The portfolio career: travel and midwifery

Jenny Barclay talks to about how she balances a part-time job in the travel industry with training to be a midwife.

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Jenny Barclay has managed to combine a job in travel with training to be a midwife and the two very different worlds have balanced each other out well, allowing her to draw on her years of experience in travel while learning something completely new.

Jenny has worked in the travel industry for over 20 years and, at the time of the Covid pandemic, was working part time for a company that had changed hands a lot. It went into administration and Jenny says the experience and how it was handled put her off working in travel again. She had thought about midwifery for several years – her mum was a nurse and midwife and her brother is a doctor.

At the start of her working life she had thought she would be a teacher, but she soon realised it was not for her, but the yearning for a vocational job remained. “I wanted to do something that was not just a job,” she says, adding that the thought of midwifery briefly came to mind after she had her first son. However, amid the turbulence of being a parent for the first time, it seemed easier at the time to return to what she knew. Now, at 49, with a 19 year old, a 15 year old and a nine year old, the time seemed right to branch out.

So before her travel company went bust she started preparing to study midwifery. When she was furloughed she did a diploma on women’s biology and applied to go to university to do a midwifery degree. She was still looking for a job at the time and was offered one at a bank, when she got a message on LinkedIn from Matt, the husband of Helen Cannon, founder of ISON Travel. She had a chat and was offered a job. Jenny decided to give it a go as the company seemed a good one and very forward-thinking. They had done their homework to find experienced travel industry people who might be tempted to join them after the pandemic.

Jenny mentioned her midwifery plans to Matt and he suggested that she could work part time for ISON. Jenny was accepted onto the midwifery course which comprises blocks of time when she is at the university and blocks when she is on placement. For the last two and a half years she has been able to combine the course with her job at ISON.

It has worked really well with both ISON and her university being flexible. Plus, although Jenny lives just outside Edinburgh, she gets to visit her oldest son Tom on company days as he is studying near ISON Travel’s Working headquarters.

Maximum flexibility

Jenny [pictured right] started at ISON as an account manager, which was what she had done previously, but she soon realised she couldn’t manage the midwifery course and two days a week at ISON. ISON was keen to keep her and she reduced to one day a week with a focus on areas where the company could benefit best from all her experience, including devising their sustainability strategy. She says she can self-schedule so there is maximum flexibility about when she does her eight hours a week.

For Jenny, continuing to work in travel has been a really good counterbalance to the stress of working in the NHS which she describes as a ‘culture shock’. “I’ve never worked for the public sector and the NHS is such a big beast,” she says. She adds that going into midwifery later means she can bring all sorts of transferable skills to a job that involves seeing people at their most vulnerable. “Anything can happen,” she says, “and it’s so interesting to see how women cope.”

After completing her course, Jenny has started looking for jobs in the NHS, but she says that, despite demand for staff, it can be difficult to find permanent roles due to funding issues. She is not sure what she will do if she does get a job. She loves working for ISON and part of her thinks she may continue to do both roles as they balance each other out well. She recalls attending an ISON company day at Christmas after a few tough days on the labour ward which had been emotionally draining. “ISON was like a retreat,” she says. “I know what I am doing in travel and the people are so lovely.”

She is very grateful to ISON for all their support so far.  “I was so shocked when they said I could still work for them despite my course that I almost fell off my seat,” she says. “They put their money where their mouth is and walk the talk. It’s all about trust and empowerment.” She adds that she is so enthusiastic about the company that she found herself singing its praises to a dad on the post-natal ward. “For me doing both jobs side by side has worked out really well,” she says.

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