My final blog…by Shannon Crilly

Trade Shows, meetings, socials, networking events, discussions, one-to-one’s, and most of all laughter. That is what has been going on in my world as an associate for the last few months. I can honestly say I have changed quite a lot since starting the programme, all for good (I hope!). I can recommend to any eighteen year old that they give Step Forward a chance.

After a rather long interval, I am back with one of my last blog posts. The past few months have been rather manic as I have been completing the coursework for the course, which will get me a Business and Administration qualification. Now if you have just completed your final A-level exams, then I’m sure that doesn’t sound so appealing but at the end, it is so worth it.

I won’t sit here and lie and say it has been easy because it hasn’t. However, I can honestly say that I have been challenged and I have taken leaps of confidence to try and grow as a professional within the industry.

Now I don’t know if you remember, or if you have read any of my other blog posts, but in my first blog post I quoted “a year of paid work experience” and I thought that was utterly awesome in itself!

However, that is far from what the Step Forward programme is. Step Forward is a family, somewhere you can grow as a professional and as an individual. I have made lifelong friends, I know how to be an employee and I have a whole new network that I built myself. And yes, on top of all that I have been paid, and gained work experience.

Looking back at the whole experience I would not change a thing because everything I have done has taught me something. Whether it’s something that changed my life massively or something smaller, I have taken something away with me in every single week of this programme.

Next year I have been offered a job to stay with Drew London as a trainee designer, which is something I only dreamed of happening. I feel honestly privileged to have landed myself in such a well-suited position. All of that would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Step Forward.

3 months to go…by Roisin Judd

As I sit here writing this post, I have just under 3 months left until I finish the Step Forward programme. It’s strange to think that soon I won’t be trekking to Waterloo each Tuesday for training and I won’t be getting up at 6am for work… There will be a lot of changes once the programme ends, but hopefully all the experiences I have had along the way will stay with me.

Last Tuesday, during our STEP time session* we were reflecting on our experiences over the past 8 months and writing them down to present to the group. Whilst this might seem a bit pointless, it was actually helpful to think about everything I’ve learnt and the experiences I’ve had, because it has made me more appreciative of my opportunity here at Step Forward.

I won’t include all of the experiences/skills/knowledge I gained (I was surprised at the amount we had!) but I’ll write down my top 5 because hopefully it will make you excited about the year ahead!

  1. Realising that there are better ways to react to constructive criticism than crying – who would have guessed?!
  1. Passing my ICT Functional Skills test and getting qualified in First Aid and Food Hygiene
  2. Discovering that in the real world you aren’t supposed to wait for orders; you have to take initiative (this one took a while to learn…)
  3. Finding a balance between work, training and my social life (aka Netflix)
  1. Dealing with challenging people and situations – at the time, these situations were really annoying and difficult but once I learned how to sort out problems effectively and know when I should just ‘let it go’ (#sorrynotsorry) I was able to see the benefits that came from them.

Of course, the final experience that I am waiting to have is finishing my course and getting my qualification! I’m on the final stretch, and I am both looking forward to and dreading the end of the programme. For those of you who have got a place with Step Forward next year I hope you’re looking forward to it, it’s going to be great! And for those who have exams right now – good luck!

*for those unaware of what STEP time is, check out my blog post ‘What is Step Forward?’

 

The Truth About Step Forward…by Roisin Judd

For this post, I decided to enlist the help of a few associates from the Early Years Education pathway. I wanted to find out about their experiences on the programme, as well as ask what they have learnt during their time with Step Forward, and so I messaged the WhatsApp group…

Truth Number 1: It is not an easy gap year choice!

Step Forward can offer you so many great opportunities and help you start your career in the working world, however you will need to work – hard! If you are reading this now and on the search for an easy, relaxing “gap yah” then I suggest you head to Thailand or some other hot country…

The Early Years Education course is really interesting, and everything you learn will help you in your job. In my opinion, it’s also the most fun because it requires a lot of discussion (“talking”) which can really liven up a Tuesday morning! The qualification itself is coursework-based, however throughout the year you will also sit an ICT exam as well as a Food Hygiene and a First Aid course. Whilst this may seem a little daunting (or maybe a lot!), Step Forward will always be there to help and support you.

Truth Number 2: Make the most of your mentor!

When you get accepted into the programme, you will be divided into groups called STEP groups which are compiled of people from different pathways. The person in charge of your STEP group is your mentor; they will have regular one-to-one meetings with you as well as with your manager to review your progress.

When I asked my friends what the best part of Step Forward was, most of them said their mentors because “their help has been amazing”. As well as your tutors and associates, you can go to your mentor for help with any problem you have, be it personal, professional or about the course and they will help you no matter what. Having that source of support is incredible, and I probably won’t realise just how much I have relied on my mentor until after I leave the programme!

Truth Number 3: You will become so much more independent, without even realising!

There is nothing more satisfying than checking your bank balance at the end of that first month of work and seeing that £750 just sitting there – a reward for all your hard work. It’s a great moment that all too quickly fades as you spend it all on crazy online shopping sprees and (let’s face it) a little too much on food because, hey! You’re a working man/woman/other and you can afford to! I have been there a fair few times, but I am finally learning how to budget my money and make it last until the end of the month. Earning money (and learning how to spend it) is a crucial part of becoming independent, and can be a hard lesson to learn!

Aside from money, I have also become more independent in my everyday life without even realising it. I no longer ask to go to the toilet or wait for a bell to tell me that I can eat my lunch, because apparently people don’t do that in the “real world” … I’ve also become more confident in myself and my abilities because I have become used to interacting with others and meeting new people. Looking back, I can see that I have become so much more independent and I’m sure I’ll notice more changes by the time I reach the end of the programme!

Stepping Forward…by Shannon Crilly

Now, after six months of getting to know the world of work, I’m surrounded by decision making. Yes, it’s that time again to think about where I will be going next.

While being on Step Forward I have unearthed the realities of what being an employee means. This is a really important thing to understand. You have to constantly think in the back (and front actually) of your mind that someone is paying you to do a job. This means you have to do that job. You have to not be late. You have to be organised. You have to be professional. You have to stick at it when times get tough, and most importantly you have to focus on stepping forward. Now, yeah, we all know that the perfect life for everyone would be to win the lottery or to be a superstar in Hollywood, but you have to be realistic. And you may be yet to realise that sometimes working hard is a lot more rewarding than getting wealth and happiness handed to you on a plate.

Now, after six months at Drew London, I’m beginning to think about what I want to do next and whether the creative industry is really for me. I think unless you have experience in industry processes, then you won’t ever know the answer to that kind of question. But for me, I feel as though this is something I would really enjoy doing as a career and the only reason I have realised this is because I have been shown a virtual reality to the job that I would potentially get as a graduate.

I have decided that I really want to stay on for another year at Drew London to gain a deeper insight to a more creative job role. Next year I’m planning to intern as a junior trainee designer with Drew London to experience a role where live projects are being processed and where I can make a bigger impact on them.

Stephen and Elle (the big bosses) have been really supportive in helping me decide what the next step for me is and, after a one to one with my manager Stephen, I have decided to do a part time course in graphic design while working at Drew London next year which will hopefully enhance my skills and give me the appropriate knowledge needed to become better at the design aspect of my job role. It has been such an exciting journey and I feel extremely lucky to have the support I have had.

We all know that ‘knowing where you will be in five years’ time’ is the typical kind of interview question. And I think that while on Step Forward I have come to the realisation that the answer I would give if I was asked that now is ‘Who knows, the world is my oyster’ and as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true! I have no idea what I will be doing in five years time, because at the moment I’m taking opportunities rather that trying to plan every inch of my future. Now you have to realise that stepping forward isn’t always about having certainty, in fact sometime taking the next step is more about uncertainty and not knowing, which can actually lead to somewhere you never thought you would be but somewhere you end up loving.

Now sorry about all the cheesy words in but I hope you will realise that Step Forward is a really great stepping stone to gaining experience and realisation. Even if the realisation is that you know you want to try something different. London itself is full of opportunities and even if you don’t stay on with the placement on Step Forward, at least you have gained experience and have tried different things within the working world.

A Day in the Life…by Roisin Judd

When I applied to the Early Years Education pathway on Step Forward, I didn’t really know what it meant to be an “Early Years Apprentice”. I knew the general facts and figures but what I really wanted to know was what I would be doing on a daily basis! So I’ve decided to write this blog post describing an average (but not boring!) day in the life of an apprentice Early Years Educator…

Reminder: It’s important to remember that because I will be describing my average day, things may be done a little differently in other early year’s settings!

My official title is “apprentice practitioner”. A practitioner is essentially a teacher for 0-5 year olds, and the main responsibilities will include: caring for the children (supervising their play, changing nappies, etc); observing and recording the developmental progress of a few specific children (otherwise known as key children); and just generally keeping them safe! I know this can sound like a lot to do, but these responsibilities will be introduced gradually rather than all on your first day, and you will also have the support of your peers and mentor back at Step Forward!

So back to me… Depending on my hours, I will get up at 6.20am to get to work for 7.45am; I used to hate the early starts but now I quite enjoy them…once I’m out of bed! When I get to the nursery, I     will have 15 minutes to set up, check that the nursery is safe for the children and prepare myself mentally for the day before any children arrive at 8am.

Normally there will only be a few children that arrive before 9am, so I basically just keep them occupied until breakfast at half 8. As more children arrive, I will supervise them during free play (they choose what they play with) until 10am when they sit down for circle time. Circle time is when the children will sit (hopefully quietly) and listen to a short story, then sing some nursery rhymes and maybe do some games to teach them letters/numbers/shapes/colours. I used to hate doing circle time because I was embarrassed of singing in front of my colleagues but I quickly realised that no-one really cares!

Between 10am and 12pm, I supervise snack time and then carry out (or help with) one of the planned activities. These activities normally follow a theme, such as Easter, and can range from painting to making cards. As my setting will only have about 10 children each day, I can really get involved in the activities and ask them questions about what they’re doing or learning – this is one of my favourite parts of my job; interacting with the children! After the activity, they will go outside to play until lunch time and I will do my best to keep the peace – it turns out that small children aren’t great at sharing!

Lunch time can get quite hectic as we have to supervise the older children eating whilst feeding the babies! As each child finishes, we take them to the toilet/change their nappy, brush their teeth and change their clothes before putting them down for their nap. Luckily, every child in the nursery takes a nap which means that we have about an hour and a half to clean the classroom, toilets and kitchen as well as have our lunch break. Not every setting will ask you to help with the cleaning, but my setting doesn’t employ a cleaner so that’s one of my responsibilities – yay! Everyone will use their lunch break differently, but during mine I usually write up some observations, eat my food and just try to remember life outside the nursery!

The children wake up at half 2, so between 2.30-4pm I will do circle time and play with the children until snack time. Parents will normally arrive between 4.30 and 6pm, so the children will play in the classroom as they wait for their parents to arrive. Although the nursery closes at 6, I usually finish work at half 4 so I will head home to watch some Netflix and do some coursework.

So that’s the end of a normal day at work! Even though I had never planned to work with children, and my friends still tell me they can’t imagine me working in a nursery, I really love my job! Although it can be busy and stressful, I do get a lot of cuddles from the babies so it’s not all bad! Like I said, each setting will do things a little differently but I hope this post helped you understand a bit more about the Early Years Education pathway, and hopefully convinced you to apply!

A Slight Detour…by Shannon Crilly

UNIVERSITY. GRADES. PASS. FAIL. STUDENT LOANS. This was the repetition that began to congest my young and innocent brain for two years of my life as a teenager. In fact this is what most teenagers hear for two years of their teen life…whether it is in assembly, in class, at a careers fair or all three!

My personal journey hasn’t been straight forward. However, no one ever has a straight-forward story, and everyone has to overcome hurdles in life. I’m going to give you a brief insight to who is writing these posts and where I came from.

I was adopted at the age of three and grew up in a family who always wanted me to do my best, but never put pressure on me to be ‘the’ best. This motivated me to be better and I was constantly trying to impress my parents. My mum never steered me into doing academic subjects at school and always gave me the choice to pursue what I wanted to do. Having that choice, I steered towards the more creative subjects like Art and Design and through this really found that I LOVED these subjects! Now, after realising that university is often a great place if you want to be there for the next ten years of your life getting a degree and then slowly moving up towards a PhD, I knew it just wasn’t for me. For more creative subjects, a degree isn’t always key.

I took a slight detour and decided that timing is not everything and that university will be there for a long time but this year of experience may not. There is nothing wrong with a change as long as it is in the right direction and the truth is, there are many right directions!

Getting good grades and being accepted into high-end universities isn’t everything. Acceptance isn’t only offered at universities, and university will always be there. The employment market isn’t looking for someone with a degree; they are looking for someone who knows what they are doing. Universities often teach content and knowledge but don’t expose you to real life scenarios: which is why I chose experience.

At Step Forward you don’t sit in slouchy seminars, you don’t stick to the same friendship crowd, you don’t lack experience, learning isn’t slow and challenges are good rather than pointless. Whilst doing Step Forward my network has tripled, my motivation has escalated and I have learnt so much more than what I would have learnt in a whole year at school…and I’m only half way through! I never stand at bus stops thinking about what is round the corner anymore because everything is always unexpected and every day is different. So I guess the message of this post is that planning isn’t always the recipe for becoming successful and sometimes taking a chance and trusting your gut can actually lead to something better or something that makes you happier. Working at Drew London does make me happy and I’m so happy I made the choice to take a detour. Life is too short to follow the crowd, so BE YOU!

So what exactly is Step Forward?…by Roisin Judd

This blog post is my attempt to explain exactly what Step Forward is – not only what it offers you, but what actually goes on each week.

The Basics:

Step Forward is a 12 month-long school leavers programme that offers you the opportunity to work a full-time job whilst gaining a nationally recognised qualification and earning £9000 in the process! The basic structure of Step Forward is working a full-time job for 4 days of the week and having 1 day of training a week. When you apply, you will have to choose between 5 career pathways: IT; Social Media; Early Years Education; Accounting and Business Administration – no matter which pathway you choose you will be working for a quality employer whilst being fully supported by a personal mentor.

 

Training:
Each week  you will attend a training day at the Step Forward offices where you will have classroom-based training in your pathway’s qualification. Whilst the specific training you receive will depend on your pathway, there are other parts of the day that I can go into more detail about!
Every other week you will only have classroom training for half of the day (9am-1pm), and from 2-5pm you will have STEP time and Professional Development. This part of Step Forward is what makes it unique, because it recognises the value of socialising and encourages Associates to get to know each other!

(Side note: “STEP” is an acronym for the 4 core values of Step Forward: Stick at it, Teamwork, Empower yourself and Professionalism – you will hear this mentioned a lot in this blog post and during your time on the programme, so you had better get familiar with it!)

 

STEP Teams:
Your STEP team is the group that you will be put into during the residential induction, which happens towards the end of August. This is a group of associates from different pathways, allowing you to meet more people and make more connections and will stay the same for the whole year.
STEP time focuses on making strong connections with those in your STEP team through a series of sessions that are often organised by Associates. These can range from having an organised “rant” about any problems at work (eg. irritating colleagues!) or learning dance routines! Although STEP time is supervised by your mentor, it doesn’t follow a strict structure so each session and team is individual in the way it is run. This aspect of Step Forward really brings everyone together and makes you feel like you are a part of a special little community!
The Professional Development sessions are equally as important because they focus on developing the basic skills that employers are looking for, such as answering phone calls or writing emails. Step Forward are always keen to receive feedback on these sessions which means that everything we learn will be helpful and relevant to us!

 

STEP Awards:

The final part of the training day is the STEP awards that are held each month. These are designed to celebrate the achievements or efforts of various Associates in demonstrating the 4 principles of the programme, either in the workplace or in training. Any Associate can be nominated by their manager, mentor, tutor or fellow Associates and the ceremony is definitely interesting! Just imagine a room full of *ahem* “young professionals” cheering loudly and making silly comments for roughly half an hour, and you shall have a pretty clear image of the STEP Awards ceremony!

I hope this post was helpful to anyone looking for more information about what exactly goes on at Step Forward – it’s busy and a lot of fun, I would 100% recommend you to apply!