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It’s always darkest before the Dawn

Blog posted by: Rachel Hopkins, Marketing Officer, Wednesday 20 September 2017.

Over the summer, we’ve seen young people all over the country receiving their GCSE and A Level results and witnessed the dizzying highs but also some disappointing lows when results aren’t what pupils were hoping for. As an Awarding Organisation that specialise in vocational and technical qualifications, we want to highlight the importance of diversity in learning. Young people are under pressure to achieve academically but the world is changing rapidly and with new technologies and sectors emerging, traditional academia may no longer be fit for purpose across all sectors. We need to ensure we empower young people to embrace change in learning and let them know that there isn’t just one route to success.

We’ve been speaking to colleagues here at NCFE about their own career journeys and paths to success, and have been taking part in the #NoWrongPath campaign on social media. What we’ve learned is that everyone is so different, life throws curveballs that you don’t see coming, and that it’s never too late to change direction and learn something new.

Our own David Grailey led the way by sharing his own #NoWrongPath story from butchery apprentice to CEO of NCFE. This time we hear about how Dawn Mulvaney, Project Manager for CACHE Alumni, who has overcome barriers and adversity to succeed and progress in her career.

Dawn started off her career journey in a fairly conventional way after leaving school with good results and gaining a degree in Drama in 2008. With the hopes of becoming a Drama Teacher she decided to get some work experience in a music venue to understand more about how the arts and cultural sector worked. It was during this time that her confidence was knocked when she was told that due to her disability, she wouldn’t be a good fit for teaching.

Dawn has a condition called Hypermobility Syndrome (or HEDS), which means that she dislocates joints easily. It makes her a little unsteady when she walks and physical activity can make her tired easily. Long days standing in the classroom followed by planning and marking may not have been a good fit long term. You can find out about more HEDS here.

She decided to make a change and began working as an administrator in the Asylum Seekers Unit for her local council. Through working with and helping people in difficult situations, she realised that she could make a real difference and so began to volunteer at a hostel for homeless 17-25 year olds. After 3 months of volunteering she began working full time across 3 hostels gaining some great and very valuable experience.

Keen to progress to the next level but still work to empower and support young people, she joined the National Careers Service as a Young People’s Advisor. After working there for a while Dawn wanted to revisit her learning journey. This included researching a degree in Social Work. Unfortunately, like many others, Dawn found this option was going to be very expensive and she couldn’t afford to take 3+ years out of full time employment.

Embedded in Dawn was her desire to help others achieve their own learning and employment goals. This led to time spent working in Welfare to Work and Employment advice, as well as positions in recruitment. Although unable to facilitate her own degree aspirations, helping others became a passion and it was around this time that she came across NCFE.

NCFE’s values are at the heart of everything we do and our key purpose is to create opportunities for success to enrich society. Through accessible education, we believe that there are no limits to what people can achieve, and that passion was what drew Dawn to a career with NCFE.

Dawn joined NCFE as a Customer Support Assistant in 2015 and said that she immediately felt like she’d found her place. By connecting with learners of all ages, colleges and centres across the country, and engaging with our customers every day, she was able to realise her dreams of working with young people, working in education, helping people to overcome issues, all at in one place.

Just over 2 years later, as well as having been an integral part of the Centre Support Team at NCFE, Dawn has been working with the Innovation Team to develop new products and initiatives to help shape the future of learning and customer support. This has included developing apps and virtual reality teaching aids. The NCFE Innovation Team have developed CACHE Alumni, which Dawn is now leading as Project manager. CACHE Alumni will connect our learners from the Health and Social Care, and Childcare sectors with industry experts, potential employers and each other, providing an online community to share knowledge, best practice, and industry specific news and events. You can find out more about CACHE Alumni here.

In just short of 10 years since leaving university, Dawn has gained a wealth of diverse experience. Had it not been for a change in career path and her determination to overcome her own barriers, she wouldn’t be in the position that she’s in today. ““I did really well at school, so I assumed that my chosen path would be straight and easy to follow”, Dawn said. “When that wasn’t the case, my world fell apart, but by ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’ I tried new things and, out of that dark moment came one of the brightest decisions I ever made.  Never be afraid to try new things. You never know which one is going to lead to your future.”


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