Cardiff and Vale College Aero student Kierran James

A horrific fall whilst serving in Kenya put his Army career on hold but Kierran James has just won an award for learning against the odds.

His accident led to Kierran suffering from seizures and he was medically discharged from the Army, which meaning he had to rethink his career.

Seven years later, after battling mental health issues and family health scares and he’s just achieved a first-class Honours degree in BSc Aircraft Maintenance with a promising future in aeronautical engineering.

Kierran, 28, was awarded with the ‘Life change and progression’ Inspire! Award, a recognition of his success in changing his life through learning.

Co-ordinated by Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards reward those who have demonstrated the power of learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.

Kierran is one of 12 winners who feature as part of Adult Learners’ Week, a week full of taster sessions and masterclasses aimed to inspire others to follow in their footsteps, which this year takes place online from 21-27 September.

Without the support and purpose Kierran received while serving in the Army, his mental health suffered, and he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. After years jumping from job to job, he had no direction.

The 28-year-old said:

“The Army was all I’d ever known. A lot of my family members were in the Army and I’d always pictured myself working my way up.

“It’s a way of life and like a family so to have that suddenly taken away from you really messes with your head.

“Life afterwards was bleak, I had lots of jobs in pubs which I couldn’t hold down which led me to drinking too much and I just spiralled.”

Kierran found hope when he met his partner, Samantha at a friend’s BBQ. She provided the support he needed to work with his mental health issues.

“I had always associated learning with the tough time I had in school after my father died after suffering a bleed on the brain,” said Kierran, who was just 12 at the time.

“But I knew if I wanted to restart my career prospects I needed to get the qualifications.

“Within the Army I was training to be a UAV drone pilot and have always had a passion for the aviation industry, so I decided to apply for the ‘A’ Licence course at Cardiff and Vale College.

“This course gave me purpose.”

Kierran jumpstarted his learning journey and after completing his Level 3 in A Licence modules he went on to study a degree in aircraft maintenance, also at CAVC.

Whilst on the course, he was diagnosed with dyslexia that hadn’t been picked up at school.

“I had always felt like it was an upward struggle at school but after understanding why I struggled and making small changes like printing work out on yellow paper allowed me to keep up with the class.”

Kierran has since spoken at careers fairs, taken on the role as team leader on group projects and secured the first ever internship at aircraft maintenance and training company, Caerdav - famously run by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson.

“Bruce was talking at a conference and I just asked him outright for some work experience - if you had told me that five years ago, I would have laughed!”

Kierran was unable to graduate in the summer due to the pandemic and is currently working as a mental health support worker, topping up his wage as a shop assistant in Argos.

“Mental health has always been a part of my life, even during my time at college I would have bad and good days, but my tutors would support me and talk through my challenges.

“I can really connect to the patients because I’ve been in their shoes.”

Kierran and Samantha have been through a lot together – Samantha experienced some severe health issues in 2019. They plan to buy a house together and Kierran is looking forward to starting a career in the aviation industry.

He said:

There is support out there and I would encourage people to share their problems and also their goals as people will help you find a way through.”

Adult Learners’ Week celebrates lifelong learning, whether in educational institutions, through work, at home or as a leisure activity and the week will be full of tasters and success stories on why learning a new skill can change your story.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said:

“Even without a ceremony it’s so important that we celebrate the Inspire! Awards winners whose determination has been extraordinary.  

“Kierran is a great example of how lifelong learning has turned his life around, both professionally and personally. Gaining qualifications at any age will not only help us build a workforce with the right skills needed for the new normal, but also inspire people to keep learning to explore directions and keep their minds and bodies healthy too.”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said:

“There has never been a better or more important time to start learning and our Inspire! Award winners show just what is possible. Whether it is gaining skills to help you find a new job, improving your health, or learning something you have always been passionate about, now is the time to pick up the phone or go online to get the support you need to start your journey. 

“During lockdown thousands of adults across Wales started to change their story by learning something new. We hope the incredible stories of all our award winners will inspire thousands more to take that first step back into adult education.”

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