Joanna Wawrzyczek talks about her project management placement with Helmsdale & District Development Trust, a community regeneration organisation based in the north of Scotland.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Joanna...
I was born in Poland where I lived until graduating from a high school in 2005. Later on, my continuous search for good education, work and a bit of adventure has seen me living and working in the United States, Greece and Scotland. I studied BSc (Hons) Zoology in Aberdeen and then MSc Ecosystem Services in Edinburgh.
What does your placement organisation do?
Helmsdale & District Development Trust (HDDT) is a community regeneration organisation set up to reverse the trend of decline within the area. Its business plan was informed by extensive public consultation which identified local needs and priorities, e.g. re-opening of the filling station, generation of affordable housing, transport for elderly.
What project are you working on?
I manage a proposed community land buyout of around 3,000 acres of land. My work involves liaison between the community, anchor organisation, the seller, consultants, funding bodies and other organisations. I am responsible for a delivery of this project in a timely and cost-effective manner.
What has been your biggest achievement during your placement so far?
I think that being able to lead the project through its ups, downs and turns with the help of all involved has been quite something. You never really know what the next corner will bring. However, we have successfully arrived at the near-end of the pre-purchase journey now, with few steps to take place before I hand over the project and all its potential community benefits and expectations to the new legal entity we have helped to set up from within the local people.
What have you learnt during your placement?
It is not easy to grasp how much I have learned since joining HDDT. There is an entire community development sector that I knew little about before. I had a good training in dealing with communities, various organisations and companies. I learned about relevant legislation, funding opportunities and the business side of things which environmentalists often ignore. It was also eye-opening to see how important land is for local people and experience the full extent of emotions associated with its management.
Above all, I learned that I am more than capable to deal with any challenges that may come up when managing a project.
How has your placement helped you transition from education into a working environment?
Through my previous experience at the university, I learned that I was very project-orientated. Since managing projects brings me a lot of joy, I wanted to explore it as a potential career path. The job advert came up just when I graduated and was intensely trying to figure out how to get a job as a project officer without actually having all the relevant skills and experience which all employers were asking for. This placement only reassured me that this career route is very rewarding, interesting, challenging and with continuous learning curve – exactly what I want from my job.
Which skills learned at college or university have helped you in your role?
I have brought some useful skills to the project, namely my research-orientated and analytical mind, background in environment and ecosystem services as well as my report writing and IT skills.
How will the contacts you have made during your placement help you in the future?
I had numerous opportunities through my work and while attending conferences to network and meet useful contacts. You never really know when it becomes handy, however I will definitely not hesitate to contact people when I think it could benefit anything what I do or want to achieve.
How did you hear about ScotGrad and your placement?
Totally by accident! I was looking through the main feed of LinkedIn and one of my university professors shared the job advert there in case any graduates are interested. I still bless the moment I switched on my laptop that day!!
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to go with the flow. I used to set my mind on one specific job role and work hard to achieve it only to find out at the end that I don’t really like it. Right now I’m enjoying building a variable skillset and experience base through working on different projects so I can apply these to various roles and scenarios. It is much more fun to do it that way as you always learn something new and life is just exciting!
Would you recommend ScotGrad?
Without a second thought – YES!