Aspiration Awards 2024: Learner of the Year winner – Matthew McGrotty, North West Regional College | NCFE

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Aspiration Awards 2024: Learner of the Year – Matthew McGrotty  

Matthew 1

The Learner of the Year category recognises individuals who are developing themselves through vocational qualifications from NCFE and making positive improvements to their lives. This year’s winner is Matthew McGrotty, who is currently studying the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Travel and Tourism at North West Regional College.  

Described as a courteous, thoughtful and motivational classmate, Matthew is a character right at the heart of the travel and tourism provision at his college.  

Taking a detour to success 

Matthew’s journey through education hasn’t followed a typical route, highlighting how essential alternative pathways are to ensure no learner is left behind. After completing a Level 2 Work Skills programme, Matthew met with the course coordinator of NCFE’s Level 3 Extended Diploma in Travel and Tourism at the college and instantly knew that this was the right choice for him. Despite some challenges he faced earlier on in his education journey, he has become a determined, ambitious, and driven learner, refusing to let anything hold him back. 

Leading the way 

Matthew seamlessly integrated into his Level 3 course, consistently exceeding expectations with distinction grades in his modules and inspiring his classmates with his dedication and work ethic. His leadership qualities led to him being elected as class representative, where he actively supports his peers and advocates for their needs.  

Luane Quigley, Curriculum Manager and Course Coordinator at North West Regional College, commented: “Matthew is not a learner who works in isolation, he is very much a core individual at the heart of the provision within the college. He is very driven, focused and above all, completely selfless. He assists others in his class when they don’t understand something, and it was great to see him be elected class representative this year. He has touched the lives of others and has been a fantastic ambassador for not only the programme but the college overall.”   

Matthew added: “I enjoy having the opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills by looking out for my classmates and I regularly assure them that I will do all I can to ensure they are enjoying their time on the course and at the college in general.” 

Going the extra mile 

Matthew's commitment extends beyond academics. He actively participates in the Youth Council, giving speeches and advocating for young people across Northern Ireland. He is also a dedicated volunteer with Voices Of Young People In Care (VOYPIC), sharing his experiences and supporting others. He helps to organise residential trips for the organisation and participates in various other activities to support young people in care and care leavers. He also recently seized the opportunity to travel to Geneva for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Concluding Observations.  

Speaking about the opportunity to go to Geneva, Matthew said: “The opportunity to look around the United Nations assembly was a sight to behold, and I thought, ‘is this a dream?’. I met with senior politicians who were sitting on the UNCRC report committee and it was extraordinary to watch the debate that was taking place.” 

Overcoming challenges 

This success story is even more inspiring considering challenges Matthew has faced with learning in the past. Diagnosed with high-functioning autism, he initially struggled with processing information and tasks such as assignments would take him a long time to begin and understand. However, with the support of North West Regional College’s Learning Link programme and his own determination, he developed strategies to tackling assignments, improved his time management, and gained the confidence to ask questions when he needed help.  

First class experience: training at Translink  

Earlier this year, Matthew secured a placement with Translink at Coleraine train station. This opportunity provided Matthew with a firsthand look at the inner workings of the transport industry. Translink offered him a structured schedule, rotating him through different areas like ticket barriers and customer service. He thrived in the customer service role, providing passengers with information on train services and navigating unexpected situations like train cancellations.  

Beyond the tasks, Matthew valued the opportunity to work as part of a team and witness how the transport industry adapts to real-world challenges. The supportive staff at Translink took the time to explain their operations in full detail, so Matthew left the placement with valuable insights to support his future. The positive feedback on his contributions further fuelled his passion for a career in transport and solidified Matthew's career aspirations.  

Commenting on the experience he gained, Matthew said: “I’m really glad I had this opportunity because it’s something I’ve always had a passion for, and it’s shaped my knowledge for my future long-term employment.” 

On the right track 

Matthew is on track to achieve the grades required to progress to the Foundation Degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management, which will help him to continue to develop his knowledge, skills and confidence. To support his future, Matthew aims to visit many countries around the world to widen his knowledge of the industry as a whole.  

Reflecting on the qualification and looking ahead to what’s next for Matthew, he said: “I chose to study this NCFE qualification because I have an extensive interest in traveling to different destinations and learning about the operations of the transport sector.  

“My ultimate long-term goal is to seek employment with Translink, Northern Ireland Railways. I have a huge passion and interest in our railway network, and I enjoy taking the train regularly and discovering places that I have never been to before. I’ve also applied for a Foundation Degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management. 

“Despite the many obstacles I had faced along the way, I was able to overcome those challenges with the help and support I received. I’m grateful to those who provided me with the help on my journey.” 

David Gallagher, Chief Executive at NCFE, commented: “Matthew is a remarkable learner and a shining example of why alternative pathways are essential to ensure no learner is left behind. He is an inspiration to his peers and goes above and beyond to make a difference for others, through being a class representative, his participation in the Youth Council and his volunteering work. It’s great to see that the NCFE travel and tourism qualification is helping him to progress to the next step in his career within an important industry. NCFE is delighted to present Matthew with this award.” 

Congratulations Matthew! To read more inspirational stories from this year's award winners, visit our Aspiration Awards 2024 page

Learner of the Year – Matthew McGrotty

Learner of the Year – Matthew McGrotty

We're proud to have been a part of Matthew's journey so far and congratulate him for securing for this much-deserved award. As one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, we’re committed to supporting individuals who need practical skills and experience to enhance their employment prospects. We also want to highlight all the opportunities that are available to young people at Translink. As we work towards net-zero emissions across our entire fleet, we have collaborated with a range of stakeholders including bus and other vehicle manufacturers, energy suppliers and universities to develop the region as a centre of excellence for zero-emission technology supporting the local green economy and creating new jobs. It is heartening to see the dedication of young individuals like Matthew who can play a key role in shaping the future of our sector and help us create advanced public transport services and integrated networks which connect people and communities, enhance the economy, improve health and environmental wellbeing for all.

Mark Montgomery, Northern Area Railway Route Manager, Translink