Award-winning apprentice won’t let autism get in the way

To celebrate Dyslexia Awareness Week, a childcare apprentice who worried that her autism would affect her career prospects, shares with others who have a disability how rewarding an apprenticeship can be.

Ellie Curtis, who has autism, always wanted to work with young children, having been inspired by her mother who worked as a childminder throughout Ellie’s childhood.

Twenty-year-old Ellie said: “I attended college to study childcare, but I felt there was very little support for my additional learning needs as I’m autistic and have dyslexia, so I often struggled to keep up with what the tutor was asking of us.

Additonal support

“At school I had a support worker that I could talk to if I was feeling overwhelmed, or if I needed some more time to understand and work through my courses. When I joined college, I started to feel isolated and lost.

“I knew I wanted to work with young children, so I looked into other routes. I turned to ACT Training for support who pointed me in the direction of an apprenticeship. They told me that on-the-job training would give me the additional support I was looking for.”

Working at her mother’s nursery hadn’t always been the plan for Ellie, but when she initially struggled to find a paid apprenticeship placement in her hometown, her advisor suggested she consider joining the family business as the nursery’s first apprentice.   

Ellie has now completed her Level 3 Playwork Apprenticeship at Little Tigers Day Care in Monmouthshire, a pre-primary nursery. During her training, Ellie also completed numerous courses such as speech and language, foundation-phase training, first aid, food hygiene, and additional needs training where she worked with children with Autism spectrum disorder.  

Using these skills gained from additional training courses, and with her own personal experience and knowledge of additional learning needs, Ellie was recently promoted to Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator.

Ellie said: “Day-to-day, I’m responsible for all of the children in our care who have additional learning needs. I work with the speech and language therapists, as well as the health visitors, to create individual development plans for the children.”

Personal development

To further develop her skills, Ellie is currently working towards her Level 5 Management Apprenticeship.  

She continued: “I love working with the children the most. I feel I can be a role model for them because I really understand what it’s like. It’s quite funny how the children with additional learning needs take so well to me. At the nursery, we have one little girl who often experiences uncontrollable outbursts that no one is able to stop, but the second I go over to her, it’s as if I’ve waved a magic wand and she’s fine within a couple of minutes!

“My role can be challenging, but it’s also so rewarding. My ultimate goal is to work solely with children who have additional learning needs, and I’m hoping that my Level 5 in Management will open doors for me into the next stage of my career.”

Under representation

Traditionally there has been under-representation from protected groups on the apprenticeship programme in Wales with only 1.5% of apprentices declaring themselves as having a disability or health condition.

Almost all job sectors have apprenticeship programmes and the majority of apprenticeships can be made accessible for people with additional needs.

Little Tigers Nursery Manager, Natalie Hughes said: “We are so proud of how well Ellie has done since she started with us. She’s a real all-rounder and a pleasure to work with, and her autism hasn’t been a cause for concern.

“Since she took over as our Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator, she has been given far more responsibility and has stepped up to the challenge brilliantly. She’s so dedicated, and always goes above and beyond in everything we ask of her. Recently, she’s even started to mentor new starters at the nursery too, taking them under her wing and making them feel welcome.”

Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates, said: “Ellie is a perfect example of someone who has used an apprenticeship to gain the skills they need to get ahead in life. I’d urge anyone who is thinking about their next steps to consider an apprenticeship as a serious option.

Apprenticeships provide individuals with a ladder of opportunity to ‘learn on the job’, earn a wage and build a long-standing career, and stories like this prove that apprenticeships offer many opportunities. For the businesses, apprenticeships are a proven way to tailor an employee’s skill-set to meet the specific demands of a business, leaving employers across Wales with a ready-made talent pool that can rise up through the ranks to management roles”.

The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.

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