How taking an alternative route led us to successful careers | NCFE

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How taking an alternative route led us to successful careers

In celebration of National Careers Week, we’re sharing advice from some of our colleagues here at NCFE who’ve taken what might be considered "alternative routes" within their career paths.  

Taking place from 6-11 March, National Careers Week provides a focus for careers guidance activity at an important stage in the academic calendar to help support young people leaving education.  

Here, we share what three of our colleagues had to say about the journeys that led to their current roles with us. 

Heather Peacock – Chief Examiner

“I left school at 16, as I wasn't given the opportunity to go to college because of family circumstances at the time. I went straight onto a Youth Training Scheme with a hotel in my local area. Following this, I worked in a hotel in Wales for six months at the age of 17. When I returned home, I found a job through the Job Centre at M&S for the Christmas period. I started as a temp and ended up working there for 18 years!  

“Working in education was not something that was in my career plan. I wanted to be a chef but while I was working for M&S, I got involved in assessing NVQs because M&S was delivering them. As a result of that, I was able to get my assessor's qualification, which led me into working for a local training provider. After completing what was equivalent at the time to Functional Skills, I became a key skills assessor.” 

After working at another training company and completing a certification in education, Heather worked at local FE colleges for 10 years whilst completing a BA in Education. Heather was then offered a role at NCFE as an Examiner. After just a couple of years of examining, Heather became our Chief Examiner. 

“I’m very passionate about my role. I love numbers so this was right up my street. But ironically, I was the kid that struggled at school with maths. I have to pinch myself now that this is my job!” 

What advice would you give to young people leaving education today? 

“Keep your options open don't be focused on one particular path. Go with your instincts and don’t be pigeonholed into just one option. A lot of people say A Levels are the best route, but they may not be the best one for you so explore all the options before you make a decision. Don't be afraid to say ‘actually, this isn't for me this isn't what I really want to do and I'd like to change it.’ Because at the end of the day, we can all change the path that we're on.” 


Stacy Mann – Subject Specialist, Early Years and Childcare

“My career journey has been very up and down! I'm a planner I like to have a plan in place and follow it. I've been like that since an early age. I always knew that I wanted to teach at a primary school, so I decided with some advice from my school teachers that I would do a BTEC National Diploma in early years, go to college and then university. I felt that going to college was going to be my opportunity to spread my wings and do all the things that I wanted to do. 

“When I was 16, I suffered a trauma which really changed my perspective about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. So, when I went to university, I thought I was well on the way to achieving my plan, but during that time, I was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. I found it very difficult to go to university, to walk around, and to socialise.

"At the same time, I was working for an agency, gaining some experience as a nursery nurse. I then realised that I absolutely loved the early years sector and quit university after the first year. Even now I find it difficult to say that I ‘quit’ something, because that wasn't something that was on my agenda!” 

Through the years, Stacy has achieved several qualifications and in 2020 she went back to university, completing her BA in Early Years. 

What advice would you give to young people leaving education today?  

“The best careers advice that I've ever received, and the best advice that I could give, is to choose something that you enjoy  because then it really doesn't feel like you’re at work at all. If you keep that passion alive by making sure that you’re keeping up to date with what's going on in your sector, your enthusiasm will come through in everything that you do. 

“The number one thing is that if you follow what you’re good at and what you enjoy, rather than what everybody expects you to do, then you're on the route to success.” 


Paul Turner – Policy Specialist

“My ambition was to be a vet, but unfortunately this didn't work out as I didn't get my expected grades, so I had to re-think. I knew I wanted to work outdoors and with animals, so I started working on a farm where I spent four and a half happy years. Unfortunately, due to restrictions on the amount of milk farms could produce at the time, I lost my job and had to look elsewhere. 

“I managed to get a job at a glasshouse nursery where they grew plants, trees and shrubs. I worked there for three years until the owner retired. Over the next few years, I worked at the local council looking after environmental projects, and then maintained parks and gardens. I managed to get a job at a local training organisation, where I was in charge of many projects with a number of trainees and I absolutely loved it. 

“Over the next few years, I was at Newcastle City Council looking after the environmental services training centre. I then got a short-term contract with a training company based in the North East.” 

By chance, Paul happened to meet one of our NCFE directors at a conference who told him to keep an eye out for a job advert that would shortly be shared. Paul was offered the job and has now been at NCFE for 17 years! 

What advice would you give to young people leaving education today? 

“I would say follow your dream if you can, but don't be too upset if it doesn't necessarily work out exactly how you want. On the other hand, I’d also say to not worry too much. There’ll be something out there that you are very good at, and it might take a little bit of time for you to get there  but once you're there, you'll be extremely happy. 

“For some people, the aim is to get really good GCSE and A Level grades and go to university. However, a greater emphasis is now placed on apprenticeships and technical education, as well as being able to get into the workplace. All of these are equally good routes there’s no ‘one’ or ‘right’ route, just follow whichever is the best for you.” 

Technical and vocational qualifications are a great way to set you on the path to achieving success in your desired career. Read about our apprenticeship offering, our range of technical qualifications and our Learning for Work portfolio to learn more. 

A lot of people say A Levels are the best route, but they may not be the best one for you – so explore all the options before you make a decision.

Heather Peacock, Chief Examiner at NCFE
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