Case study

Enforcement officer — Lucy Hawkins

Lucy is training to become a fully qualified trading standards officer, working in the areas of food, feed and animal health

How did you get your job?

After graduating with a BA Hons geography with planning, I continued in my part-time role at a local leisure centre, a job I'd previously held to support myself during my studies. I then took on the role of laboratory testing technician at a local packaging company, as I was eager to secure a full-time position.

I gained some great industry experience in this role, which certainly helped when I began to look for jobs which I felt were more suited to my degree. I applied for and got my current role with Derbyshire County Council by completing their application form and having an interview.

What are your main work activities?

I'm currently undertaking my Core Skills in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards qualification through the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, which will then allow me to go on and complete a diploma in my chosen areas of trading standards.

My job is mainly office-based but many days are taken up visiting traders or dealing with complaints. These can be anything from routine farm inspections, visiting feed mills, to food safety inspections at food producers or retailers.

Complaints are received directly or from the Citizens Advice Consumer Service, and these must be organised by the duty officer working that day. Management then distribute the complaints to the relevant people. Some complaints require ongoing investigations, some animal health complaints require immediate attention and some simply require passing on to a different authority, such as environmental health.

I also spend some of my time taking food samples from food retailers across Derbyshire. We have a quarterly sampling programme looking at different aspects of food safety; officers are then required to go out and buy the relevant samples and send them to the public analyst for testing. Samples must be taken in accordance with a set standard and all the relevant paperwork has to be completed before sending them to the public analyst.

Other areas which are a crucial part of the job, but don't happen on a daily basis, include interviewing possible offenders, collecting witness samples and visiting court to prosecute offenders.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Every day varies so much: you can go to work in a suit for a meeting in the morning, and then end up getting changed into jeans to go and look at an animal welfare complaint in the afternoon.

I also enjoy driving, which there is a lot of in this job. Most days the work you're doing really makes a difference, whether it's ensuring that a farm animal is no longer suffering, or an allergy sufferer can eat in a restaurant that they know is safe. Its hard work, but is always worth it.

What are the challenges?

You constantly have to learn and adapt to new legislation as there are always new laws being brought in and existing laws being amended. It can also be challenging when working with hostile people. When visiting traders due to a complaint, they can often become quite defensive towards officers.

It's also challenging when visiting animal health complaints. In some cases, farm animals have been mistreated and are being neglected and it can be quite hard to deal with these situations.

It's sometimes necessary to deal with animal carcasses, which not everyone could cope with as part of their working life.

Is your degree relevant to your job?

Although not directly related to my job, the advert stated that a law-based degree was preferred. Some aspects of my degree were easy to relate to features in the job description, such as the ability to interpret legal and technical language, which is a crucial part of planning.

Other useful transferable skills I developed on my degree include organisational, IT, people and communication skills.

What are your career ambitions?

Currently I'm working towards getting my qualifications and hope to progress my career by becoming a trading standards officer and then one day becoming a part of the management team.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

You have to be an outgoing and focused person as the workload is not always easy to manage and you have to be willing to work some early mornings, late nights and weekends. Being a well-rounded person has definitely helped me in this role; working with the public has been much easier as I've worked with the public in the past.

I would also advise students and graduates to look into the job before applying, as employers will expect you to have a good understanding of the role. You need to be willing to accept that you may not get a full-time position straight away; being offered a six or 12 month contract to begin with is quite common.

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