumb new depths. Balham has 4 platforms, 2 of which are unused. But the trains were stopping there yesterday, just no-one seemed to know which trains and when. So we’d all be standing on platform 2 waiting for the Victoria train and they’d announce that the next one would leave from platform 4, so down the stairs we all go, up the stairs ont he other side to find that the guy was blowing the whistle for the train to depart. Then they said that the next one would be from 4, so we waited there, then as it was arriving, oh no, sorry (acutally no-one said sorry as far as I can remember) it’s on platform 2… Twenty minutes it took me to get on the train, running from one platform to the other, missing the trains. Total nightmare. And of course there’s nothing you can do about it – that’s the train you have to take to get to work, and they know they can treat you like that and get away with it. Grrr…

Update: you can see some footage of today’s Mock EU Council here.

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We are(n’t) scientists

The Commission has put out a survey about young people and science. There’s some pretty encouraging messages about optimism as to how science can improve things, but, particularly for the UK, some pretty scary ones about interest in science. The UK figures show that young Britons are among the least likely in Europe to consider studying science subjects. When asked if they were considering studying science subjects, Britons gave a probable or definite no to natural science (86%), engineering (76%), maths (76%) and social sciences/humanities (66%). This is really worrying for the UK, which considers itself a power-house of European science, a fact borne out by the numbers of European Research Council grant-winners that are based at UK universities, even if they are from elsewhere. But we can’t rely on foreign expertise to drive our innovation. Where are the scientists of the future going to come from? Where are the science teachers of the next generation going to come from? I suppose it’s linked to the story on Today yesterday (see under 7.42) about how children want to “be a celebrity” as a career choice, without necessarily having done something to be famous for. Things like X-Factor are one thing – at least the winners can do something, and if you look at Leona Lewis’ past you can see that she and her family made sacrifices for her to pursue her singing dream. But anyone from Big Brother? People famous because of their parent? Because of who they go out with? Doesn’t seem something to aspire to really.

This was an issue I was looking at a lot when I was in the US earlier this year, and if you’re interested, there are some great examples of good practice on my Eisenhower Fellowship blog.

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Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It’s been tough watching the news over the last few days. What with the horrific Baby P story, those two boys in Manchester and the Shannon Matthews trial, it does make you wonder what the hell is going on with the world. As Keanu Reeves memorably says in Parenthood: “You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.” Or, indeed, mother.

What I don’t understand though, is this obsession with apologies. From some time yesterday afternoon the focus of the Baby P story was that “Haringey hadn’t said sorry”. Now that someone has, that’s what’s being reported. Will them saying so make a difference to the families? The question is a genuine one, by the way. We’ve seen this in quite a lot of cases recently, and it goes from the cases where individuals are the victims, like Baby P, or the David Norris/Luke McCormick incident, to apologies for slavery or abusive priests, where thousands or even millions were affected. Put “apology” into Google News and you get reams of results, just in the last day or two. I guess I feel that actions are louder than words, and if I had been affected by something like this, my priority would be to see that something was actually being done about it not happening again. As I say, this is a genuine question and I’d be interested if anyone has any first-hand experience of this to share with me.

I’ve been asked to be on the national jury of the For Diversity Against Discrimination journalism award. Our jury meeting is next week, so I went through the articles today. There were quite a few entries, of varying quality, but I think there are a few potential winners in there.

We’re also gearing up for the EU Mock Council event, where schools will take on the roles of the different Member States to debate various issues. I’ve offered to help the schools that will take the roles of the Council Secretariat and European Commission, as I seem to be the only person in the office with much experience of going to Council of Ministers’ meetings (a somewhat dubious honour…!)

I missed my first OU tutorial last night to go to the BBC News channel for a live piece on the fruit and veg standards. It’s a real shame about missing the tutorial – when you’re learning a language, it’s important to talk it to people I think, and that’s not something I’m doing at the moment. Not that I can say very much yet!

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