From education to employment

Returning to education can challenging but rewarding – former NRC Student

Returning to education can challenging but rewarding – former NRC Student

Returning to education after a break of almost 35 years can be challenging but, for County Antrim man, Paul Rodgers, it has not only been rewarding, but it has opened the door to a second career after retirement.

Paul, who lives in Cullybackey, has just completed a three year part-time Foundation Degree in Integrative Counselling Practice at Northern Regional College. The qualification is validated by Ulster University and accredited by BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) making him eligible for professional membership and employment as an Integrative Counsellor.

A computer science graduate from Queen’s University, Belfast, Paul had been working as an IT manager at the time of his early retirement four years ago. He explained that he felt fortunate to have the option of retiring in his mid ‘fifties and wanted to do something that would give him the opportunity to give back.

His many years of professional experience, coupled with his role as a church elder had made Paul acutely aware of the personal struggles that people can face. This prompted his decision to get a formal qualification in counselling, something he had been doing informally for many years. 

“I always enjoyed the people management aspect of my role and, as a church elder, I would regularly visit members of the congregation to help them talk through different issues they may have had. When my wife Sharon died after a short illness, it was a watershed moment in my life, and I saw a role in counselling as a way of finding motivation and fulfilment during retirement.”

“Following a meeting with a careers advisor, I identified the relevant qualifications, and course options I would need, not only learn therapeutic counselling skills but also be able to gain essential work placement experience as a trainee counsellor in professional practice.” 

Paul enrolled on the Foundation Degree course at the Northern Regional College’s Ballymena campus in September 2020. He admitted that getting back into the way of academic study and assignments after 35 years in full-time employment was challenging, so he was very appreciative of the support and guidance from lecturers. 

“I also made some really lasting friendships and there was a wonderful bond of trust and collaboration among such a diverse group of students in the class.”

He continued: “At the start of the course, we were in College so we’d a chance to meet the lecturers and other students in person and this certainly helped when the classes went online in 2021. Although we did miss out on ‘face to face’ interaction during the lockdown, the course made excellent use of the available technology to allow us all to maintain our focus and learn effectively.”

Paul said he would have no hesitation recommending the course to others:

“The course structure provides an excellent learning pathway to building strong theoretical and practical skills. Our lecturers were really outstanding. As well as their immense knowledge and experience, they brought great warmth and humour and a genuine personal interest in the success of every individual student.”

Thanks to his successful placement during the course, Paul has been able to maintain the link with his placement employer by working as a freelance counsellor in a part-time counselling role.

Looking ahead, Paul realises that if he is to take on more counselling work, he will not be able to put his books away just yet.

“Continuing professional development, learning and training are an essential part of the counselling profession post qualification. I would like to expand my professional competency and perhaps specialise in a few niche areas of mental health and trauma counselling.”

Course Director, Minford McBride explained that the Foundation Degree in Integrative Counselling (FdSc) designed in consultation with industry partners, professional and academic bodies in response to an identified need for the need for more qualified counsellors in Northern Ireland.

“When they complete the course, graduates may work as counsellors and, like Paul, many of our former students have progressed to part-time employment in voluntary, charitable and private sector agencies. 

He added that many go on to further specialised study and/or set up their own private counselling practice, post-qualification.

Visit for further information about the Foundation Degree in Integrative Counselling Practice and other Higher Education options at Northern Regional College.

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