There’s an old-fashioned – and outmoded - saying that behind every great man there is a great woman, yet is it not the case that behind every great brand and business there are some great people doing unsung jobs to keep the whole enterprise going smoothly and efficiently?
Ok, not as catchy as sayings go, but it’s true. These are the positions that often don’t carry the glamour or receive the recognition they deserve but underpin an entire organisation. Some of them probably even have a poor image – written off as ‘dull’ or worse by people who do not understand what they do and why. They certainly never appear on lists of ‘dream jobs’ children want to grow up to do.
So what/who are these people? It’s time to shine a light on four vital positions that are relied on to make the world – or at least many of the businesses within it – go round…
Health and safety officer
There you go; straight away I can sense you rolling your eyes at the thought of the health and safety officer. This is the person who angrily brandishes a clipboard and tells you off for not doing things properly right?
Well, no. Although we’ve built up a fairly strong stereotype of what health and safety is in the UK and there’s some evidence to suggest that this gets the blame for all manner of ills unfairly. Like the famous old slogan, the health and safety officer job, done properly, ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’. They are there to look after the employees, making sure that they’re using the correct equipment in the correct way. It’s no exaggeration to say that their work can save lives, especially in the engineering sector where potentially dangerous machinery is handled on a daily basis.
Next time you see a Rolls Royce or fly a plane, consider that those manufacturing feats are only possible thanks to a safe workforce. Big firms will have skilled health and safety officers in place to ensure such construction tasks can be carried out safely. Without safety no such operation is viable. These positions don’t just look after the employee, but also the employer too – protecting expensive equipment and high-skilled staff. You need only glance at the pages of the Health and Safety Executive website to see the legal consequences of not following the rules.
We live in a world where communication is instant – tweets, blogs and Facebook posts are fired out without a second thought. Yet the way we digest such material means we might forgive the odd typo – and we can always update or delete a status. But accuracy is absolutely vital when it comes to the printed word. Novels, textbooks, manuals and leaflets all need to be well-written but even the best writer will make a mistake.
The true unsung hero of the printed word is the proof reader – the person who pores over the fine details to ensure the spelling and grammar is spot on. The checking and correcting process should also involve a copy or sub editor depending on the field you’re in.
It’s a role that is arguably even more important in that world of instant communication we explored earlier – any howlers will be held up to derision on Twitter and Facebook to your eternal embarrassment. Next time you’re reading a page-turning novel consider the role of the proof reader. The writer, understandably, gets the glory on the front page but the proofing process ensures their work is seen in the best light.
Susan Jeffers is one such unsung hero. She was proof reader and later copy editor on the Harry Potter series of books, ensuring the magic and mystery of Hogwarts jumped off the page in the way JK Rowling’s words intended. As she explains, her role was necessarily secretive as fans clamoured for plot morsels, meaning she was unable to discuss the knowledge she accrued.
Proof readers and copy editors are not only unsung but must be discreet too.
Technological advances have put computers at the heart of an awful lot of what we do in our personal and professional lives, so much so that we now take the hardware and software that underpins our daily tasks for granted. But how do the best businesses stay ahead of the game? It can be a pretty daunting to install or update software across hundreds or thousands of machines at a workplace – and how do you do it to avoid disrupting the very operation you’re trying to help?
IT experts are the people who are there to make sure the creative and manual workers within an organisation can flourish. We all know how frustrating it is when the hi-tech items we utilise fail. We also know that we can waste a lot of time and money on poorly deployed IT.
The work of such experts has moved on. Thanks to advancements in technology, software upgrades, deployments and patches do not require hours of down time any more. Products such as Nomad, from 1E, take away the need for desk-side visits. This silently effective software uses spare network bandwidth to work away in the background without affecting ongoing operations. This is the digital manifestation of the unsung – and very often unseen – work that gives every business the platform to survive.
It might sound too good to be true but this software can be the trick to a quick and pain-free software upgrade, for example. The Saint-Gobain Group, which designs and delivers innovative new construction materials, was impressed by the results when it deployed Nomad, reducing its branch server investment by 97 per cent. Guillaume Chuet, desktop solution manager, said: “We had initial concerns about optimal distribution over a LAN using only one peer for multiple clients rather than having each client being a peer for other machines. We need not have worried, it worked as it should, distribution was quick and reliable.”
This is typical of the way the modern IT expert – whether in house or, increasingly, outsourced – can keep a company’s costs down and its operations running smoothly and efficiently with minimal need to even be seen by the people they help.
No product or service we use could operate without effective IT management somewhere down the line. Whether it’s shopping, banking or messaging, we need these workers and we’d certainly know about it if their work ended.
Planning and construction
Every single new building that props up needs to go through a long process to become a reality. It’s all well and good to say that you want to, for example, rebuild Wembley Stadium, upgrade St Pancras Railway Station or build a new shopping centre but that’s the easy part. Turning that into a reality involves a lot of work and that includes a planning application and a long construction process.
Designers play a crucial part in that. Sir Terry Farrell was honoured for his role in developing the Olympic Park – turning a contaminated and unloved patch of land into a premium sporting venue which is now undergoing further transformation to secure its long-term future.
But, if you’re in London soaking up the stunning views at the top of The Shard consider the fact that the credit for this new iconic landmark is not just owed to architect Renzo Piano, but a whole team of people. That included Roma Agrawal, for example, who told The Telegraph about her job as a structural engineer on the Shard.
She summed up the pride to be had from such an unsung role, explaining: “Seeing a building rise from the ground in concrete and steel is one of my favourite parts of a project. You’ve only seen it on a computer screen or a 2D drawing, and suddenly it has become real. It’s a fantastic feeling. So is seeing people living and working in a building you’ve designed. Most of us become engineers to help people, to do something worthwhile and make a difference.”
Every landmark, new or old, began with designs and plans and these people performed vital roles in helping them get built. Whether it’s in the design and construction of our most eye-catching buildings, in protecting the physical and digital assets of leading businesses or in providing an all-important checking role for our best-loved literary works, these examples simply show how the world goes round thank to talented, dedicated and crucial work behind the scenes. Actually, unsung is the norm.
Nowhere is this more clearly pointed out than with the 21 Unsung Heroes website. This highlights the employees that are vital life in San Francisco and shines a light on how they contribute to the Californian city. A transit planner’s story is headlined ‘he’s skilled, he’s your neighbour, he keeps your city moving’, while ‘she’s skilled, she’s your neighbour, she keeps workers safe’ highlights the job of a contract compliance officer. The site is part of a political push for higher wages but hints at the fact that in an era obsessed by celebrities, our true heroes tend to be these unsung people.
American historian Daniel J Boorstin summed this up, saying: “In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs.”
Making the next step
Interestingly, start-ups and small and medium sized businesses can learn a lot from these four roles. It’s these unsung behind-the-scenes people that actually underpin larger organisations and the ability to call on the services of such employees makes a big difference if they want to reach the next level.
Small and medium firms aspiring to make it big need to tap into this sort of support – helping them to get the IT, planning, quality control and safety standards that allow the top companies to think big as well as act big.
In the short term that meets finding freelancers who are expert in their field and can grow the expertise and scale of an operation, giving it an all-important leg up the ladder.
If businesses of all shapes and sizes don’t ignore unsung heroes – and ensure they tap into and use the talents of such people – they’re on track to success.