Ever wondered about how the important skills and knowledge you acquire at the iSchool may be applied beyond the library environment? Rob Ambra, a recent graduate of the iSchool (June 2010) and former co-chair of the SLA Toronto student group, has kindly shared his story offering some insights into development and broader application of transferable skills.
1. Please describe your current position. What do you enjoy most about your work and what are the most challenging aspects?
I have worked for the Ontario Government since graduating from the iSchool. My two previous roles in the government have been in Records and Information Management. I have recently moved to my current role (Business Analyst,Service Ontario), where I am working in operational reviews, business process re-engineering, and business planning. Records/Information Management comprises one of the lines of business I am looking at.
I like the client interaction aspect of my work. My roles have all been tied to wider projects or initiatives that require client outreach, management of diverse stakeholder groups, private sector interaction, and delivery on client expectations. I have also come to enjoy project management, and my position offers ample opportunity to develop my skills in that area.
With respect to challenges, the rigour associated with proper electronic Information Management (IM) is not “sexy.” People see it as a chore, or an interference with their personal style of arranging and saving their work. The client interaction and education side of IM can be an ongoing struggle. But if the training and awareness is presented in the right way, staff can see how IM can actually make their job easier.
2. What advice would you offer to new professionals, and to students currently pursuing their Master of Information degrees?
Networking through the SLA Toronto Student Group was hugely important to my professional development and opportunities while in school, and continues to be incredibly important within my workplace as well. I know people can be uncomfortable networking, and I am too. I tend to just try to be myself and hope that approach resonates with people.
My first job out of school was obtained through perseverance and trying to take advantage of available opportunities, so I would stress these just as much as networking. To look for opportunities you might not normally encounter on the iSchool job board, think of different ways to present your skills if your interests lie outside of the library world, and be willing to learn.
For those still in school: there is a lot of competition for the student jobs at Toronto-based libraries, so create your own opportunities to get work experience. The U of T work-study program offers many good student jobs that aren’t classed as traditional “information” jobs, but draw on skills that you learn in the program (and they’re not always well-advertised). My work-study position directly helped me to get the skills I drew on after graduation and was also my first exposure to working in an IT environment.
If you meet someone at a guest lecture or alumni event and want to learn more about their career path, email them. It could open up new avenues or new areas of interest.
3. Please tell us about courses you took during your Masters of Information program, and/or outside of the iSchool, that particularly helped to prepare you for the workforce.
Within the iSchool program, I really enjoyed Kelly Lyons’ Project Management course. Kelly has extensive experience in the private sector and was able to provide valuable lessons learned from her previous projects to supplement her lectures.
Professor Choo’s Knowledge Management course was great. I haven’t worked in that field, but the course content provided a very insightful and practical look at how information and knowledge are transferred in the workplace. This has been helpful in all of my work.
I took both practicum courses offered, and they were invaluable in learning how to work with client groups to define their requirements in order to produce and deliver an appropriate final product. These were transferable skills that applied to my Records/Information Management and Business Analyst roles. They also were valuable in learning how to manage my own project timelines and deliverables.
A year after I graduated, I completed the test for a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification because I wanted to get more formal training in the field.
4. Why did you join the SLA, and what did you get out of it?
I joined SLA at the end of my first year of the program and ended up serving as the co-chair of the SLA Toronto Student Group for my second year. Soon after this, professionals who had long been associated with SLA Toronto began contacting us, reaching out to help with the student group, and offering themselves as speakers at our events. I knew pretty early on that I had made the right choice to get involved.
To this day, I remain overwhelmed by the support the student group received from the network of Toronto professionals we worked with. I’m grateful for the guidance I received from professionals I met through SLA Toronto, and am happy to be still involved as part of the group’s Partner Relations Committee.
Written by Louise Donnelly