From education to employment

Michael Wells, Aspiration Awards Against All Odds winner, shares his story of overcoming the odds to retrain and reskill

Michael Wells, Aspiration Awards Against All Odds winner

A Romany Gypsy Traveller who felt displaced from his community, left school at 14, and attempted to take his own life has won a national education award.  

Michael Wells, from London, grew up as one of five children and during his school years was limited to attending education in the winter months as his family would be travelling during spring and summer.   

After leaving school at the age of 14, he began learning his father’s roofing and paving trade but soon realised his passion was directed to more creative projects and he aspired to achieve a different career path. 

Displaced from the Traveller community and wrestling with an internal conflict to honour himself and his family, Michael struggled with his mental health resulting in several breakdowns and attempted overdoses before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

But after returning to education as an adult to complete a 16-week Skills Bootcamp in Digital Marketing, Michael has now won a national education accolade as part of NCFE’s Aspiration Awards, honouring learners, educators and organisations across the UK, after being named Against All Odds winner.  

Michael said: “It got me excited. It was an interesting education, and from there I built my strengths, courage, determination, and I got stronger in myself every day. It has opened my mind up and it’s given me a new path, a new road to take, and just made me very excited for the future.”  

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Michael was then involved in an accident and had to undergo an operation on his back. Following this, Michael began to pursue his more creative talents by working in landscaping but suffered a further setback and unfortunately had to stop, following a second operation a few years later.   

Due to his back injury, Michael was unable to continue manual labour which, combined with his limited educational history, impacted his employment opportunities. He reached his lowest point when he was found unresponsive in a car park, having made a further attempt to take his own life.    

Following treatment and recovery in hospital, Michael was determined to regain employment. He reached out to his local National Careers Service, expressing his passion to pursue a creative career, who recommended Serco, and being signposted to the Skills Bootcamp in Digital Marketing which Serco delivers through its Skills and Training Services. 

Michael’s confidence was low when he joined Serco’s Skills Bootcamp programme. He struggled with self-belief and found social situations challenging. Michael was very shy, with low self-esteem and refrained from talking or participating within the group.   

While he doubted his ability, Michael committed to the 16-week programme which he has now successfully completed. He quickly became known as a dedicated learner, proactively seeking all the support offered by tutors, coaches and peers, and feeling accepted for the first time in a learning environment. 

Michael said: “When I first joined this course, I was in a difficult place mentally, emotionally, and physically. I have since gained confidence and motivation, realising my capabilities and potential.   

“I am now more determined to succeed. With a few business ideas in mind that I’ve always wanted to pursue, this course has not only taught me digital marketing but also planning, strategies, and implementation that are applicable in various business aspects.” 

Debbie Illidge, Adult Skills Manager at Serco, said: “Michael really has shown determination and accomplished his qualification against all odds. He has been a dedicated learner throughout the Bootcamp in Digital Marketing and has shown true resilience and commitment in his pursuit to develop his skills and knowledge. Michael’s growth during the programme serves as an inspiration to us all.” 

Now focused on his next career steps, Michael is looking to explore self-employment options with the hope of working within a creative environment. He has overcome every challenge faced throughout his life, grown in confidence, and even used learning from the Skills Bootcamp to design a website for his sister’s cleaning company.  

Through his efforts and skills learned in the Internet Marketing in Business unit, the company is now in the top 10 searches for cleaning services in its local area and his relationship with his sister is stronger than ever.    

Check out the video below with Michael, Aspiration Awards Against All Odds winner:

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