“As soon as I saw the role advertised, I asked if a job-share would be something that they would be open to…the response to this was very positive.”
Jo McWhirter has been a part of the SCEEM School Team since 2017, and now works as the Outreach and Student liaison Programme Assistant, job sharing the role with Kirsten Horne. Here, she tells us how she makes a job share work.
Tell us about you – where are you from, who you are outside of work??
I was born in Basingstoke and my parents moved to Weymouth when I was young, then because my dad was a policeman we relocated again to Essex when I was 10. I first came to Bristol when I was 17 to study at UWE. I studied History BA and MA, where I met my husband and ended up staying here. I loved how different to Essex Bristol was, it was so free. It was a melting pot of different people. Bristol just felt like home immediately, whereas Essex never did. Essex felt soulless but Bristol had soul. In my time outside of work primarily I’m a mum, – a busy mum – I’m very engaged with school life – I often help with PTA events. For myself, I do yoga, I love films and go to the cinemas often as I can. I am an avid reader, I’ll pretty much read anything, but I mainly read classic crime fiction.
Tell us how you got here – what did you do to get here?
After I had my youngest child, who is now 5, I took voluntary redundancy from the City of Bristol College, and I knew I had to work but didn’t know what I wanted to do. Starting a ‘career’ felt like an impossibility with 2 very young children at home. I got a part time job in the IT training team at the University. The job was fine and it fitted into my life at the time. However, only doing a few hours every day meant childcare was really expensive. After this, I took a part-time job for the Royal Economic Society (RES) running their events, but this was on a fixed-term contract. When the contract ended I applied for a part time maternity cover role in SCEEM as a Senior Student Administrator – primarily student events-managing. I was in this role for about a year and a half and then I took on another role as a maternity cover.
Having so many fixed term contracts was hard, it felt like I really couldn’t embed myself into a r ole, and I needed some consistency for the kids. I had to know where the money was coming from and I needed consistency in my work pattern, so I needed an Open-Ended contract, which was one of my motivations for applying to my new role.
What made you apply (to your new role)?
I wanted to work with Caroline Higgins, the Outreach and Student Liaison Manager in SCEEM – I clocked onto her in the office and knew that I wanted to work for her. I was so interested in what she was doing. I knew from some of the events that I had organized for the RES that I was very passionate about engaging young people in education. I also managed to spend quite a lot of time whilst working at the University of Bristol having very limited contact with students, I really wanted to get to know the students themselves.
Why do you like your job?
I love the fact that it feels like there is worth to what I do. You can see how engaged some of the young people are at our events, quite often they are undertaking something that they wouldn’t be able to do in a traditional school setting. It’s amazing to think that some of the young people who attend our events might be the engineers of tomorrow because of our events. I love working with the student body, I love getting to know them. Their feedback and contributions really matter, and it feels good to be able to make some changes based on their feedback.
The job also works well with home life, there is flexibility in my hours, if I need to swap my working days to help on a school trip, this generally isn’t a problem. I am very lucky with my bosses, Caroline Higgins and Dave Drury – they absolutely trust that I will execute anything given to me, they are both incredibly supporting. I feel like I have struck gold with them.
How do you make it work in terms of work/life balance?
I am very lucky, the hours I do mean that I can still be present at school. The role was originally advertised as a full-time role, however, I negotiated to have it as a part-time job share. I work 17.5 hours over 3 days which means that it fits in with the school pick-ups.
I approached Caroline as soon as I saw the role and asked if a job-share would be something that they would be open to. I also made this clear on my application and in the interview, the response to this was very positive. It came with a caveat about asking the other candidate that had applied if they would be able to go PT. It wasn’t a stressful process at all – everything was open and honest, and it worked out for the best. It also really helped that the role was easy to divide so it fitted nicely with the job itself.
Can you tell me about your experience of jobsharing? How do you make the job share work for you?
I’ve been lucky with my job shares. All of the positions I have had in SCEEM have all been Job Shares. I’ve got on really well with my Job Share, we’ve worked well together but it has taken dedication on both sides to want to achieve the best. If you were job-sharing with someone that didn’t have pride in their work, it would be much harder. I did the job-share training offered by UoB which I would recommend. I think it takes a while to work out how your job-share works in reality, it is really important get to know the person you Job Share with and work out your individual working styles. What’s hard about working Part Time is that you miss conversations and changes made on your non-working days so clear communication is key. In my current job-share we always have a handover on a Monday to update each other and flag anything that we haven’t done. We have 2 crossover days and we each do 3 days. We use planners, we play to our strengths and are really honest with each other, we check in regularly to make sure that we are dividing the work equally.
What advice would you give people considering a similar role?
I think it’s best if you try to find some time to meet the job share at the interview stage. When I first started in SCEEM with the Senior Student Administrator role, I met up with my job share partner before starting in the role and got a feeling that we would work well together. It’s important to involve your line manager in the job-share relationship. If you feel like the work isn’t split fairly it might be challenging for you. One of the first conversations I had with my current job share partner was to chat about our working styles and boundaries. I outlined that I would never contact her with work things in non-working hours unless there was an emergency, and I would appreciate the same from her.
I think job-sharing is great, I really like that we can both challenge each other and really think around a problem, exploring all of the options together and building a plan of action that is really sound.