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Paula Dudley

Mature Business Admin apprentice Paula on course to gain 'A Level equivalent' qualification

Mature student Paula Dudley is thrilled that she is on course to gain a qualification that is the “equivalent to an A Level” with the help of York College & University Centre.

Paula, 37, is currently in the first year of our Level 3 Business Administration Apprenticeship course and combines her College studies with workplace duties at Manor Church of England Academy in Nether Poppleton.

She previously worked at the secondary school as a Midday Supervisor – a position that saw her providing support for pupils at lunchtime.

When the apprenticeship opportunity arose, however, Paula applied for the vacancy and, after securing the required Level 2 English Functional Skills pass grade at York College, was able to progress on to the course and start her new role at Manor.

We caught up with Paula for York College & University Centre Progression Month and, speaking about her decision to combine her working life with a return to education, she said: “The biggest thing that appealed to me about the apprenticeship was the qualification I’ll get at the end of it. A Business Admin Level 3 is equivalent to an A Level and I’ve never done anything in education apart from a Level 2 Childcare qualification so, to get something like this on my CV after passing my Functional Skills exams, will be very helpful.

“When the school advertised for the apprenticeship, I’d been working there for a year-and-a-half, so I just thought, ‘You know what, I’ll give it a go’. It was more hours and I’d worked in admin throughout my life previously.

“When I left school, I worked at Morrisons in the admin department and then I was a receptionist at the Nationwide Crash Repair Centre in Leeds, so admin is always something I’ve enjoyed but, when my daughter was born, I went back to college to do my Level 2 Childcare and worked in a nursery for four years, before I looked for something in a school to work around my daughter.

“With the apprenticeship now, I’m doing a lot more around attendance and finance, whilst also dealing with students and visitors. It’s a bit of a mix and I enjoy getting to do a range of things in the workplace.”

Whilst apprenticeships continue to be popular among school leavers, Paula’s story proves that age is no barrier for anybody targeting a career change with the help of York College & University Centre.

“At first being a mature student was a bit nerve-wracking, but all the other apprentices have been really welcoming,” she declared. “My tutor Stella (Franks) also allowed me to work from home when my seven-year-old daughter had a training day after half-term and work have been brilliant in that respect, too.

“If she’s off sick, they tell me just to stay at home and be with her and there are also bits of the job that I can do from home. When the new students start in September, for example, we have to input their details into the system.”

On how her College tuition complements her responsibilities in school, meanwhile, Paula explained: “When Stella does a lesson on finance, that helps a lot when I then go into the workplace finance department. It’s completely different in terms of the systems we’re working on, but it does help me work efficiently as, in College, we get an all-round view of how your role is impacting on others.”

Paula is hoping that the skills she has demonstrated during her apprenticeship will still be needed at Manor on its completion but, even if that’s not the case, she knows her prospects of securing a job in a similar setting will have been significantly enhanced.

“If there’s a job available at the end of it, I would like to continue in business admin here,” she admitted. “I know the students and all the members of staff and get on really well with them, so I wouldn’t want to go elsewhere but just getting my foot in a school office has opened doors because, when you look at applying to work in a school office, you need to have had the experience of knowing the different systems.

“If you don’t know how to work them, they won’t even entertain you, but I’ve got that experience now so, if I don’t get a job at Manor, it will open a door to another school admin job until my daughter is old enough to be at home on her own and, then, I can maybe venture off and do something different.”

York College & University Centre Apprenticeship Learning Coach Tina Logan is responsible for assessing Paula’s performance in the workplace and, expressing her admiration for the manner in which she has balanced everything required of her, she said: “Paula has come in as a mature student with a daughter of primary school age, so has had to juggle her home life looking after a family.

“She also had to complete her Functional Skills Level 2 English before starting the apprenticeship and is now working towards her Functional Skills Level 2 Maths, so she’s taken all of that on board on top of her apprenticeship. It was a big jump for her into business admin, but she has taken the opportunity that came up at Manor and is doing very well in the classes.

“She has developed some good skills and behaviours in the workplace that will enable her to complete the apprenticeship. At College, she is learning about project management and performing presentations and is gaining a really strong portfolio of skills to carry forward into her career.

“She also has lots of different challenges at school, because she is dealing with parents and pupils, while helping staff with admin at the same time. It’s all about constantly juggling priorities, keeping calm and professional when she’s talking to parents and learning how to be proactive and she’s doing really well developing those softer skills.”

On how Manor are benefitting from Paula’s life experience as a mature student, Tina added: “Because she works in the same school as her daughter, Paula is able to see things from the parents’ side and appreciates that people’s children are their whole world. She’s very empathetic and able to build up a good professional rapport with parents face-to-face or on the phone and, because she’s that bit more mature and the kids already know her from that playground environment, they actually listen to her, so her stakeholder management skills are really coming into play, which is a big part of the apprenticeship and the end-point assessment.

“All our College apprentices are on a unique journey and it’s lovely to see them at the end. Ours have a project presentation to do as well as an interview about their portfolios and it’s great to see how their confidence has developed by that point.”

To learn more about our Level 3 Business Administration Apprenticeship, please click here

For a current list of apprenticeship vacancies, please click here