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One of the things I love the most about our small business community is the fact we’ve all come from different backgrounds with our own unique experiences and skill sets. 

Our entrepreneurs haven’t necessarily found success from being top of their school class or having lots of money to throw at their business, but have pursued something they’re passionate about and grafted to develop their product or service. 

That’s testament to their work ethic, commitment and self-motivation – although these skills were arguably acquired through hands-on experience rather than in the traditional classroom.

With it being National Apprenticeship Week, we wanted to learn about the educational journey of our community members and the career aspirations they had before their enterprises came to be.

Photographer Jon Plimmer from GSD Media said that, despite initially taking the traditional route, he’s now a champion for vocational learning and continues self-development when it comes to his employees:

“I went to uni because it was ‘the thing you did after school’. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but what I discovered there was that I thrive on pressure to learn, especially with some kind of time or resource restraint.

“Now, if my staff come to me with a question about something, the answer will often be, ‘How do you think we can do that?’ to let them troubleshoot with a safety net. They tend to find the answer with some problem-solving. I’m also more than happy to offer time out and funding for them to attend courses on professional development and wellbeing-related topics.”

jon plimmer, gsd media

Rachel Arnold, director of Panda Education & Training Ltd, also felt pressure to pursue traditional education:

“Like Jon, I went to university because it was expected of me. I didn’t enjoy it and couldn’t wait to leave. I then joined an apprenticeship management programme with a plumbing and drainage merchant and I loved the hands-on experience – even though some of it involved learning about boilers and soil pipes!”

“As time went on, I moved on and became a trainer for apprenticeships. This was amazing as I was supporting learners just like myself who weren’t so academic, but were keen to do a job. Twenty years later, I’m teaching the trainers and assessors and still a massive advocate of vocational learning!”

rachel arnold, panda education & training

Of her unconventional learning style, Jen Danger Harding from Danger Doodles said:

“I definitely learn better practically or kinesthetically. Just last week I had to do an unfamiliar task and struggled to understand when being simply told. It was still a little unclear when it was shown to me, but it only clicked for me when I got to practice for myself.

“I think people have different learning styles and, for me, practical options like apprenticeships would have been great to play to my strengths. I’m glad to see that young people have more choices these days!”

jen danger harding, danger doodles

James Morgan, founder of ToyBoxProject.co.uk and Llandaff North Medical Centre Practice Manager, said:

“Despite getting a degree in computer systems engineering and dedicating spare time to developing my skills further, I was still considered too inexperienced to get a graduate role in this area. I later became a GP practice manager and decided to take on an apprentice after my own encounter saw me lose out due to lack of work experience. 

“To start with, my patience was constantly challenged, but managing them helped me to develop as an employer and a person at the same time as giving them the vital skills they needed. They ended up staying on full-time, progressing through the ranks and becoming a highly valued and respected team member, which really proved the value in the apprenticeship scheme.”

james morgan, toybox project

Ken Beames, CEO and co-founder of KJB Composites Ltd, said:

“I went down the apprentice route after being worn down by school life and my four years working as an airline apprentice still remain the best days of my life. However, I still ended up giving uni a try later on and, for someone with only one GCSE, I had no idea I would go through four universities with each further study becoming more and more enjoyable.

“Careers advice during my time at school was poor, but opportunities these days for young people to gain insights and do apprenticeships have the potential to make real and positive changes to someone’s life – especially for those not academically inclined. Apprenticeships should be accessible to people of all ages, not just 16 to 22-year-olds, as they could enable a new career path for someone who didn’t get the chance to pursue it before.”

“I really do look forward to being in a position to take on apprentices myself.”

ken beames, kjb composites

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