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MDX apprentices working on COVID-19 frontline tell their inspirational stories

“In many ways I feel that if my colleagues and I can cope with all of this on top of the stresses of starting a new job and doing a degree, then we can face anything” - Cat Smith

Dan Perry: police apprentice

Dan had always wanted to be a police officer but in his early 20s felt he was too young, needed more life skills and wasn’t ready. He decided to join retail and worked his way up to store manager and was earning a good salary but at 29 he wanted a life change and the desire to work for the police had never left him.

The Middlesex police apprenticeship course was the perfect option. “I thought I’d missed the boat and I would never be able to do a degree. But this course gave me the opportunity to pursue a career with the police and get a degree qualification. You get to study and earn at the same time. It’s great option for mature students who may not be able to afford to study full-time. I thought my studying days were behind me but here I am.”

There have been challenges and Dan says for the past several years he’s been on auto-pilot. He’s been the one training people, delegating and making the decisions. This is a step change and it took some getting used to learning and academia but luckily there has been a lot of support from the Middlesex academics who are always at the end of the phone or email.

Dan started policing in the middle of the pandemic which is unchartered territory for the whole country. He says “I can’t compare it to policing before the pandemic because this is all I know. I’m not being called to stop pub or student fights but I find myself acting more like a social worker or dealing with a mental health crisis. A lot of the time we’re called by neighbours or members of the public who hear family arguments. Families are living in flats, the kids are being home schooled and the parents may be furloughed. It’s really tough for so many people.”

This is Dan’s first year and he starting going out with police crews on 23 December 2020. Does he feel prepared to deal with the fallout from the pandemic? “Being a police officer is a funny job. No two days are the same. No two domestics, two deaths or two incidents are the same.  Every job is different. I deal it because that’s what I’ve been trained to do. At the beginning I used to get anxious about what the day would bring but now I don’t. I deal with whatever comes along.”

Dan says the best thing about the apprenticeship is the ability to learn while being in employment and for him it’s the opportunity to follow his dream job. “In the next three years I will learn everything about policing, responding to crime, forensics and building community relations. I will develop a broad understanding of how policing works. I wasn’t ready before. It’s come at the right time.”

Kristina Radzeviciute: qualified nursing associate

Before starting her apprenticeship Kristina was working full time as a healthcare assistant on an adult inpatient mental health ward within the NHS. She wanted to progress her career and the apprenticeship route allowed the flexibility to work and study at the same time. She describes herself as a hands on learner. The apprenticeship enabled her to learn the theory of a certain topic and then be able to apply it during her placements.

Kristina worked a nurse throughout the pandemic. Many of her colleagues had COVID-19 and the workload increased. She says due to the apprenticeship she had the confidence and skills to step up. She finished the apprenticeship in December 2020. It allowed her to gain knowledge and practical skills required to meet the standards set by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

"The apprenticeship has changed my life not only professionally but as a person. I have gained confidence and my communication skills have improved. Going into various  placements has been a real eye opener." Kristina

“The apprenticeship has helped me develop personally and professionally. I am more competent and confident now. It was perfect for me as I was able to apply the theory I learned at university in practice.

“While it has been challenging it has fuelled my passion and commitment towards providing high quality care to patients and promoting the NHS.”

Kristina says the Middlesex team have been supportive throughout her studies and that she couldn’t have done it without them.

“The apprenticeship has changed my life not only professionally but has changed me as a person. I have gained confidence and my communication skills have improved. Going into various placements has been a real eye opener.”

“I felt able to do ECGs on my ward and participate in care review meetings which I was not able to do prior to the apprenticeship. I was able to organise my workload and prioritise tasks better. I also undertook various placements, one of which was in the accident and emergency department where I was in regular contact with patients with COVID-19.”

Since qualifying Kristina has been able to secure a job as a Registered Nursing Associate on an adult mental health recovery and rehabilitation ward which was previously her placement.

Ajiboye (Sean) Oluwaseun O Osinlaru: teaching apprentice

Sean’s passion for teaching is overwhelming, and especially evident in light of the current pandemic.

“What keeps me going though the pandemic is that the students are going through it as well,” he says. “I have to make sure I’m there with the energy, excitement, and content so they are ready to learn and get the tools necessary to go onto the next stage of their lives.”

Teaching has changed dramatically during COVID-19, with the teaching apprenticeship scheme shifting classes online like other university programmes.

"What keeps me going throughout the pandemic is that the students are going through it as  well. I have to make sure I'm there with the energy, excitement and content so they are ready to learn and get the tools necessary to go onto the next stage of their lives ." Sean

Initially Sean was working in a pastoral role within a school, doing some teaching as a student progress leader, before deciding that he wanted to become a PE and dance teacher. At the school’s suggestion and with their support, he found that the apprenticeship route at Middlesex was the best option for him.

“It will open doors and give me the opportunity to climb the educational ladder,” he says. “To have that university degree expertise and level of underpinning academic support, but also on the job training is extremely beneficial.”

“Staff at Middlesex let you know they are thinking of you, they are there to support you, to offer you tips and advice with what you can and can’t do in the pandemic,” says Sean. He praises lecturers Catherine Walsh and Josh Emdon for always making themselves available, while tutor Ron Sergejev “offered me so much support and guidance in terms of what I want to do going forward, opening doors and conversations I wasn’t ever thinking of having.”

When asked what the best thing about the Apprenticeship programme was Sean answered:

“Training while getting paid! Being able to support your family, being able to still work, study and to really build your future up. I said I’ll never go back to education and now look at me. I’ve already started thinking of a Masters.”

“I see myself working in education for the foreseeable future,” says Sean. “To get to that assistant head, head teacher level, to better my life and destiny, I need this qualification.”

Cat Smith, student police officer

Cat is in the first cohort of MDX student police officers at Surrey Police, due to complete her probation at the end of 2022. From September 2014, she worked as Designated Detention Officer for the Surrey force in one of their custody suites: a tough and relentless frontline job which she loved doing and which gave her confidence and compassion, she says.

She had the option to join the final intake of the traditional Initial Police Learning and Development Programme training route before it was discontinued, but decided that she wanted to work towards a degree - for the sense of accomplishment, as she had never finished her degree in Classical Civilisation when she previously went to university, and to open more doors in future beyond her police career. “This is a chance for a do-over for me, and a chance to learn and develop new skills while learning on the job” she says.

The classroom element of the programme takes in past and potential future models of policing, the impact of mistakes by the police on community relations, how the police can help tackle social problems and work in partnership with social and mental health services etc.

With so much to cover in the form of research and assignments alongside working on shifts as an officer, Cat sets herself goals and keeps a study diary to get everything done. She finds her colleagues in her intake a good source of support: “we keep each other upbeat, have a moan when we are feeling low and offer assistance to each other where we can”.

The Covid pandemic has made Cat and her coursemates’ experience different in unexpected ways. They found it difficult to get all their study units signed off because with lockdown and restrictions, there wasn’t the usual range of call-outs – there were however plenty of domestic incidents.

There were many rules to follow around interpersonal contact, and PPE requirements and shortages. “If I’m honest it has been rather nerve wracking having to go out in the community in close proximity with people [who] are breaching the rules and are Covid 19 positive, and having to get into a routine of constantly washing your hands and using hand sanitizer til the skin splits and bleeds”. On top of this, she has had an injury (two slipped discs in her neck) to contend with. About training during the pandemic she says, “In many ways I feel that if my colleagues and I can cope with all of this on top of the stresses of starting a new job and doing a degree, then we can face anything”.

The MDX tutors have “listened to all our gripes, and moans, and have tried to solve them” – their policing background means they can offer good advice about challenges on the job as well as the formal curriculum, Cat has found.

Among the biggest attractions of the programme for her so far, as well as the chance to earn while she learns and avoid student debt, are the people she’s learning and training with. “While perhaps you miss out on the social side of being on a course at a university, you can make up for this over time by building a strong bond with people at work,” she says. She’s particularly enjoyed learning about counter-terrorism which she finds fascinating, and she thinks she might aim to go down the detective route.

Clifford Uriefe: nursing associate

“We are just trying to understand COVID-19," Clifford says when talking about the pandemic: "We have to do more with fewer members of staff. Shortages due to self-isolation, illness or shielding have meant that those employees, including apprentices, willing and able to do so have worked longer hours with fewer days off." He has worried about breaking down under the strain, and about the fact that working longer hours meant that he was unable to be at home to support his family.

Initially Clifford worked as a pier controller on the River Thames and as a kitchen assistant at Premier Inn when he first came to London from Nigeria a decade ago. However, he was more interested in healthcare because he is “a very caring person, I'm the kind of person who likes to work with other people”.

After studying for a Health and Social Care Level 1 BTEC at Chelsea College, then a health and social care course at The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, he worked as a heath care assistant in hospitals for six years.

“We have to do more with fewer members of staff.  Shortages due to self-isolation, illness or shielding have meant that employees, including apprentices, willing and able to do so have worked longer hours with fewer days off." Clifford Uriefe, nursing associate

He jumped at the chance to do a nursing associate apprenticeship at MDX as an opportunity to progress up the professional ladder which he wouldn’t have had otherwise because of life commitments and time constraints.

“I'm over the moon,” he says. “It's opened doors for me, to do other things I want to do."

The best thing about the apprenticeship programme, Clifford explains, is that it enables him to learn, earn, gain work experience, and, importantly, balance family life with his partner and four children at the same time. Achieving this balance is not easy but Clifford says that he plans his time “well and wisely.”

He is always seeking new skills and experiences. He’s flourished as a mature student in a way that he thinks he would not have managed when he was younger.

“When you have a family, maturity starts kicking in,” he says. “If I went [to university] at 18, I probably  wouldn't have been serious about it. Now, I think with the concept of completing a goal, everything I do is to benefit myself and my family."

Throughout the pandemic Clifford says his Middlesex tutors have been very supportive and encouraging, tailoring learning to meet apprentices’ needs by moving from class-based to virtual learning very quickly without disrupting their studies or missing out any parts of the course.

“The staff have been very helpful - wonderful,” he says. “When you move on to virtual learning, you have questions. If we send an email they come back in half an hour at most, very promptly. They are very good at reassuring us. I really couldn’t ask for anything different."

Find out more about Degree Apprenticeship Courses at Middlesex University:

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