“Don’t let success go to your head, and never let failure go to your heart – hold on tight and keep fighting as hard as you can”
We sat down with Project Co-ordinator, Matt Richards to discuss how finding the right path involves exploring many different avenues along the way. The outcome? A humbling career story that shows that persistence and staying true to yourself is the key to achieving your goals.
Did you pursue further or higher education?
I struggled to engage with education which unfortunately led to me failing the majority of my GCSE’s. I didn’t have a back-up plan so decided to stay at my school’s sixth form to undertake a BTEC course in Business & Finance. The course gave me the chance to have some independence and responsibility, and for the first time in my life, I found myself enjoying the educational environment! After successfully completing this 1-year course, my will to continue with my studies was renewed and so I decided to attend Gorseinon College to study Travel and Tourism. Whilst this was a sector I was really interested in, the course content wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, and so I decided to reconsider my options. I had been working various part-time customer service roles since the age of 16 and had developed some valuable transferrable skills that made me feel equipped to enter the world of work. I therefore decided to leave college to pursue employment opportunities where I could utilise my skills and experience and kickstart my career journey!
What direction did you take post-education?
After leaving college, I secured a part-time hospitality role which I absolutely loved! The role gave me the opportunity to take on lots of responsibilities and set clear goals to work towards. However, full-time hours were not available, and so after 4 years, I left to pursue alternative full-time opportunities. My first full-time job was a Sales Assistant at a sports retail store; I thrived in the sales environment, taking full advantage of any opportunities to boost sales and improve performance. I quickly progressed to Fitness Department Manager and really enjoyed developing the specialist knowledge required for the role and my first experience of managing staff, which I approached with enthusiasm and authenticity. After 2 years, the store was taken over by another company and the fitness department was dissolved. I was moved back to the clothing department and found it hard to move back to a position where I felt I was simply going through the motions. As a result, I left the company and moved into a role in telesales; this was a fantastic opportunity for me to experience a brand-new sector, and I found the telesales environment to be incredibly challenging, competitive and motivating! After 2 months, I was delighted to achieve a promotion and was responsible for my own department. Unfortunately, after 2 and a half years, the company went out of business, and I was made redundant. Redundancy hit me hard as it led to my first experience of real debt; I had just moved out of my friends flat, and I was struggling to make ends meet.
After a few weeks of extremely challenging personal circumstances, I picked myself up and headed to a job fair where I managed to secure a new role as a Fault Advisor! I thrived in the technical, structured, and time-focused environment, and after 2 years in the role, I was confident and ready to take on a progression opportunity as a Trainee Manager at a Sawmill, which meant a relocation to Powys. This was a big step for me, but it suited my personal circumstances, and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Throughout my 18 months in the role, I acted as an unpaid carer for a neighbour, so when I saw a Care Manager opportunity travelling across Wales and The Midlands, it seemed like the perfect next step for me. I successfully secured the role and learned a huge amount about people management, recruitment and service satisfaction. I was proud to be facilitating and empowering people in their lives and I was even nominated for a Care Manager of the Year Award! After 6 years in the role working 60–70-hour weeks and severely neglecting my personal life, I found myself completely burnt out and exhausted; I had nothing left to give, and I knew I needed to make some changes and revaluate my circumstances.
How has your career journey developed?
In 2010 I accepted a new position as a Placement Mentor with A4E where I was part of a community task force supporting NEET young adults to decide on their next steps. I finally felt like I had found a sector where I could utilise the skills and experience I had gained across a broad range of roles throughout my career. I stayed with the company for 3 years and secured a range of mentoring & placement positions which further developed my knowledge of the employability sector and, most importantly, the needs of the clients. Having spent several years away from home, I decided that it was time to make the move back to Swansea. I joined TBG Learning, supporting long-term unemployed individuals to overcome barriers to employment, and I worked with a huge range of people, all with specific needs and goals. Once the programme’s funding had come to an end, I was on the hunt for my next opportunity and successfully applied for an exciting Career Coach position at Gower College Swansea. I absolutely loved my new role and the holistic, forward-thinking approach of the Better Jobs, Better Futures programme as a whole. After just 2 years I was thrilled to be promoted to Project Co-ordinator, and I can truly say I love my job; I am so grateful to work for such a positive and inclusive organisation with a committed team who welcome and value opinions and have the needs and ambitions of our clients at the forefront of their priorities.
Are there any career decisions that you regret?
I regret not applying myself more in school, valuing my education and gaining more GCSE’s. My lack of qualifications hit my career hard early-on as I struggled to fulfil the educational requirements of my desired roles. I believe I could have kickstarted my career journey more quickly and more easily if I’d had a better sense of direction and avoided making snap decisions about my future. I don’t dwell on my regrets; I just try and learn from my mistakes and make improvements where I can to ensure I keep moving forward!
Is there one thing you wish you’d known when you were younger?
The value of work-based learning! I currently hold a Level 2, two Level 3’s and one Level 4 qualification, all of which were gained through work-based study! Had I been aware of these qualifications earlier on, I would have undoubtedly taken advantage of them to better understand my strengths and weaknesses and feel more confident in my career decisions.
What is your ultimate piece of advice?
Believe in yourself and never give up on your dreams; success is what happens after you’ve survived all your disappointments. But don’t let success go to your head, and never let failure go to your heart – hold on tight and keep fighting as hard as you can!