Penny Barker

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Programme Manager/ Management Consultant/ Coach/ Trainer


Linkedin Profile

Contact: pennybarker@eighteenfortyfour.life


Programme Manager/ Management Consultant/ Coach/ Trainer at a glance

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£60K + Salary varies by sector and by experience. Contractor roles start from £350/day but increase to double that with experience (but without the job security) 

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Around 55 per week

 
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3/5

 
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Management consultancy is not particularly flexible as you have to go where the work is (a lot of which involves being on client site - wherever your client is based). Contract roles available for project/ programme management

 
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1) Research - talk to people who are doing it day-to-day and find out what it's really like. What do they enjoy/ not enjoy. Look at different industries/ sectors and find out what interests you 2) Look at your transferable skills, values and strengths are - how does this match them? 3) Do some courses/ attend some events to build your knowledge and credibility, gain confidence and start to develop a network

 
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Project management - usually short periods only away from home e.g. meetings, conferences. Commute to office and meetings on client site. If you get involved with international projects then more travel required and long periods away from home Management consultancy - depends on the project/ client you are assigned to. You may get something reasonably locally or you may be required to spend 3-4 nights away from home each week for 6-12 months.

 
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Excellent communication skills Flexibility Problem solving

 
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Leadership and management skills. A recognised project management qualification e.g. PRINCE2 Basic business skills

 
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Creativity, connection, flexibility, growth


 

What were your first career steps and how did that work out?

I did 2 years in mixed practice before returning to the RVC to do a small animal internship. I had thought I'd wanted a career in academia but realised this wasn't right for me. I was really lucky in my first job and would have been happy going back to practice but realised I had no idea what else was out there (what did all those people in suits who commuted to work actually do??). I decided I wanted to investigate and spent a lot of time on the internet reading up about companies and projects. I looked at job descriptions and spoke to everyone I knew about what their typical day looked like. I realised project management suited my skillset (problem solving, planning and engaging with people) and applied for a job with a company who produced radiology software (PACS etc) for the healthcare industry. It worked pretty well.... I ended up staying for 6 years, growing with them and running a £10million programme converting 21 NHS Trusts in London to digital radiology. They were a small Swedish company and we were the UK arm - I had a team of 3 engineers to start with and ended up with over 50!


So how did you decide to become a vet in the non-clinical support sector?

My career journey has followed my interests. Each step takes into account a) what I'm good at, b) what I enjoy doing and c) what I want to know more about. Growth is one of my core values and I need to keep learning and having different experiences. I decided to become a management consultant as I knew I was good at project/ programme management and I wanted experience in different sectors and to see what it was like to work for one of the Big 4 consultancies. I started both coaching and training with Ernst and Young when I was consulting and realised this was something I enjoyed and wanted to develop. I also wanted to bring all the experience I'd gained from industry back into the veterinary profession, hence my work with VDS Training.


What did you need to do to get into this career path?

Project Management/ Programme Management - I did a PRINCE2 course in project management before I applied for project management jobs. The course itself was 5 days long and it gave me a chance to meet real project managers from a range of industries, learn the jargon and truly understand what I was likely to be doing. It was relatively inexpensive and I knew that it would be a key search for any recruitment agencies/ HR managers. There are various other qualifications. Management consultancy - you don't need anything specific. There was a medic on my intake and people from many other industries. They will teach you what you need to know, although any sort of business/ project management training will help both your credibility and your confidence

 

Your wants, needs and experience will evolve over time so don't be afraid to acknowledge that what you want now is different to what you wanted before. If you are thinking of diversifying, don't think of it as a failure to stick at vetting or a waste of your vet degree... it's given you a whole heap of experience, skills, a network and a community. None of that is wasted and it's all here to come back to; I had 9 years in industry before I came back to vetting and I came back to practice a better vet because of it.


 

Were there any barriers to entry and how did you overcome them?

One barrier I know people relate to is how to get people to see beyond the word "vet" on your CV. I focused on transferable skills which I'd accumulated not just as a vet but in other areas of my life such as sport and the military. My vet degree and jobs were on there, but I didn't say "I'm a vet", I said "This is what you need and this is what I can do for you" In my initial job as a project manager, I knew absolutely NOTHING about IT or anything technical. My first day blew my mind - servers, databases and all sorts of other language I didn't understand. I knew I had to learn very fast so went into sponge mode. I asked a lot of questions (sometimes more than once) and was never afraid to tell people that I didn't know the answer but I'd find out for them. I talked to everyone in the team and tried to understand as much about what they did and how they did it as possible. The biggest barrier for most things is ourselves - our limiting beliefs. I was lucky to have the benefit of both coaching and some very supportive friends to help me through the various transitions

 

Penny presenting a workshop at the Vet Passport career roadshow at Surrey Vet School

Penny presenting a workshop at the Vet Passport career roadshow at Surrey Vet School

Watch Penny at VSGD LIVE! in interactive workshop on working out what you want


 

What are the best bits about your current role and are there any downsides?

The best bit about my current role is that some of the job I can do from anywhere. I also love the wide range of people I meet from all walks of life and knowing that I am making a difference for them. Sometimes you get that feedback there and then, sometimes you just have to trust the coaching process. Probably the biggest downside is travelling. The lovely thing about being in practice was being 20 minutes down the road. I didn't enjoy commuting when I worked in industry and travelling long distances to deliver training is a downside in my current role, although thankfully not very often


Could you give us an overview of a typical day/tasks?

A lot of my time in the corporate world was spent in meetings... sometimes these were meetings to prepare for other meetings, or meetings about the meeting that you'd just been to! As a project/ programme manager I spent a lot of time on my phone or answering emails, dealing with issues and answering questions both internally from my team and externally from clients. I was responsible for creating plans, writing strategies and other documentation for projects and ensuring everything was communicated to everyone who needed to know. As a management consultant I was carrying out interviews with clients to understand more about their business and then doing analysis of the answers and writing reports for clients. I was also involved in doing research for bids (where companies put together proposals to bid for work through official procurement processes) and writing content for these.


What sort of person would thrive in this career path?

Project management needs you to enjoy working with people, solving problems and bringing order out of chaos. You need to be calm in a crisis, able to think on your feet and deal with people when they are emotional and angry because things will go wrong and when they do, tempers will flare because there is usually a lot at stake - not just money but also reputation. You need to be flexible and enjoy change because just when you think you've got your plan all sorted, something will change that's outside of your control but is your responsibility to resolve. Management consultancy is in many ways more varied as the big consultancies have lots of different lines to the business. A lot of it is people-focused but equally the business analysis side of things is much more detailed and less interactive.


What advice would you give to someone wanting to do a similar career to you?

You don't need to have the whole picture in order to start. Take small steps - do research, go on courses, reach out to people and things will gradually begin to become more clear and opportunities will start to present themselves. Your wants, needs and experience will evolve over time so don't be afraid to acknowledge that what you want now is different to what you wanted before. If you are thinking of diversifying, don't think of it as a failure to stick at vetting or a waste of your vet degree... it's given you a whole heap of experience, skills, a network and a community. None of that is wasted and it's all here to come back to; I had 9 years in industry before I came back to vetting and I came back to practice a better vet because of it. Whatever you want to do, get the right people in your corner. Get some coaching, find some mentors who can share their experience with you, surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Good luck!


“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
— Howard Thurman