Alex Armitage (née Marshall, 97-04) returned to school on Wednesday 4 December 2013 to lead a sixth form assembly about her work as a Social Research Consultant in Africa with the aim of opening sixth formers’ minds to alternative careers and working abroad.
After studying English, French, Art and Philosophy at school and then Social Anthropology at university she took a gap year to work in Zambia and travel in South America. She only had vague ambitions about what she wanted from her career: be happy, travel, do something good in the world, but she had no idea about what type of job she might like to do. In the short term she wanted to be in same town as her boyfriend (now husband) and move abroad. In the long term she wanted to work in development and she needed prior experience, so she ended up in South Africa, initially working for an environmental consultancy. After a few years building up her experience she then went freelance.
As a Social Research Consultant Alex assesses how development projects, mainly in the mining industry, will affect local communities and their impact on people’s lives and the environment. Many of the projects she works on are in rural Africa where there is often widespread poverty and poor infrastructure. Large scale developments can bring many benefits and improvements to the people in these rural communities but there can also be downsides . Alex’s job is to assess how the project will change things for people and how the project can be managed to minimise or avoid negative impacts on communities and the environment.
There are lots of other roles involved in the mining projects that Alex works on such as specialist environmental work, engineering (design of mines, roads, power lines, infrastructure, links to design of project and how it can avoid impacting people and environment) , project management, organisation of transport, planning, finance, IT and construction. Despite the negatives of working in Africa (visas and permits, administrative systems, potholes, power cuts, no water, limited selection of shops and services, the unknown!) there are also lots of benefits (many opportunities to work on projects that don’t exist in UK, breadth of experience, lots of development, new places and people, new cultures, languages, what’s on your doorstep…parks, mountains, camping, hotels, ocean, wildlife…).
All in all it is a great way of life and something that as a pupil Alex never imagined would be possible. Hopefully her talk will give the current sixth form another perspective when it comes to future career planning.