My early years were far from ideal – my father died after a long illness whilst I was just entering my teenage years. I never finished school and I entered the big wide world with no academic qualifications at all. Things seemed to go from bad to worse and after seven years in an abusive marriage, things came to a head and I fled for my life with my three small girls.
The one thing I could do though was work, and work hard was exactly what I did to support my children and teach them solid core values in life. During this time I had no real skills, my jobs were varied and took in everything from retail sales to working in a Chinese takeaway. I had started my training as a nurse at the local hospital but had to give it up when I became pregnant.
The one thing my father had always wanted me to do was to learn to be a hairdresser. His logic was simple and irrefutable really, ‘people will always need their hair cutting’ he used to say and so it was for that reason I started a two-year apprenticeship as a hairdresser at a local salon.
I worked hard and applied myself and before I knew where I was my time was up and for the first time in my life I had a real qualification. This may sound a bit daft to many people but after the life I had so far had this meant a lot to me – I had real world qualifications and I felt that I had achieved something.
Fast forward a few years and I met my husband. He had a very small engineering business and together we started to build it up. He had been an apprentice himself and felt very strongly about the need for apprentices in his line of work so consequently as soon as we could we took on our first apprentice welder, a four-year apprenticeship including day release training at college once a week. It was a big commitment for our little firm but because we both felt so strongly about the need to put something back into the workplace both to maintain the skills pool and as morally the right thing to do, it was one that we were happy with.
Apprentice Rick passed as a fabricator and welder and we were immensely proud of him. Rick stayed with us for another couple of years, long enough to become involved in the training of our next apprentice.
Apprenticeships have been a very important aspect of my life in one way or another and definitely in a positive way both by giving me a sense of achievement and a believe in myself. First, when I gained my own apprenticeship in hairdressing all those years before, but equally by being in a position to give others the same opportunity and feelings of self-worth that come with gaining a skill and being recognised as a fully skilled trades person.
Inspired by our boys’ success, I went onto adult education to build my own qualifications that I never had a chance to attain when I was at school.
In 2017, I was Highly Commended in the individual learner category for Festival of Learning. The way I felt when I heard the news was right up there with highlights such as the birth of my daughters and marrying my David.
I would never have thought all those years ago when my life was taking all those negative turns that I would be returning for adult education and more importantly enjoying it but I know that I am capable of doing this because of both my own apprenticeship and helping our own boys to better themselves.
Carmen L. Hodson