SERC's Downpatrick Campus has had a long history in providing access to further and higher education courses across the east down region, helping people to gain the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career. Local people have shared their stories of how vocational education at SERC has helped them get promoted, retrain in a new career, and get back into education to further their ambitions.       

For anyone considering returning to education, 34-year-old Colm Smyth from Downpatrick, is a great example of the rewards that can be gained from going back to the books!  

Having been made redundant, Colm decided to put structure back into his life and earn some money by accepting a job as a dishwasher in a local hotel. 

It was a far cry from what he was used to but nonetheless Colm enjoyed being back at work.  

Reinvigorated by his new job in the hospitality industry, Colm took the brave decision to retrain to become a chef. 

With the encouragement of his friends and family, Colm returned to education in September 2013, enrolling on a Level 2 Professional Cookery.  

Having been out of education for nearly 15 years, Colm was apprehensive about returning to college but he wasn’t going to let nerves get the better of him. Colm returned and successfully completed a level 2 and level 3 diploma in professional cookery at SERC, and is now working as head chef at Corriewood Nursing Home.  

Colm said: “As soon as I met my tutors Michelle McCarthy and Michael Gillies I was totally at ease, they were fantastic and really helped me settle back into the classroom environment. I have learnt that with the right encouragement and help, I was able to do things I never thought possible. I was petrified about coming back to education, but everyone in the class helped each other.

“SERC was my way of getting the confidence I needed to continue learning. I enrolled onto the course to follow my ambition and it's the best decision I ever made! I would recommend the course to anyone considering returning to education. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get this far, but it’s definitely been worth it. My advice to others is to attend an open day and speak to the tutors and careers staff about their options.”

Colms tutor Michelle McCarthy said: “Colm proves that it is never too late to go back to education.  We have many mature students who are returning for a variety of reasons from retraining or coming back to get the qualifications they didn’t get when they were younger.  “And that is the beauty of having your local college on your doorstep.  Colm is a great role model and we would encourage everyone to consider part-time education. 

We all know what a challenging climate we are working in and it is important to get the skills and qualifications which employers want.” Just over four years later and Colm has successfully completed his Level 2 and 3 qualifications and has set up his own catering business. He has also been promoted to Head Chef at Corriewood Nursing Home in Castlewellan, something he never thought possible having left school with no qualifications.

Thoroughly enjoying his new career Colm concluded; “The difference in my life is amazing, not only have I embarked on a new career but I have also met some wonderful people. My tutors Michelle McCarthy and Michael Gillies have been truly inspiring. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of a new career to go for it, it’s never too late. Before I attended SERC I had nothing, now I have formal qualifications, a career I am proud of and a bright future ahead of me.”  

SERC is still enrolling for full and part-time courses. For more information please call 0345 600 7555.

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