Tom has spent his career working on government policy, and also presents the Skills World Live radio show. He shares his career insights, thoughts on the importance of degrees and memories of pizza-fuelled student media…
I transferred into the second year of my bachelor’s degree at Bath from another university, after visiting a friend who was studying psychology. I was really impressed with the community campus feel and, of course, the splendour of the Georgian city. But crucially, I was also lucky to be accepted onto one of the best degree programmes for social policy in the country; because I had worked hard to improve on my A-Level grades; and by achieving great results in my first undergraduate year, enabling a successful transfer to take place.
Did you have a particular career in mind when you chose to study Social Policy & Administration, and later European Social Policy Analysis?
Before going to university, I took a couple of years out to travel overseas and work as a volunteer for an indigenous community in northern Alberta, Canada. It opened my eyes up to the importance of social administration; supporting local communities; and how government policies fundamentally affect and shape lives. From that point, I knew that I wanted to study for a degree that would help me get into a career in government and politics.
What was great about both my undergraduate and postgraduate courses is that they gave me the theoretical understanding and intellectual confidence to set my sights high when applying for career roles after graduation.
Can you tell us about your experience of studying here? Any favourite memories, or places to go on campus and in the city?
We’re talking about the ‘90s and the Britpop era! Such a great time to be a student. One of my favourite memories is being editor of Spike magazine and working with other student volunteers to ‘lay out’ the mag each week. In those days, computer desktop publishing was only just coming in, so it meant us all working long into the night before sending off the finished product to the publisher. A local pizza firm gave us free sponsorship (and delivered pizzas!) meaning it was a great social occasion too. Indeed, the sense of strong community at Bath is one of things that I’ve never forgotten.
Describe your career journey since graduating. What is a typical day like in your current role?
After completing my MSc, I landed a job straight away in Westminster, working as a European policy officer. This was very exciting, shuttling between the UK and Brussels, as I got to work representing my organisation’s views to the European Commission.
In 1997, I was taken on by the incoming Labour Government and I advised ministers on education and employment policy for five years. I was then appointed the founder and chief executive of the Creative & Cultural Skills Council, which is still going strong today. Away from my professional career, I have served as a local councillor and also (unsuccessfully) stood for Parliament in 2019.
Today, I’m the chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies – the collective voice of the UK’s exam boards and assessment organisations. My role is to represent my members’ interests to government, regulators and other key stakeholders.
I’m also proud to have recently been appointed a visiting professor of skills and workforce policy at Staffordshire University, which, strangely, brings me full circle back to why I studied social policy at Bath in the first place – and what has inspired me to work in policy-related fields over the past 30 years.
How did your studies and experience at Bath help you to develop personally?
Studying at degree level gives you the tools and intellectual confidence to question the world in which you live. Without my time at Bath, I cannot see how I would have gone onto achieve what I did. The community and diverse nature of campus life is also great preparation for working with anyone – from all walks of life – that you will subsequently meet during your career.
What advice would you give to prospective students thinking about studying your course at Bath?
You may apply with some fantastic grades. But remember, Bath is the place to come if you want to instil a love of learning and critical inquiry, and to be a real positive force for good in your life and future career.