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Nicola Berry

 

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”

 

 

We sat down with Career Coach Nicola and discussed how life can take you down a number of paths and sometimes the wrong path can take you to the right moment.

The outcome? An insightful career story that teaches us that life is like a camera; we must focus on what’s important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t work out, give it another shot.

Did you pursue further or higher education?

After completing compulsory education, I continued at my school’s 6th form to study a GNVQ in Health and Social Care while resitting my maths and English GCSE’s. At the time I was definitely a creature of habit and didn’t feel ready to leave school, and so although I passed, I didn’t take the course too seriously.

What shape did your career take post education?

After completing my GNVQ, I went onto a Childcare Apprenticeship with a local nursery where I completed a Level 2 qualification. Shortly after this, I fell pregnant and had my first child at age 20. I took a short amount of time out of work, before searching for a suitable part-time role to work alongside my childcare commitments; I found myself working 2 nights a week in Tesco, re-organising stock and product placements, and this was the ideal role for me at the time, as I earned more working 2 nights than I did in a full week in my apprenticeship. It was a physically demanding role, but the work/life balance enabled me to care for my son most of the time, and it was really important to me that I was there for him as much as physically possible.

How has your career journey developed?

After a few years in the role and bringing up my son, my confidence was at an all-time low. I was a single mother and had little interaction with others, and I wasn’t really sure who I was or what I wanted to do with my future. I started attending Zumba classes at YMCA Swansea and slowly got involved with the organisation, receiving excellent support from the team to boost my confidence and improve my health and wellbeing. This was the start of a very positive journey as I eventually ended up volunteering as a Gym Instructor. This role gave me so much confidence and experience whilst I completed the formal training alongside. My new qualification meant that I was able to join YMCA Swansea as a full-time member of staff, (whilst continuing my part-time role in Tesco) running fitness classes, providing personal training, offering health and wellbeing mentoring, and getting involved with the employability support available.

In 2017 I became pregnant with my second child, and when returning to work, I was not able to resume my previous fitness related duties due to injury. Instead I worked full-time supporting those in long-term unemployment back into work through a package of employability support, with a specific focus on health and wellbeing to improve self-esteem and confidence.

In 2019, the project I worked on was coming to an end and I was ready for a new challenge. This is when I happened upon a Career Coach role on the Better Jobs, Better Futures programme, which seemed like the perfect opportunity for me at the perfect time. I applied and was successful, and I was absolutely ecstatic!

Are there any career decisions that you regret?

My attitude is to never regret a single thing – life is a constant learning curve and you could spend every day regretting decisions, but looking forward is the best way to improve your prospects and create positive change.

Did your career direction change after having children?

After my second child I was unable to return to my previous role in the same capacity, but this presented itself as an opportunity and made me realise that, regardless of what role I pursued next, I absolutely wanted to be helping people to change their lives for the better. This became my focus, direction and motivation, and while I wasn’t working in the same way, I was achieving the same important outcomes.

Is there one thing you wish you’d known when you were younger?

I wish I had realised that you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do when you leave school, and you can always change your career direction whenever you want to! Life is about finding yourself and enjoying the journey not just focusing on the end result. It’s so important to remember that you can influence, direct and control your life and make it exactly what you want it to be.

What is your ultimate piece of advice?

Don’t rush the process; you don’t need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life, you just need to be working towards your next step. Be patient, believe in yourself, and whatever you can do, is enough!

James Bevan

Did you pursue further or higher education?

I achieved 9 GCSEs and went on to study A-levels at Cross Keys College. I applied to Swansea University to study Law and after going through clearing, I was lucky enough to secure a place. I absolutely loved university, it was one of the best times of my life and to be honest, I probably enjoyed it a little bit too much! I was thrilled to be living in and experiencing Swansea as a City much bigger than where I was brought up in Abertillery! University was a massive turning point in my life: from a young age I was bullied in school for being the ‘quiet’ one and I was an easy target for people because I was interested in my education. The bullying had a massively detrimental effect on my self-esteem and made me believe that I would never amount to much. My parents were very protective and were incredibly shocked when I announced that I was going to Swansea University as they didn’t think I had the confidence to move out and move on; but I did, and I knew that University would be the start of the rest of my life.

What lessons did university teach you?

University taught me some hugely valuable life lessons and showed me that if you want something badly enough, it is up to you to go and get it. I had an insatiable desire to prove the bullies wrong; I knew that my life would be a result of my choices, and because of all the negativity I had experienced growing up, I was incredibly determined to make the right ones. During my degree I realised that Law wasn’t for me and I became disillusioned and lost my motivation. My determination meant that I stuck at it, but I was hugely disappointed to finish with a 3rd class degree. In my mind, I felt that I had underachieved and that I had wasted 3 years of my life. I felt that I had failed myself and more importantly, I felt that I failed my family who had supported me emotionally and financially for such a long period of time. This all sounds quite negative, but it was at this point that I had my biggest reality check and knew that I needed a new direction, new focus and new goals in order to move forward.

What direction did you take after University?

After University I decided to stay in Swansea and get a job. Naively I thought that I would walk into any job because I was a graduate with a Law degree. I ignorantly thought that a lot of jobs were beneath me. But 6 months later when I was still unemployed, reality hit me when I had to sign on for job seekers allowance. This was one of the lowest points of my life and I felt embarrassed. There were so many negative perceptions at the time about people who claimed JSA and this terrified me, but I had nowhere else to turn. Despite my initial reservations, I received great support, and after 6 months I successfully gained a place on a programme run by the City and County of Swansea which supported people into work through paid work placements. My placement was with the Lifelong Learning and Employment Training Service (LLETS), and despite my initial nerves, I quickly gained a lot of skills and with it, a lot of self-belief. I started to think maybe I could do it after all. After 6 months I was offered a position as an Employer Liaison Officer as part of the Workways programme and I continued to build my experience and confidence. I stayed with the City and County of Swansea for 5 years and progressed onto the role of Traineeship Engagement Co-ordinator in my first 2 years. At 23, I was one of the youngest managers and I felt good about myself for the first time in a long time. Friends that I had been in university with were on short term contracts in roles that they weren’t content with, whereas through my own sheer drive and determination, I had secured myself a foot on the ladder of my chosen career. This helped with my self-acceptance: I finally felt confident in the choices I had made and I had a newfound motivation to push myself to achieve my bigger career goals.

What shape has your career taken since?

My first managerial position was to cover maternity leave for a year, after which the role was made redundant. Over the next 3 – 4 years I struggled to get back to the level that I wanted to be at. The Council lost the contract for traineeships and they were picked up by Rathbone Training where I secured a position, firstly as an Essential Skills Tutor and eventually progressing to a Lead Tutor role. I was back in a Managerial function with increased responsibilities and I was thriving, but it definitely wasn’t without its challenges; as a charitable organisation there wasn’t much funding available so my colleagues and I had to do as much as possible for very little reward. I started to burn out and my dissatisfaction lead me to look for other opportunities. This is when I came across the Project Coordinator role with Gower College Swansea. The role seemed a perfect fit for me so I applied for it and I got the job. I couldn’t believe it! Over the past three and a half years with the college, I’ve been incredibly lucky to progress further in management, firstly to the role of Programme Manager, and more recently to the role of Deputy Director. I am now doing what I have always wanted to do – providing management support to a department of individuals who want to genuinely support and help the people that need it the most. The department are now meeting people who I worked with 11-12 years ago; people who felt that they were at their lowest point with nowhere to turn but who now have secure jobs, mortgages and are able to support their families. These moments remind me why I do what I do and why the work of the programme is so vital in helping people have hope, prospects and a full life that is absolutely worth living.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

I wish I had the knowledge that I have now relating to all things employability as I am incredibly passionate about the importance of providing meaningful career support. I still get frustrated that so many people don’t have the basic employability skills needed to succeed, purely because they aren’t ever taught or shown how. I wish I had the knowledge needed to support people sooner, because I often think about the people that have perhaps slipped through the net and are now dealing with the consequences of a lack of vital support. Another thing I wish I knew when I was younger was to say yes to everything and stop being so afraid. I lacked so much confidence that I would never try anything new or different and I now look back at all the potential missed opportunities. If I could give my younger self any advice then it would be to put yourself out there and know that mistakes are just proof that you are trying. For anyone in a similar situation, don’t fear rejection because every time I thought I was being rejected, I was actually just being redirected to something better. It always seems impossible until it’s done and if you never try, you’ll never know.

Top tip when applying for jobs?

To give yourself the best possible chance of success you have to use the support services available to you and have faith in yourself and your abilities. Have the confidence to apply for jobs that are seemingly out of reach because when I applied for my first roles on the managerial ladder I never thought I would be successful, but if I hadn’t given it a go, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.  Everything teaches us something so use your experiences to your advantage – only you can decide how successful you are going to be!

What is your ultimate piece of advice?

My ultimate piece of advice would be to never turn down any opportunity, even if it seems irrelevant at the time. Real opportunities are the ones we don’t immediately see and they often come at the most unexpected, inopportune moments. Every opportunity can offer something new, something different, something more, so take full advantage and see what happens. Replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity and excitement because the desire to learn, explore and discover new things can lead to a much happier and fuller life – this is something I have learnt and I now feel grateful for each and every experience, good or bad, that has come my way. It’s ok not to be ok, but it’s not ok to stay that way, so make positive changes, take control of your life and be happy!

James is our Deputy Director of Employability here at Better Jobs, Better Futures. Get in touch to see what we can do for you: 01792 284450.

 

Angela Davies

 “Have an attitude of gratitude”. 

 

We sat down with Career Coach Angela and spoke about the importance of your career journey aligning with your core values. The outcome? An insightful career story that proves if you do your best in every situation, the results will always follow.  

Did you pursue further or higher education? 

 I stayed in school to study science based A Levels with the intention of studying Behavioural Science at University, but after looking into degree courses and options of universities, I decided to go in a different direction and study primary school teaching. After completing a two-year Diploma of Higher Education qualification, I decided to move across to a combined BA degree course in Modern English Studies & Urban Rehabilitation. I finally felt like I had found the right course for me, and that I was now on the right track to a career I would enjoy.  

What shape did your career take post education? 

After graduating, I applied for a third sector role in a Swansea based environmental organisation, supporting community groups with funding for environmental improvement and conservation projects. During my role, I realised that whatever I ended up doing for the rest of my life, it had to be something that involved helping people. I had a great time working with community groups to make improvements in their local areas as well as helping to educate people about beneficial conservation activities for the environment. 

 After some time in this role, I had the opportunity to spend a year in Sydney, Australia, which was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up! I felt that a change of scenery would be incredibly useful for my personal development and open my eyes to the wider world. What I intended to be a one year working holiday, turned out to be an 11-year stint living in Australia and working in several roles from recommending books to school libraries to working on the features team for a local newspaper! Each role led me to the next, and with no set intentions or pressure on myself, I had such an incredible experience.  

How has your career journey developed? 

 After 11 years in Australia, I returned to Swansea and worked briefly in temporary roles while deciding my next move; I was unsure whether I wanted to stay in Wales, return to Australia, or something else! After much contemplation, I decided to settle in Swansea, buy a house, and find a full-time career. I secured a customer service role on a commercial team and stayed for 3 years. It was at this point that I realised that I wanted a more fulfilling role and I decided to apply for a position supporting people with disabilities to secure employment. I was successful and this was my first step into the employability sector! This role really solidified my desire to do meaningful work, and being in the community, providing support to those who really needed it, was exactly where I wanted to be at the time; I had a purpose and I really believed in my ability to fulfil it. 

Unfortunately, after 8 years in the role I was made redundant, but thankfully, after just 6 weeks out of work, I moved into a similar role delivering on an employability support programme. I stayed in this role for 6 years before moving to Better Jobs, Better Futures in my Career Coach role. I feel privileged to work with clients on a one-to-one basis and I thoroughly enjoy supporting people to make positive changes to their lives. I’m very lucky to be involved with such rewarding work, helping people to achieve their goals and overcome barriers – it’s definitely worth getting up in the morning for! 

 Are there any career decisions that you regret? 

I have no regrets in terms of my career choices as I firmly believe, as with all aspects of my life, that at any given time I was doing the best I could based on my current circumstances and situation – and if I was doing my best, how could I regret anything!  

Top tip when applying for jobs? 

My top tip would be to research the organisation you’re applying to and prepare, prepare, prepare! Put lots of effort into your application and interview and show that you have taken the time and energy to showcase yourself and your skills. If you are not successful even after you have given it your all, learn from it and keep trying – there will be other opportunities out there that are meant for you.  

What is your ultimate piece of advice? 

My best advice is to be a friend to yourself. Treat yourself with the same compassion you would show to other people. Talk kindly to yourself and make it a habit. It makes such an impact on what you can achieve.  

 

 

 

Mark James

We sat down with Employability Programme Manager, Mark James, and spoke about how life is all about maximising opportunities to give yourself the best chance of success. The outcome? A motivating career story to remind us that our desire to succeed must always be stronger than our fear of failure, and if we really believe we can do it, we absolutely can!

Did you pursue further or higher education?

I did A-levels in Maths, Geography and Media Studies and never really knew what I wanted to do after school. I knew that I enjoyed business and tourism, so I was keen to find out more about pursuing these areas at a higher level. As a result, I went on to University in Swansea to do a degree in Tourism Management. I really enjoyed University and everything the course had to offer, but I lived at home and perhaps didn’t gain as much independence and life skills as I could have if I had moved away. However, University was a hugely positive experience for me where I learnt a lot, and pursuing higher education was a decision I was glad I made. During my degree I completed a work placement in the local authority, working on a project to support those not in employment, education, or training (NEET). I absolutely loved the practical experience I gained during this time, working closely with people who needed our support the most. I knew this type of role was where my skills and knowledge were best suited, and when I graduated, I was excited and optimistic about my career and the future.

What direction did you take after University?

After graduating, I worked for the local authority as a Youth Access Worker, working closely with young offenders and 16-19 year olds at risk of becoming NEET. The rehabilitation element of the role was hugely rewarding; I loved seeing young people gain new skills, confidence and ultimately transform their lives for the better. I stayed in this role for 3 years before successfully applying for a role as an Apprenticeship Officer, looking after construction apprentices all over South Wales: a very new and different challenge for me on my career journey. I loved supporting the development of businesses and individuals through apprenticeships, and I gained a great deal of satisfaction seeing people make progress. I felt privileged to mentor and support apprentices so that they achieved their goals and having this sense of purpose made me want to further pursue this type of guidance role so I could continue supporting people in any way possible.

What shape has your career taken since?

I stayed in the Apprenticeship Officer role for 3 years before looking for a new challenge to broaden my experience. An internal opportunity came up for an Employer Engagement and Communications Officer, and I applied and was successful. I was responsible for developing links with employers across the local area to support the provision of apprenticeship and training placement opportunities, as well as overseeing the services communications and marketing activities. I was grateful for the new level of responsibility. I did this role for a year before successfully applying for a position as an Employment Liaison Officer for Workways+ supporting long-term unemployed people. I gained a lot of useful experience as well as good exposure to a wide range of businesses, and my eagerness to build on this business-related experience led me to applying for a Workforce Adviser role at Gower College Swansea’s Better Jobs, Better Futures programme. The role pulled together my relevant experiences and seemed like the logical next step in my career. I absolutely loved my first 8 months in the position and I was thrilled to progress into a Programme Manager position. I am thoroughly enjoying this role which has massively broadened my knowledge and experience of management through leading on a number of projects from employer engagement to work with offenders. There have been some tough times along the way, but if you stay in your comfort zone you will never develop and grow. I am excited about the huge potential of the Employability Department going forward; every day I see the positive impact that it is having on people’s lives, and delighted to be playing a part in delivering such vital and meaningful support especially during such challenging economic times.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

I wish I had not worried so much about the future and stopped comparing myself to other people. I used to over think things a lot and worry about the ‘what if’s’ and I wish I had started believing in myself sooner. If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be to not pass up on any opportunity that comes your way; grab everything and put your all into making every experience a valuable one. I have learnt lots of different things in all my different roles and they have made me the person that I am today. Of course, there are always things that could have been done differently but I really believe that everything teaches you something. Life is just about being patient, working hard and (eventually) reaping the rewards. If I can do it, anyone can!

Are there any career decisions that you regret?

I do not regret things but there are definitely opportunities that have passed me by. I have been in a few different roles where promotion opportunities have come up and I have just been too comfortable or nervous to take advantage of them. This is only something I am realising after spending time reflecting on my career story, so I would say the realisation is more of a lesson than a regret. It is only now that I have started to believe in myself and my potential. I do not think I took my career seriously enough and never really had a plan for where I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve. I am much more settled now and feel like I am going in the right direction. If I believe I can do it, why not; the future can always be better than the present and we have the power to make it so!

Top tip when applying for jobs?

My top tip would be to stay patient as far as possible. Job searching can be hugely challenging and frustrating, but you must try and stay focussed and motivated. If you are looking for jobs my top tip would be to keep your search relevant to you and your skills, and if you are changing jobs, aim to do so thoughtfully to maximise opportunities. The more you know the more of a difference you can make, and it is so much easier to make progress if you keep building on your knowledge and experience. The way to success is to take determined action, and if you believe it, you can achieve it!

What is your ultimate piece of advice?

Do not be too afraid of taking risks; you will get setbacks and that is to be expected and can be learnt from. Do not let one bad application, interview, or career experience stop you in your pursuit of progression. I think it is important to get excited about what is potentially to come in your career and your life! Be ambitious but also try and establish a well-defined process to achieving your goals; know your worth and keep your desire to succeed greater than your fear of failure!

Mark is an Employability Programme Manager at Better Jobs, Better Futures. Get in touch to see how the Better Jobs, Better Futures programme can support you or your business: 01792 284450.

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We sat down with one of our Career Coaches, Julie, and spoke about how your belief determines your action and your action determines your results. The outcome? An insightful and inspiring career story to remind us that we owe it to ourselves to be the best we can possibly be and the harder you work the luckier you get.

 

 

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