In Adviza’s latest theme for our #ShiningALight conversations, we’ve invited some younger members of the team to have a dialogue about age, ageism and careers with some of the older members. Here, we listen in on Emma Matthews and Alison Mihail MBE.

Emma is a Compliance Coordinator on Adviza’s European Social Fund projects and has been with us for six years. She is in her twenties, lives in Reading, is married and expecting her first child. She regularly attends her local church, adores her cat and is training to be a counsellor.

Alison spent 17 years teaching at the Piggott School, Wargrave before becoming a Deputy Headteacher at the Grange School, Aylesbury. Since 1996 she has volunteered on a number of committees with The Prince’s Trust. Her work includes setting up 26 Achieve Clubs in secondary schools across Berkshire and, as Chair of the Thames Valley Area Development Committee, raising more than £3 million, mentoring 60+ corporate teams to take part in the annual “Million Makers” entrepreneurial fundraising challenge.

In 2015 Alison was awarded an MBE for her outstanding service to young people in the Thames Valley area, and she is also a valued Adviza Trustee and committee member.

Emma: What was your career journey like, Alison? Did you have many choices at the start of your career?

Alison: I got to 18 and went to teacher training college as career choices were quite limited. The opportunities people are flooded with now is amazing! I chose Bath College of Home Economics and teacher training. My teaching career was an exciting time for me, going from secondary modern to a comprehensive school. When I got to my fifties I was called into the headmaster’s office because the local authority wanted to shrink budgets and we were a school of 1,200 with three deputy heads. I was the longest serving deputy head, so they offered me the voluntary redundancy. I wondered whether there was life outside of school because I knew I’d miss young people.

I’d learned about the existence of The Prince’s Trust from a drugs drama production which visited my school. They invited me to join a committee and 26 years later I’m still there! I love it. My volunteering career has taken me from counselling in Reading Prison to meeting the late Queen, and King Charles. Meeting Katharine Horler (Adviza’s CEO) in 2002 was fortuitous, and led to my work as a Trustee with Adviza. I’m at that period of my career where I want to give back and share my knowledge to help others if I can, and I have a great hunger to do that still.

Emma: What are the advantages of age, in your opinion?

Alison: One of the nice things when you have retired and paid the mortgage off is that you have huge freedom to say “I don’t think this will work”. What do you think?

Tell me about your career so far Emma.

Emma: I went to university to study English and didn’t know what I wanted to do after. I ended up going to work for a secondary school that pitched me a great role where I would work with kids struggling with English, but by the time I started there the role had changed and become a teaching assistant role rather than one-to-one support after school. I didn’t have a way to say “that’s not what I signed up for”. I think as you get older you get taken more seriously and are more able to challenge.

Alison: My age can show, but it doesn’t have to be a problem! Sometimes when I’m mentoring young people we might be talking about technology that I don’t use or understand. But that’s okay, I’m there to share what I can and I’ll joke about it if I don’t understand something! I think people respect me more for being open and honest rather than trying to hide that I’m not terribly current. With regards to your experience with your school job Emma, what’s the tipping point where you imagine you might have been able to say to the school, “that’s not the job description I had”? When do you think that confidence arrives? 

Emma: I don’t think I’m fully there yet but already in my second “proper” job, at Adviza, I already have much more of a voice. It’s interesting that you talk about technology because there is a flip side to that: I’m young, so people have always assumed I know everything about IT! People might ask me to help them figure something out on a spreadsheet, for instance. But nine times out of ten I’d just Google it and work it out.

Alison: I think if you’re older you assume young people are a quicker alternative to having to browse through a user manual!  On the general subject of age-related assumptions, I was dancing at a wedding last year and man in his late thirties said to me “I hope when I get to your age I can still shimmy on the floor like you can” and in my head I was thinking “how dare you label me as old!”.  I was probably overly-sensitive to that because I do aerobics and am fighting off old age. I volunteer with The Prince’s Trust because I want to stay engaged and I’m too old to teach.

Emma: What do you think gets trickier with age?

Alison: When the chips are down, it’s easy for employers to “hire young and inexpensive” and get rid of older employees who are often better paid. But experienced employees can look at a scenario and understand how things should be done because they’ve learned what works. It's a shame when younger people miss out on the opportunity to be mentored by experienced colleagues, because that can bring so much value. A younger person might want to run an idea past a mentor who can give good advice in a safe, consequence-free space. Do multigenerational teams work for you?

Emma: I don’t have huge experience of that, but I certainly see value in having people around with greater experience. Like you say, they can see where a path might lead and guide accordingly. I think having a safe sounding board and a professional example for younger workers is a great idea.

Alison: Do you envy anything about older generations?

Emma: I envy people who have worked in many different environments, or different roles or lines of business within the same employer. I can really see the value of a good breadth of experience and sort of look forward to the time when I have that! What do you think about younger generations? Do you envy anything you see in them?

Alison: Perhaps their attitude to change and to risk-taking. I know of younger people who fear they are staying in a post too long if they stay for a year-and-a-half or two years, so off they go. Job-hopping seems the normal mindset now. Though I envy the lack of fear, I wonder how much anyone can learn in eighteen months and whether it might be better to refine professional experience over five or six years. People seem impatient for gratification. I could be wrong.

Emma: I don’t think you’re wrong; younger people expect to ping-pong more in their careers. It’s more acceptable for people to job-hop today and it’s a way of working out what’s out there. If they’re not happy, there are many other options. Funnily enough, this often means that many young people are overwhelmed by choice. There’s also a growing desire amongst younger generations to have better work-life balance. For many, work isn’t so central to life, which may be because we’re all having more open conversations about mental health, purpose and what work means for people. That’s been a noticeable cultural shift.

Alison: I think that’s very true and I love your description of people “ping-ponging!” It’s really interesting to me that you use personal life and mental health in the same sentence, because we weren’t talking about that twenty years ago. People don’t put down roots as much today. I wonder whether people hit an issue and think “I’ve had enough of this” and then move on, because I think it’s good for your mental health to grow roots, graft through problems and come out the other side.

Emma: It’s interesting to hear that perspective. What advice would you give to younger workers?

Alison: Think about your pension and make you sure you plan for retirement because one day you will need it. These are the sort of things I’ve learned from experience, which backs up my point about the importance of mentors!

Emma: How do you view your career overall in comparison to the opportunities that younger people have? 

Alison: I have to say that I’ve had greater pleasure, loads of enriching experiences and many opportunities as an unpaid volunteer in a charity than I did as an employee. As a worker I was lucky: I had a good education, a supportive family and I did what I wanted to do and achieved in my career. What I missed was the opportunity to diversify my career as people do today, or an awareness that I could. I’d like to have been more involved with marketing, and if I could have my time again I’d diversify more—but with less ping-ponging! But I’ve loved what I’ve done.


Adviza is proud to offer staff a platform to share their views on a wide range of diversity and inclusion topics and acknowledges that these are, as they should be, many and varied. We champion equality and diversity which means all views are welcome.

Our vision is for all young people and adults to make better decisions that help them achieve their full potential. That includes following the path that makes them happy and being the most authentic version of themselves.


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