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Creative people are drawn to careers and activities that enable them to take responsibility for the design, layout or sensory impact of something (visual, auditory etc). They may be atrracted to the traditional artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, singing, or music. Or they may show more interest in design activities, such as architecture, animation, or craft areas, such as pottery and ceramics.

Creative people use their personal understanding of people and the world they live in to guide their work. Creative people like to work in unstructured workplaces, enjoy taking risks and prefer a minimum of routine.

Paul Harding, Prison Officer
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Paul Harding, Prison Officer

Paul completed his Leaving Cert and went to college to pursue his interests in science. After college he chose to join the Prison service, and has worked there since. The Prison service offers a great work / life balance and while challenging, provides Paul with many opportunities to progress his career.

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first question!

What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?

I have worked in bars and nightclubs for over 12 years and I think that this has been a huge help to me in my career as a Prison Officer. It helped me to deal with difficult situations and I learned how to read people which I find an extremely useful tool in my career.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

I don't really have one specific person but had spoken to friends in the service prior to joining and through them I thought it was a career path I might like. Once I joined and began working I found that the established officers were a huge help to me and a great influence on the way I carry out my duties.

How did you go about getting your current job?

I saw the notice in the paper in early '07 and applied online via publicjobs.ie. I was called for psychometric testing which I managed to pass, and this was followed by the interview itself. This was both a regular panel-type and also a group interview.

After passing this I was sent for a medical and I began training shortly afterwards. This consisted of 9 weeks in the Training Centre in Portlaoise after which I was assigned to Cloverhill Prison.

Describe a typical day?

I suppose the only typical thing about my day is just how untypical it is! Not only are no two days the same but I could safely say that no two minutes are the same.

I report for Parade at 08.00am where I receive my detail for the day. I report to the Officer in charge of this detail where I'm given my post for the day. This could be anything from standing on a landing to working in the surgery, the gym, the school or the laundry.

We may also be detailed escort duty where we bring prisoners to Court, Hospital or prison-to-prison transfers.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

My main responsibility comes from the Mission Statement of the Irish Prison Service. My job is to ensure the Safe, Secure and Humane custody of all prisoners placed in my care.

What are the main challenges?

One of the main challenges is that every day is different. The situation can change at any minute and I must remain alert and ready to deal with any situation as and when they arise. Also, it can be a challenge to leave my personal troubles at the gate and not to carry any worries or moods with me into the job.

What's cool?

The hours are a definite plus. I work 5 days one week, with 2 days off then 5 days off with 2 days on. Every second weekend is a long weekend so is ideal for spending time with family or for weekends away.

The variety of the job is another very good aspect, no two days are the same. From a financial point of view we are well taken care of. We work long hours in a demanding environment but are well paid to do so.

The promotional prospects are very good. All ranks within the service began on the landings so promotion up the ranks is very achievable.

What's not so cool?

It can be difficult sometimes dealing with prisoners who have been committed to prison for the first time. They can be embarrassed, angry, frustrated and scared all at the same time. The shift work element is not for everyone I suppose but it's very much "Horses for Courses".

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

I think the most important skill someone could bring to this job would be common sense combined with good communication skills in order to diffuse situations, and a sense of humour. The ability to take a mental step-back before responding to an incident can be an important skill to learn as an extra second of analysis could completely alter how you would respond to a specific situation. Consistency in dealing with people and the ability to be firm but fair are also very important.

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

I concentrated on science subjects in school as that was where my interest was at the time, but to be honest I don't feel that any subjects I took in school have had any great bearing on my job today. I feel that Life Skills are much more important for the work I do today.

What is your education to date?

I have done several years in college and have Certificates in Chemistry and Biology and a Diploma in Quality Management but I suppose the only way in which the science subjects help me in the Prison Service is that they taught me attention to detail.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

A good standard of education is probably becoming more important in the future of the Service and computer skills would be an advantage, but I think the main skills required would be common sense, good communication skills and definitely a sense of humour!

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

Diffusing difficult situations using my communication skills alone can be very rewarding. One word can mean the difference between a situation escalating out of control and diffusing harmlessly.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

I'd like to think that I have good communication skills, a fair sprinkling of common sense and a decent (if perhaps slightly warped!) sense of humour. I feel I am consistent, am capable of acting in a firm but firm manner and also don't take myself too seriously.

What is your dream job?

Unless Rafa Benitez calls me in the morning then I think perhaps I might already have it. I really enjoy what I do.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

For me, the lifestyle suits me very well. Our working life is based on maximum time on versus maximum time off so it means that when I'm not working I can get things done. It's very useful for people with small children or simply for dropping the car to the garage.

There is excellent job security which means one less worry and one advantage of our roster is that I can tell for years to come when I'm on duty and when I'm off.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Go for it. If you feel you may be suitable, then you probably are. An ability to not take yourself too seriously would be an advantage!

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

Good communication skills. Sense of humour and common sense. Ability to be consistent, firm but fair.

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

Training courses are constantly taking place within the Service in many diverse areas such as Hostage Negotiation, Security Units and Dog Handling Courses. As yet I haven't completed any of these but they are on my list!

I'm participating in a college course at the moment, a combined venture between the Irish Prison Service and Sligo I.T. which I find challenging but very rewarding. Although I may not be actively partaking in training courses, I am very aware that while I am on the job I am constantly learning. I think the day I stop learning is the day I should leave.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Any job with a fair degree of public interaction would be a plus. Bar/Club work would be ideal.

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