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Triumph over adversity: Essex woman launches a new career out of lockdown

11 Feb Triumph over adversity: Essex woman launches a new career out of lockdown

WEA student and Essex resident, Kimberley Robinson, made good use of her time when she was made redundant in March. She decided to retrain as a teaching assistant.

“After a two-decade career in financial services, my contract expired right at the start of the national lockdown in March. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time!

For a long while, I wanted a career change and a better work-life balance. Ironically, redundancy gave me the chance to focus on the future of my career.

I’ve always excelled in communication skills and a career in schools seemed like a great fit. But, I didn’t want to go down the traditional university pathway. It didn’t work for me.

So, I was delighted to find that the WEA offered a course called ‘Introduction to support work in schools’, delivered in partnership with the Essex Jobcentres under their Skills Work Academy Programme.

Not only did I learn a lot about working in schools, but I also got support to update my CV. Mine had become more like a novel over time! My WEA tutor, Paula, helped me focus on what to detail, in what order and format. She also helped me prepare to make job applications.

It was exactly what I needed to change my career.

I’m excited by what the future holds. I now have a part-time position as a teaching assistant. This is truly the start of a new chapter.”

Kimberley is featured in WEA’s Impact Report as she demonstrates everything the adult education charity aims to achieve – support for those who need education to lift their aspirations, build confidence and develop skills so learners can go on to succeed in life. The report will be published at 9am tomorrow, Wednesday 10th February 2021.

Simon Parkinson, WEA’s Chief Executive and General Secretary, says,

“With unemployment set to reach 2.6 million this year and the communities we serve most likely to be hardest hit, the WEA plays a critical role in building the skills and confidence of those often the furthest away from employment, or most in need of learning and connection to add value to their lives.

This report really demonstrates the difference our teaching provides, raising aspirations, improving chances and providing a lifeline of connection and support.”

In 2019/20 the WEA supported over 39,000 students to achieve their learning goals.

71% of students who were unemployed and looking for work said their course helped them improve skills and knowledge that would help them get a job. And 40% stopped claiming benefits within six months of studying with WEA.

The report demonstrates that WEA study develops key employability skills: critical thinking, decision making, budget management and basic numeracy, English, literacy and communication skills.

These skills also benefit students already in work, supporting them to be more secure in their current job (25%) or confident to progress in their career (39%).

But, adult community learning is also about building communities and connections, supporting learners to protect their health and wellbeing.

38% of WEA students said their course helped them to reduce stress and feel more resilient (40%). 94% said their course helped them keep their minds active, make new friends (70%) and build their self-confidence (63%).

43% WEA students built skills useful to volunteering and supporting their communities, with 22% actively doing so. Students also felt better prepared to support their children to read, write and do maths (67%) – invaluable for home-schooling in lockdown.

There’s no denying that the coronavirus pandemic did impact student numbers. But the WEA leapt from small class, face-to-face provision, to the same high quality supported learning experience online. Aptly, rather than ironically named, ‘A year to remember’, the forthcoming report reflects on the crisis sparking an amazing transformation. Simon Parkinson is quoted as saying,

“We never closed our doors to students, members and volunteers. In fact we are more open than ever, given the move to online. The take-up (over 6000 students in this period) and engagement has proved a real game changer.”

But, the WEA very much looks forward to re-opening its physical doors when it safely can. Whilst it has gone the extra mile to support its students to adapt to online learning, it knows that face-to-face, personal support form an essential part of what it takes to encourage those who need the WEA most to embrace learning, often having failed at school.

With students reporting through the research that ‘Joining the WEA has actually saved my life’ and ‘The WEA has enriched my life beyond measure’, you can’t fail to see why the WEA team are so motivated to deliver by their students. In adapting to the coronavirus world we find ourselves living in, WEA is supporting its students to do the same.