Dave Watts
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Dave Watts

Dave Watts

Podcaster, The Redundancy Podcast

Age 65

Zoom Coffee

 

Describe your career path in two or three sentences including any twists or turns ending with where you are now?

Snakes and ladders. I went straight into a job from university, to Ford Motor Company in Essex. I then followed a predictable, and in my early 20s, successful career until I decided I really didn’t enjoy the automotive industry. I made a seriously poor career move, laughably bad in retrospect, re-entered the automotive industry as my safety net, was relocated around the country on a regular basis and ended up with my role being made redundant in my mid 30s. Since then, with 5 further redundancies, my career has been based on re-invention, opportunism, re-establishing myself and doing it all over again. But, whatever happened, I always found another job and managed to work my way back up again.

 

And today, where are you in your career?

Well I suppose I am involuntarily retired. My last full time role working, for a police force, came to an end in 2017 and I’ve done some gig economy jobs since then. I’ve been provisionally offered another job but, in the current circumstances, am not sure if I’ll ever actually be able to start it.

 

Why did you start podcasting?

I started The Redundancy Podcast in 2018. I left my job with the police, where I had been both a uniformed officer and a senior member of staff and, I thought, I seem to have a fair degree of experience in 1) involuntarily losing my job and then 2) successfully reinventing myself and finding a new one so perhaps I should start a podcast to share these experiences, both successes and failures, with others in their late 50s early 60s to help them with their journey. I was also interested in the question of, technically, how you make a podcast – how do I record, edit, upload the podcast. And like all new starts, it was fairly hand to mouth, a little flakey at times, but I gradually developed an international audience that has grown and grown so I’ve kept on doing it and it seems to have a real resonance in many countries.

 

What decision / experience proved to be the most helpful to your career?

There are two

The obvious one is marrying my wife. We have been married for 42 years and she has been an absolute rock throughout my career twists and turns. She has been brilliant — and as the wedding ceremony says ‘for better or for worse.’ We’ve had some difficult times to get through. For example when I was unemployed for the first time we’d just had a baby; no income and in one of the deepest recessions for decades. It was a bit tough but we got through it.

 

The second was studying for my MBA. I was working for an organisation at the time that offered the opportunity to take an interest free loan for half the cost with them paying the other half. I took up the offer, graduated and it was a fabulous experience. Not that having an MBA itself has propelled me to a stellar career but it gave me a huge insight into the way businesses work and the way they are connected. What the MBA allowed me to do was move from a sales job at Ford Motor Company into a marketing manager’s position, to an operations director role, to a planning and production director position and finally a senior management role in the police by dint of having the qualification, experience and insights. It has been essential in helping me reinvent my career and helping me move sectors and industries.

 

What advice would you give your 20 year old self knowing what you do now?

Don’t join the car industry! I don’t know why I did, I’ve never been interested in cars, then or now.

Do something you enjoy and find fulfilling. It’s tough now if you’re coming out of education with a huge loan that you have to repay. I was very fortunate; I left university with no debts and went straight into a job. It is hard to ignore the apparent glamour and the money that a new job can offer but if you can, don’t let it sway your decision if it is not something that you really want to do and is not something that will make you feel happy and fulfilled.

 

Secondly, always involve your partner in every decision. There were a couple of times I didn’t and it was a mistake.

 

Finally, I would also say you shouldn’t allow one person’s career to dominate the other’s career, you have to find a halfway place where you both can thrive. I seem to have done my best to attempt to destroy my wife’s career by relocating around the country, always looking for promotion yet, ironically, she is the one that is still working and has never lost her job.

 

What do you think are the most important qualities for sustaining a fulfilling career(s) as you grow older?

Never stop learning something new. Never stop exploring new opportunities. Keep energetic. Keep fit and never give up.

 

What do you think is the biggest challenge for people making a career re-entry or re-invention later in life?

Themselves – writing themselves off as a dinosaur – thinking that they can’t do it. ‘There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ I believe you probably can do it most of the time so don’t let your own mindset be that barrier. Be prepared to fail and fail and fail again. I think fear of rejection stops many, and I understand that. If you are applying for jobs you’ll get silence most of the time, rejection for a great deal of the time and, very occasionally, someone says come in for an interview. You’ve got to be prepared for that and you have to find a way, a coping mechanism, to manage your way through it.

 

And then you have to convince potential employers that your skills are transferable. This is difficult because most of the time you will not have done the precise job you are being interviewed for. You’ll need to be at your most persuasive. You’ve got to find a narrative that demonstrates your skills are transferable.

 

The final challenge is prejudice from potential employers – all the things that you might expect them to be thinking about older workers – they lack energy, they’re going to be bored, they will leave soon, they will get ill more often, they will struggle taking direction from younger workers and so on and so on. There’s no evidence to support any of those prejudices.

 

What do you think are the opportunities for people wanting to work in their 50s and 60s and beyond? 

I take a fairly pessimistic view in terms of full time paid work because I think opportunities are limited. There is ageism everywhere and it feels to me like one of the last acceptable prejudices because it’s hidden. There are roles out there and some older workers do get very good jobs but the odds are stacked against you I believe. One of my favourite quotes, I believe it’s a Latin one, is ‘If there is no wind then row’ – you’ve got to be pragmatic, be prepared to generate your own opportunities and be realistic – ask yourself how much discomfort are you prepared to put up with to find a new job. I think that is a really important question. Are you going to want to commute for two hours? Are you prepared to take a much lower salary? Are you happy to take direction from a younger supervisor with far less experience with you? You have to put yourself out there and move out of your comfort zone. And you have to be willing to fail and try again.

 

What is your top tip for people thinking about re-inventing their careers?

Know the value you bring, really know what you’re selling and what a potential employer is buying because they are two different things. For example, I am selling coal but you are buying heat, I am selling a newspaper but you are buying the news. You may very well have all this knowledge, skill and experience but it’s of no value to a potential employer if you cannot describe how you meet their needs. You need to understand the value you bring and be able to articulate it clearly.

 

It helps to understand the industry and the sector you are applying for – what do they value and what do they want? Then look carefully at what it is you have done and redraw the narrative of those experiences to speak to your unique selling benefits. Sell your benefits not your features.

 

Recommendation: Favourite book to read, website to browse or podcast to listen while sipping coffee?

My favourite podcasts are on the BBC, I like structured, fact-based podcasts like More or Less, Behind the Stats because it does just that – it looks at statistics, breaks the numbers down and explains why they have prominence and if they are presented realistically. I enjoy the The Inquiry for the same reasons. And my favourite book of recent times is Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed because it takes a detailed look at how success really happens and how we must be prepared to learn from mistakes and failure.

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