By Catherine McCarthy, Customer Service Apprentice at Visitor Information Centre
I have to admit I had reservations about going back into full-time work and education at the same time. When I first saw the advert for a Customer Service Apprenticeship at the Stratford Visitor Information Centre, I had been a stay-at-home mum for 10 years. My youngest was attending school full time, and this was to be my first experience of getting back into the work place.
I had my children when I was quite young, so I had little experience of working. However, I had always wanted to gain extra qualifications and wanted to earn some extra money for my family – combining the two seemed ideal.
I’m genuinely so pleased I made the decision to apply. Very early on in my new role I discovered a real passion for working with the public. Plus, I began to feel more confident as both a person and as a mum.
As well as earning my Customer Service Level 2 NVQ, I was given the opportunity to gain two additional qualifications – my English Functional Skills certificate and my Maths Functional Skills certificate. I had already passed my English GCSE at school, but had fallen short of the Maths grade C which I needed to complete my NVQ. I had always wanted to retake my Maths GCSE and gain a recognised qualification, but I never thought I would get the chance. I was really pleased when I found I was able to sign onto both English and Maths at the College – although I was a little daunted about going into a classroom again at the age of 32!
The class was small and friendly. I found it really interesting to learn things that I had either forgotten or that had changed since I was at school. I passed my English exam after six weekly sessions and my Maths after just three days. I felt a huge sense of pride and achievement; particularly with my Maths. Since the sessions were taken at the College during the day, it didn’t interfere in any way with my family life which I was initially concerned about.
The things I was learning at work were amazing. Every day I dealt with different types of customers from all over the world who each required help in different ways. I was offering advice to tourists on what to do in Stratford as well as local people who wanted information about events or ideas on how to entertain visitors.
With the support of my NVQ tutor, the College Apprenticeship Team and the close team at the VIC, my confidence and knowledge grew every day. I gained a sense of achievement, and grew as a professional, every time I completed a module on my NVQ. Each month, my tutor set me questions on customer service which opened my eyes to different ways of handling difficult situations with customers. I wouldn’t even have considered many of these without the guidance provided by my apprenticeship.
The apprenticeship took me one year and one day to complete, and I am absolutely delighted to have been offered a permanent job here.
It led to me gaining three new qualifications and I have no doubt that, if I ever decide to leave my job here – although I can’t see that happening! – they would be a tremendous help in finding work in many different areas.
I was able to successfully balance work, education and earning money, as well as looking after my family. Childcare was affordable thanks to the College’s Childcare Voucher Scheme and the entire experience has been rewarding and exciting. The apprenticeship was an ideal way for me to get back into work and I have no doubt that anyone can do it – I can’t recommend them enough.
Sometimes, I find myself wondering what I would be doing if I had not applied for the apprenticeship. I work in an amazing industry, helping tourists and locals every day. Stratford is one of the most visited towns in England; in the summer, we get literally thousands of customers. I get up every day and genuinely look forward to coming to work. I am proud to say I work for the Visitor Information Centre – and that’s definitely something I wouldn’t be able to say if I had not been given this amazing opportunity.
For me, it has been life changing.