Our next career profile is all about our member Tracey Haylock. Tracey talks us through her experience working as a PA for many years and tell us about her experiences in various companies.
1) Tell us a little about your career
Over my working life I have worked in many office environments, from aircraft engineering to the process industry. I have worked at the University of Cambridge in the telecommunications department. I even worked for an Accountant. Having worked in so many different industries over the years, you start to build an ‘experience’ ladder.
I have found that you can take your experiences from different working backgrounds and use them in your new/present job in some way. For example, when I worked in the process industry I was a team player and worked mainly for the HR Director, but also worked for the process engineers and even turned my hand to reception and facilities. I have worked in large companies and in very small companies as well, so once again you gain different experiences. I now work for the American Battle Monuments Commission at Cambridge American Cemetery, and I am an American Federal Government employee.
2) How did your career start and where have your career taken you
I feel I was very fortunate when I started my working career at Marshall Aerospace at the age of 16, which, in the late 1970s, was called Marshall of Cambridge Engineering Limited. This was a unique company as it has been privately owned by the Marshall family for over 100 years!!!!
I started working in the Training Centre as a junior secretary. I helped recruit apprentices for the Company (HR work) which back in those days was popular with school leavers. I feel that working and training ‘on the job’ was the best experience I could have had.
Since then my career has taken me to many different places. I worked for 5 engineers; this is when my organisation and planning experiences were gained.
I spent five years at the University of Cambridge working for the Telecommunications Manager. At that time the University had the largest switch board in Europe!!! I used to do the minutes for various meetings (using shorthand learned with Pitman), and I also helped with putting together the University of Cambridge Phone Book.
I then felt that I needed a complete change and started working for a company called Aspen Technology, this was an American company with their European Headquarters in Cambridge. They supplied computer software for the process industry, and as they were an international company they had offices all over the world. I worked mainly for the HR European Director, and the engineers. I was her PA, and as it was HR I learned so much about this part of the industry.
Working for this company also gave me the opportunity to travel to Europe and to help by-yearly with the company’s Process Chemical Engineering Conferences in America. My job working for Aspentech was so varied and I gained so much experience at this company.
After a year with an accountant I went back to Marshall Aerospace as PA/Office Manager for one of the Directors for about seven years. I had an excellent working relationship with the Directors and once again gained so much experience.
I now work at Cambridge American Cemetery as the ‘Cemetery Associate’ this job is very different from any job I have ever had. We are the only World War Two American Cemetery in the UK, and we are open seven days a week and are only closed on Christmas and New Year’s day. There are 26 American Cemeteries outside of the United States; these are scattered mainly in Europe, and we have a by-yearly CPD conference in Paris.
Working for the American Battle Monuments Commission to me is a privilege and not a job. I have to be prepared to do HR work, help with payroll, and stand in for the Superintendent when he is away. I am basically the office manager.
As we are a memorial site you never know who is going to walk in. We host so many different people from next of kin who have family buried here to Generals in the US Air Force, and even Senators or members of Congress can turn up. My organisation skills have to be excellent as I organise two large ceremonies a year, with members of the public and high-profile people in attendance. We usually invite MPs and local government plus the Military as well.
At our ceremony in May – Memorial Day – we have over 2,000 people in attendance, with over 100 wreaths being laid and high-profile speakers. I organise everything. I know so many stories of the young men and women who are buried here, and I have gained so much knowledge so that I can tailor my tours to the audience. The audience can be small school children, Senators to Military Historians.
This is not a nine-to-five job; for example a family member may turn up at five in the evening after getting off a plane from America. You have to treat them as the most important people that visit the cemetery. The most important part of my job is to have a ‘can do’ attitude and empathy to what this Memorial Site stands for.
3) What are the challenges you find in your workplace?
As we are a small team and are open seven days a week, we have to be very flexible with working weekends and taking holiday, we have to be able to fit in with each other and be flexible and aware of each other’s family commitments.
4) What are the challenges you find in your role?
The challenges are the fact that my colleagues are spread out all over the world, and our Headquarters are in Washington DC and Paris, so things can get a bit fractured. For example, if you require help with a question about finances, our Finance Department as well as HR are in Paris. You can’t just go to the office next door and speak to someone. I need to be able to use initiative and think on my feet. I also find my CPD can be a challenge as well because we are such a small team so things need to get done and sometimes my CPD falls to the back burner, especially in the summer with the amount of visitors that come to the cemetery.
5) What is the best advice you could give to someone in a similar role and how to progress
My best advice would be to say you would have to be adaptable and have a ‘can-do’ attitude with everything. With regards to progression that is quite difficult as if you become a Cemetery Associate you are already as high as you can get. We do have Three Senior Associates, but you find that once people start to work at these cemeteries they very rarely move on. Occasionally vacancies become available in our HQ office in Paris which you can apply for, these are usually senior admin roles.
6) what do you think the most important things are for people to develop in the current market?
Once you are qualified in your role, the best advice I could give is to keep up with your CPD. If you don’t you become stale and may lose confidence when perhaps looking for another job. Technology is always changing make sure that you embrace as much technology as you can. I started my career using shorthand and a manual typewriter. If you see a role that is vastly different from the role you are doing then go for it as you never know where it may lead and you can gain so much experience which you can take to other jobs.
7) What do you feel your best achievements are?
I would say that my best achievements are, when I worked for Aspen Technology I was tasked by my HR Director to organise a Leadership and Development Programme. This programme was for potential new managers with innovative ideas. They were in our different offices all over the world, but the venue was to be in Cambridge. I went away and organised everything from the venue, to flights and making sure that everyone was picked up from the airports where they landed. The whole event went without a hitch.
In the five years I worked for the HR Director at Aspen Technology and all the travel, hotel accommodation and meetings I organised for her nothing ever went wrong. I had the initiative to always think ahead of her. It was hard work but very rewarding.
In my present job, in 2017, it was the 75th Anniversary of the Friendly Invasion. I wanted our Memorial Day to be a little bit different. We had 700 photos of the men and women who are buried here. In early 2016 I put out an appeal for photos and stories, we now have over 4,000 photos. These photos were put out on their headstones and along our Wall of Missing for Memorial Day. We gave as many headstones as possible a face and story. It took nearly a year to print off and catalogue all the photos. We had over 3,000 people in attendance for the ceremony, with a vintage aircraft dropping poppy petals at the end of the ceremony. This was my best achievement, with a lot of work involved. Because of this project we now have a legacy of photos for the cemetery to be able to tell their stories for future generations. To this day the photos are still coming in.
Another achievement in my is public speaking, with the large groups that come to the cemetery you have to be able to speak to them. Public speaking is something I never thought I would do. I still get nervous when I do it but feel like I have really achieved something afterwards because of the response of the audience.