“University was pushed as pretty much the only option if you wanted to be successful”

Louise is currently undertaking an apprenticeship with West Midlands Combined Authority. Though Louise has had to overcome several obstacles in her way she is now well on her way to successfully completing her Level 4 Apprenticeship. Through the apprenticeship experience Louise has been able to build her confidence within the working environment and expand her knowledge whilst gaining valuable hands on experience. Below you can read Louise’s inspirational story.

In Sixth Form, University was pushed as pretty much the only option if you wanted to be successful – we did not hear much about alternative routes like apprenticeships. I went against the grain and decided that I wasn’t going to apply for University for the sake of it, if I did it was going to be on my terms and when I felt ready. At that time, I had briefly looked into apprenticeships but the ones I came across were catered to more practical roles, such as engineering, which I couldn’t envision myself doing. A few years went by and I finally felt confident about going to University, I had started the application process but unfortunately life had other plans and University wasn’t on the cards for me. One day my life was turned upside down and inside out. I went on to suffer from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which stunted any hopes I had for my future. From that point onwards I started to work in lower paying jobs in retail and care work with no career aspirations, I had to work to earn money and that was that.

A couple of years later, I took a break from working, as my PTSD had got progressively worse in the working environment I was in at the time, I just couldn’t cope anymore. I genuinely believed I wouldn’t be able to hold down a job ever again, all prospects of a successful career fell apart right in front of me and I was only in my early twenties. Nonetheless, I decided to keep an eye on what was out there to see if there was a way for me to pick up the pieces and to finally move on with my life. I was at a point where I felt my only route into a profession would be through an apprenticeship. A part of me knew that I would be able to achieve great things within a professional environment, I just needed to get my foot in the door and prove myself. I may not have had a piece of paper to say I had written 10,000 words on X but I knew I would make a good employee somewhere.

I liked the idea of being able to work and learn simultaneously with both feeding into one another. I felt as though an apprenticeship would bridge the gap between education and working, as I had been out of education for a while, I was a bit concerned about how my levels had declined, if they had at all. I was conscious that my PTSD had developed long after I had left any form of formal education and knew that how my brain works had changed significantly. An apprenticeship felt like the best option, challenging yet safe, I would be able to figure out how I learn and take it a unit at a time with the support of my tutor.   

I started searching and applying for roles where I thought I could make a good fit. Whilst I didn’t get offered some of them, the mere process of applying and interviews reignited something in me that I thought I had lost long ago. One day, I came across a role that was right up my street, it catered to my passions and core values as a person and was at an amazing company. It was clear that their priorities were in the right place, being the only organisation I came across with a clear commitment to mental health – this meant all the more to me as my struggles had been so persistent over the previous years and were unlikely to disappear anytime soon. I applied for the role knowing it was unlikely I would get it but I had nothing to lose. I was one of 7 applicants who were offered an interview. I was the only one without a degree. No-one is as surprised as I am that I got the job.

The biggest issue I have had to overcome, and am still dealing with, is no doubt the effects of my mental health. It is something that I carry with me every day and influences how I see the world. Small things like travelling to work would set off a hypervigilance within me that I could not really control, but I got through them because I knew that my apprenticeship and my job role would provide me with opportunities I could not have imagined before.

I enjoyed the separation between work mode and life mode, it was a sense of relief that allowed me to get back to being an employee rather than someone with a mental illness. I was just Louise, the new apprentice. People would see me in my job role and see someone who is passionate about what they are doing and committed to promoting EDI and wellbeing. They would see someone at the beginning of their career rather than someone who had lost their livelihood through trauma. I could see a path being laid before me that was representative of who I am now rather than who I was before. I do not mourn who I was before so much anymore, I question where I would be if I had not experienced what I have. But by completing my apprenticeship I can honestly say that anything I would have done before, would not compare to where I am now.

Figuring out how my brain learns best now has been difficult. Whereas before I could have easily stayed up until 3 in the morning finishing off an essay the day it is due in, I have found now that I just cannot do that, I get overwhelmed and spiral. Now I am best when I work in chunks and work my way up from easiest to hardest. It may seem strange to some people, but it works for me. My apprenticeship has given me the freedom to experiment and figure out how I learn, a skill essential to progression and it is something I am exceedingly thankful for.

My apprenticeship has enabled me to go about my job role with an open mind set. Every day I am incredibly grateful to be in the position I am now, I am not scared to take up opportunities, or even to create my own. I had been in my position for a few weeks and was introduced to a senior member of the organisation, I had no qualms about asking them if I could see what it is that they do and to learn a bit more about the organisation overall – by that point it was a mine field to me and to be honest it can still feel like that now. By throwing caution to the wind a wealth of experiences has opened before me.  I have coordinated events, led an accreditation process, presented papers to the senior leadership team and even written policies. I will have been in my role a year in August. It has been the most monumental year and I cannot put into words how much I have gained and learnt from this process nor can I express how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity. 

If you think an apprenticeship is the right fit for you please email skills@ptp-training.co.uk and we will be able to offer you the advice and guidance to get you started on your brand new career path.

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