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05.08.06: Noel Griffin (1997)

Noel Griffin from 1998 (when WIP was known as YL, or Young Leaders) catches up with WIPAN and is asked twenty tough questions.

Where are you from?
A small seaside town in south Galway called Kinvara.

What did you do in university?
My first attempt was Manufacturing Engineering, at Brunel University in West London, but I finally graduated with a degree in Modern History and Politics from QUB in 2000.

Where are you now?
Belfast city centre

What do you work as?
I am a Staff Officer in the Department for Employment and Learning NI. I have worked in Training Programmes Branch since starting in October 2003, in the policy unit responsible for the Department's Jobskills Modern Apprenticeship (MA) programme. We are currently involved in reconfiguring the replacement for the Jobskills programme which will encompass 16-25 year olds. It's perhaps the most important thing to happen to vocational training in NI for the last 10 years and will play a considerable role in shaping the future development of the province.

What is a typical day like?
There is no such thing as a typical day at work. These days the thing that can be counted on is that each day will bring some crazy deadline that is more important than the 20 other deadlines I already have.

The reconfiguration of Professional and Technical Training (previously known in the real world as vocational training) is the biggest project and work for that is pretty varied. I spend a lot of my time providing advice and guidance to the network of Training Organisations involved in the delivery of Modern Apprenticeships across NI. I also manage the annual Modern Apprenticeship of the Year Awards which is quite fun.

Like many other branches in the Civil Service we also have to respond to all manner of requests for information including letters to the Minister or the Department and Parliamentary Questions. All of which have to be answered within strict timescales and many also require comprehensive background information. Some of these can be real duseys, I had recently required part-input from 6 different Departments!

How did you choose that career path?
Well there are a number of contributing factors. I was very taken with the whole idea of Pro-Bono work while in the States. I also happen to be of the sad delusion that the civil service should be the most exciting and challenging place to work as you are responsible for so much of the way that society develops. I also kind of was not quite finished with Belfast.

When did the light bulb go off and you decided, 'This is it!'? Or has the light bulb gone off yet?
I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up.

What have you been doing for the past six months?
I just finished an A-Level in Photography which was a lot of fun, frustration and sleepless nights. I am now looking at doing a part-time Higher National Diploma (HND). I have also been working with the YES programme. I was briefly involved with a Drama Group here in Belfast which strangely enough my first two performances with were in Galway, which I have to say was rather surreal.

What are the best and least favourite bits about living in Belfast?
I do like the fact that I have only an 8 min walk to work in the morning. It is a very compact city. People are very friendly and it has been very good to me over the years. It does take for ever to get back to Galway though. More recently I have been missing an accent from home, strange the things you miss.

What motivates you?
Really depends on the time of day, day of the week, and the month of the year. Few things motivate better than a deadline except, perhaps, good vanilla ice-cream.

What do you care about? What is your passion? And what do you do to demonstrate that?
Tough question to answer with out sounding twee. I suppose I am starting to develop a passion for Photography. I care about active participation in politics. I always vote and gently prod, sometimes not so gently, at people who don't. I love the theatre, opera and classical music. I used to be a competition set-dancer but have recently attempted to try other forms, but for the better classes here in Belfast you need a regular dance partner which is surprisingly difficult to come by. People can be so shy but I am open to offers.

When you were a Young Leader, what host family did you stay with and where?
I was on the Young Leaders Programme in 1998 and returned the following year as a co-ordinator with Claire Kirk.

During the first year I stayed with Jack and Joanne Donohue, just inside Fairfax County I think. I shared with Nigel Hamilton. I went back to stay with them the next year and it really was like coming home. They treated Nigel and I so well over there that I have to say that they are the outstanding memory I have of my time in America.

The second year I stayed with Kathie and Ritch, in their basement as they had forgot to arrange alternative accommodation for me. William Boyd also stayed with Kathie and Ritch.

Any notable stories about that from your summer?
Quite a few, not all that I would be willing to put down in writing! We were one of the last years that travelled with the Project Children kids: imagine Dublin to New York in a plane full of 8-12 year old kids many from troubled backgrounds, and half way across the Atlantic they managed to set off the emergency evacuation alarm.

Mount Lebanon Baptist Church was definitely a high point, even to a raving atheist like myself.

What was your work placement like?
Senator Ron Wyden. Back then we only had 4 weeks. The office of the Senator had been involved with the programme since the start, but they did not know what to make of me as an Irish person - I was the first Irish intern they could understand, I didn't drink and I was an atheist.

I really loved that office a very laid back atmosphere but very professional and cosmopolitan atmosphere. There were actually two of us from the programme there. Due to a muck up in her primary placement Gillian Fergusson, who was living with the Wydens, also interned there. We were involved in answering phones at the front desk, sorting mail, did some research for the staff and got a chance to write some responses on behalf of the Senator. The staff were surprised how well we managed to adapt to their way of writing so quickly. The other interns were from the top universities in America and it was a kick to be able to hold your own especially when you knew very little about what was going on there.

Back in that summer, what was your ambition?
I am not sure that I had one at the time, I was just glad to be there and strangely enough it felt very natural to be there. I know Paul had an ambition for me to come back and set up a youth political party that would spark a revolution here in the North, which is where the seeds of the alumni association was born I suppose.

How has the WIP/ YL experience impacted on your life, personally and professionally?
A tough one. On a professional level it has not helped in any direct way. I know that some people suffered from looking over qualified for jobs when they used it too much. On a personal level I would still hold some of those I met on the programme as good friends, even if we do not see each other all that often these days.

What is your favourite memory about your summer experience?
The experience of staying with my host family.

What's the best thing about Ireland, North and South?
Recent prosperity has lead to more and more people travelling abroad and coming back to Ireland somewhat enriched by their experiences more confident as a people and less of the MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever) syndrome.

And the worst thing?
We can still be somewhat belligerently insular and resistant to change which we sometimes express in rather nasty ways.

What are your hopes and ambitions for the future, personally, professionally and for WIP?
Personally I suppose I am looking forward to my HND in Photography and the chance to explore my new hobby, which is both a solo activity and a group one. This is, I have to say, is one of its main appeals to me.

Professionally at the moment I am just trying to keep my head and get to the end of the whole process of implementing the results of the reconfiguration of vocational training in NI. That will come to an end in March 2007. I don't think I am a career Civil Servant at this time but I plan to try and get as much out of my time in the service as I can. I also plan to get out of Belfast one of these days too.

For WIP: This one is a tough one. I used to have lots of long hard discussions with Paul and others about its future. I suppose more recently I have had less time to do so. I do feel however that the time is coming where it will have to reinvent itself and re-position itself if it is to be seen as relevant in the current situation in Ireland, especially if the Assembly gets up and running. Public funding is becoming harder to come by. While the future standing of WIP is by no means certain there is every possibility that it will continue to exist for another 10 years providing the extraordinary experiences to many more unsuspecting groups of young people from both sides of the border.

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