“Be bold, be brave, but be authentic!”
We sat down with Futures Programme Leader, Louise Dempster, and spoke about how every experience is a valuable one, and by taking chances and staying true to yourself, there really are no limits to what you can achieve. The outcome? An inspiring career story that shows the journey from humble beginnings to hard earned success.
Did you pursue further or higher education?
I did well in my GCSEs in Secondary School and I went on to study A levels in Psychology, Welsh and English Language at Neath College. I had always enjoyed school and done reasonably well academically, but I didn’t enjoy college as much as I thought I would. I lost a bit of interest in my studies and, with it, lost a lot of motivation to work hard and get good grades. My plan all along had been to go to University, and I applied to study at Swansea, but as soon as I had my interview, I changed my mind and didn’t want to go. I realised that I was only going to University because it was the ‘right’ thing to do and I genuinely thought it was my only option. My parents wanted me to go but I just felt it wasn’t the right route for me and so I made the big decision not to. A part of me wanted to prove that you didn’t have to go to University in order to be successful, and I wanted to fulfil my potential in a different way. This was a turning point and ultimately the start of my career story!
What direction did you take post-education?
I definitely experienced ‘right place, right time’ when it came to securing my first opportunity. On the off chance I went to Swansea College to support a friend who was applying for a YTS opportunity. Together we went to the College Open Day and I got talking to someone who gave me information about pursuing a ‘modern apprenticeship’ in administration. I was interested and put in a speculative application. I definitely had a ‘why not’ attitude at this stage and I was ready for something new. I was really excited when I secured the role and I was eager to impress. I was 18 when I started working in the exams department and I completed my level 3 business administration apprenticeship. This was my first experience of real work in a professional environment and I absolutely loved it and I stayed with the college for the next 11 years! After a few years of being in post, an opportunity came up for a Trainee Advice and Guidance Officer. I was really interested in this supportive type of role and I applied and was successful. After being in the role for a short amount of time, I knew this was the direction I wanted to go in and stay in. I gained a great sense of purpose doing meaningful work and I loved helping people and making a positive difference to their lives. I worked my way up to become an Employer Liaison Officer, helping unemployed people look for work, making links with employers and trying to source opportunities and work placements. When the College lost the contract, I applied for a job with Remploy and became an Employment Adviser. I quickly progressed to Account Manager and I gained fantastic experience in this position whilst establishing some highly valuable long term employer relationships and developing leadership and project management skills. I felt I had found my niche and stayed in this role for 3 years before successfully applying to become a Workforce Adviser and returning to work at Gower College Swansea. After a year in the role I progressed to Futures Programme Leader, overseeing the delivery of employability support to students across Gower College Swansea.
Did your career direction change after having children?
I was 27 when I decided to adopt my son Jac and 31 when I adopted my daughter Sophia, and the adoption process was a hugely life changing experience for me and my family. This was naturally a daunting and stressful time where my focus shifted for the first time to my family and home life rather than my career. I had always put work before everything and I knew this was the right time to make a change. Despite the huge challenges posed by the adoption process, I learnt a great deal about myself, particularly my willpower and resilience which I had always underestimated. The adoptions definitely impacted on my career, but the process has undoubtedly made me a stronger person. My ambitions haven’t changed and I am still very career driven, but now my children provide me with extra motivation to do the best I can and I am determined to make them proud of me. Having children has made me appreciate the importance of a work-life balance; Jac and Sophia have given me purpose in what I do and they keep me going when things get tough. I am also desperate to ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes as I did. I am so passionate about passing on everything I have learnt along the way and I will support them in whatever path they choose. I want them to know that everything and anything is possible; difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations so focus on what you love and the rest will fall into place!
Is there one thing you wish you’d known when you were younger?
I wish I had known more about what was on offer in terms of career options and the world of work. Because I did well in my GCSEs, moving on to A levels and University was seemingly the only viable choice and the only available path. I didn’t realise all of the brilliant vocational options that were out there and I didn’t understand or appreciate that my skills and interests were important and could ultimately help shape the career I really wanted. I should have focused on my A levels and started thinking about my future earlier, rather than just going with the motions, copying other people and pursuing the ‘easiest’ life that I could. I definitely wish I had known not to become complacent and that I was in charge of my own destiny – if I wanted to achieve success, only I could go and make it happen.
Top tip when applying for jobs?
Research, research, research! Research the company; find out everything you can including important details like company values and mission statements and try and speak to people that work there to gain valuable insight. It is so important to really consider why you want the job – not just any old reason will do! You have to be sure and you have to really mean it. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself and don’t stop challenging yourself: I nearly didn’t apply for a job because someone internal was seemingly ‘lined up’ for it, but I ended up being successful and I should have never let worrying about the ‘what if’s’ get in the way of me pursuing my goals. Remember to focus on yourself and keep pushing forward. You never know what may come from any opportunity, so put yourself out there. Be bold, be brave, but be authentic.
What is your ultimate piece of advice?
I always over worry about things and I have sometimes let this get in the way of what I want to achieve. I have definitely got better with time and I have learnt the importance of believing in myself and my abilities. Practically my advice would be to volunteer for any opportunity you can; get involved with projects, put yourself at the front of the crowd and get yourself noticed! Make your voice heard for all the right reasons and make people value your input. Even if the opportunity might not seem relevant or right at the time, you never know who you might meet, what challenges you might face and what skills and experience you might gain. With so many possibilities, what is there to lose? Don’t overthink it, just go and do it!