It was 2005 and I felt like I had to do it. I wasn't forced, but the culture of the previous several years, for good or for bad, saw moderately intelligent 18 year-olds follow the natural and somewhat expected path to university. Like so many of my peers I would choose to apply to an institution, to a course that I had not put a lot of previous thought in to and that rather explains where I am today. It is my fault, there's no denying that, but now that I have reached an age where the decisions made by my teenage self matter, I can't help but think there wasn't enough emphasis put on how seriously I should have taken it all.
While scrolling through university courses, my mother stressed the idea that I should apply for a course that provides training. This was a novel idea, but one that had never really been brought to my attention, not by teachers/career counsellors/or anyone else who may have potentially held influence in my life, so the concept was fleeting. I was never going to be a lawyer, and couldn't bare the thought that people would put their trust in me if I trained to be a doctor, but what training was there that built upon my pre-existing talents? For years I had loved acting, music and writing; communicating in general, I felt, could be beautiful.
Although I built up a reputation as a performer throughout school, I didn't always enjoy the attention that came with it. With the lone voice of my mater easily ignored and no secondary voice to support her, I opted to apply for an enjoyable course in the remaining form of communication I enjoyed.
2009 arrived, and after three informative, educating and entertaining years of creative writing, I realized my future employment. Working for a newspaper would be the best opportunity continue using my talent in the workplace, but as the year-old recession hit the already struggling environment of journalism, every paper's in-house training scheme was postponed, and none were willing to take on an untrained, directionless writer, so I looked for work abroad.
Whilst in Prague, working as a tour guide, I answered an advert to write for a website, unpaid, and as there were no other interning placements on the planet, it seemed this was my only chance to gain some work based knowledge. A year later, with experience under my belt and a desire burned on to my brain with a cattle prod stencilled 'journalism,' I returned home and got a job as a salesman to keep my pockets moderately full while applying for every journalist job advertised.
I remained unsuccessful. Newspapers were not just looking for people with experience, they wanted their upstarts to have training, but by doing a now clearly useless degree, had I missed my chance?
Not if I had anything to do with it.
I applied to do an MA in Journalism, a course that provided elements of training, and thanks to the two years fighting for payslips and paying rent, I approached every lecture with a new level of energy and focus. I impressed so much that I was recruited to write for two academic textbooks before I'd graduated. When it came to applying for jobs after learning shorthand, radio production, news writing, multi-platforms, social mediums, interviewing techniques, law and ethical considerations, I picked up on a sentence that in every job specification I looked at. "The ideal candidate will have passed all their NCTJ exams."
My course had taught me everything I needed to be a journalist, I had even been recognised in the field of journalism academia. I had done work that most people get good money for, but my course was not affiliated with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). I had not passed exams those in charge deemed necessary to enter the profession.
The training no one had promoted when I was a teenager is haunting. It's a cloud over my head every time a job is highlighted on my Twitter feed, and it makes me angry with everyone who should have mentioned it throughout my comprehensive education.
Two or three generations before my own, people were required to learn a trade, they were told they had to train in something. My father; he's a trained carpenter and although companies he's worked for have gone bust, or he's faced redundancies over his 40-plus years of work, he's never been out of a job for long. My mother, trained as a teacher, was only without work when she had my brother and I.
Training is important in every person's life; why it's been overlooked for so many years, and why we have sent people to university without them being informed of it's role in society, is a joke. Journalists graduating university now don't realise what a bleak future there is for them, and until they discover the importance of the NCTJ before applying to further education, there will be thousands of old hacks unable to work.
I have met people who have worked since 15 and reach the age of 65 only to be struck with cancer, dementia or even die. Some people who have worked all their lives fall apart from working too hard before getting a chance to enjoy their retirement. One thing I can say is that I've enjoyed my youth. I've travelled, worked abroad, spent three years in education learning how to enjoy the effects of alcohol, and now, I am a highly talented journalist, but officially, I remain a completely untrained twentysomething in fear that I might never experience my chosen profession. When I read stories of people in my situation declaring bankruptcy before having a chance to earn any money or worse still, committing suicide thanks to their inability to secure full-time work, it further demonstrates the importance of emphasising training from a young age, and perhaps listening to your mother more often.