After nearly three decades Stephen Duffy from Ballybay, Co Monaghan, has finally put to bed lingering self-doubt over failing to get his Leaving Cert.
Stephen says: “I was always confident in a lot of ways but my lack of education always affected me. I didn’t even sit my Leaving Cert, I failed Junior Cert as I was such a messer in the classroom and left school after that. I always thought people who had all those things were better than me.
“I worked in the retail sector for 27 years after school. In 2015 I was off work for a few months through illness and I saw it as an opportunity to explore something different. The biggest moment was walking into Monaghan National Learning Network.
“Having worked so many years in the same environment, I didn’t think I would have had the confidence to go for new career. I was worried an employer wouldn’t give me a chance without experience, but I couldn’t get experience unless I had a chance. Education was my biggest problem as far as confidence was concerned. I now see if I’d applied myself in school, or found a college like NLN, l I’d have been okay.”
As Ireland’s largest non-governmental education and training organisation, NLN offers more than 70 free, certified training programmes from art and cookery to computer and business skills in centres across the country.
Vocational courses funded by the ETBs include the following: Arts, Craft and Media, Catering, Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure, Business Studies and Administration, Computer and IT, Horticulture and Environment, and Career Exploration and Employment.
There are 50 NLN colleges throughout Ireland offering City & Guilds and QQI-accredited programmes as well as vocational and social skills courses. The colleges have students aged from 16-up and offer personalised learning and one-on-one support. There are onsite psychologists, literacy and numeracy tutors, and rehabilitation officers who work with students to support them in setting and reaching personal goals.
Stephen understands how disappointing a poor result in the Leaving Cert can feel but his experience shows leaving school without the cert doesn’t have to mean the end of the education road.
“I worked with computers before in a previous job, but I wasn’t used to them. I couldn’t even use Microsoft Word. Now I use computers a lot and if I don’t know what I’m doing, I work it out for myself.
“I did two days in the centre learning about computers, manual handling, communication and so on, the other two days I was out on work experience. NLN sourced a work placement for me in the Íontus Arts and Resource Centre which I was delighted with. There is a day service for elderly people which I started helping out in as well. I discovered a liking for working with the elderly and a knack for it. So much so that I did a Solas course in Dublin on activities with elderly people.
I was on the course with people who were already working as activities coordinators, occupational therapists and nurses. On the first day we had to sign in and everyone had titles after their names, I just signed ‘Steven Duffy’. I was going to walk out and said to the guy running the course that I didn’t think I was supposed to be there. He encouraged me to stay and I found that I was every bit as capable as the people who had the titles after their names. I got my certificate and now I’m a Solas-licensed practitioner in working with people with dementia.
“Through my work experience I was offered a permanent position in the centre working with elderly people. I do activities with them, help with dinners and serve tea in the morning. My job involves having fun and craic with them. Some of them lead a very isolated lifestyle so they appreciate it when they come in. I have a personal motto that it’s a good day if I can greet them with a smile in the morning and see them smile when they’re leaving.
“I’m proof that NLN works, the help and support and encouragement are all there, it’s a really good experience. And I don’t think about my Leaving Cert anymore…”
Monaghan NLN is enrolling now. Call in to the college at The Diamond Building, The Diamond, Roosky, Monaghan, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 047 83671.