It was a priority for me to get a job and help out financially at home
My experience of education in the sixties and seventies was not a positive one. There were no supports or assessments in place to help me with my learning difficulties. Teachers did not have the time to give one to one support: if you fell behind you stayed behind. Then you were kept back a year, which labeled you as slow or stupid and gave other classmates the opportunity to pick on you and call you names.
Despite this I did ok and passed my Group Cert (now known as the Junior Certificate). At that time there were few people progressing to further education and the expectation from parents was to get out and get a job.
Over the years I battled with mental health issues, and depression took a hold of my life
In the ‘80s, work took a downturn and many young people were emigrating. I got the opportunity to go to Alabama, where I lived and worked for ten years. I then moved back home and took care of my dad after his diagnosis of cancer and cared for him up until his death a year later. I felt I needed to find work and rebuild a life here in Ireland. However, over the years I battled with mental health issues, and depression took a hold of my life. A little voice in my head was getting louder and louder telling me I wouldn’t be able to do this, or I wouldn't be any good at that. I was at a loss as to what jobs to apply for. All the experience I had gained over the years didn't seem to matter as my self-esteem was at an all-time low. I got back into retail for a number of years, but after the sudden death of my mother I found it all too much. I had finally had enough of retail.
I heard about the ‘Back to Education Allowance’ and I decided to apply for it
I knew my depression was bad and I felt I was falling apart. I quit my job, stayed at home and basically shut down and hid from the world. Thankfully I had the support of my partner during this time, but there was a financial strain beginning to affect us and I knew I needed to get back out into the workplace. I really wanted to upskill and learn something new. I heard about the ‘Back to Education Allowance’ and I decided to apply for it so that I could access further education and training.
Something was telling me I wanted to have a career in Healthcare
Once I was accepted for this, I contacted Portarlington School and enquired about the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS). I was offered an interview, accepted and advised to start off with a Level 4 QQI in General Learning since I had been out of the education system for more than five years. This was sound advice. I then went on to complete a Level 5 QQI in Creative Digital Media, but something was telling me I wanted to have a career in Healthcare. That little voice which always told me I wouldn't be any good at it wasn't as loud as it normally was and I thought that maybe my self-esteem and confidence was finally coming back. I enrolled for the Level 5 QQI in Healthcare and I completed a Level 5 course as a Special Needs Assistant.
I am now in full-time employment in Healthcare and have been working as a community mentor for the past 16 months. I love what I am doing and I plan on upskilling and learning more about adults with challenging behaviours and additional needs such Autism.
Returning to education has been the best decision I have ever made
Returning to education has been the best decision I have ever made. The hardest thing was walking through the school doors: I thought it was going to be like going back to school all over again. I was pleasantly surprised by the support I received from the teachers and their willingness to listen and help me. I was also surprised by the age range of the students: some were around my age and many were a lot younger. The best part of it all was the support and friendship from the other students. We were all there with the same goal in mind: to learn. Not only did we learn, we had fun doing so.
I highly recommend returning to education. It has saved me from myself, years of depression and low self-esteem, and helped me to gain full-time employment in an area which I always wanted to work in.
Find out about education and training options by visiting www.onestepup.ie or calling the One Step Up Freephone helpline at 1800 303 696 or contact Sam O’Brien-Olinger, AONTAS Information and Policy Officer via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.