Pitman SuperAchievers 2018

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Student of the Year Finalists

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Alina Calestru

Leeds student studying to reach her dream career

Alina moved to England seven years ago with her husband, while she was 8 months pregnant with her daughter. They already had two children, so moving overseas was never going to be easy. However, Alina had a dream to become a Maths teacher, so despite having to making various applications and live for three months without any income, she started studying an ESOL English language and numeracy course. In this time, she had her daughter in what she describes as a time where she and her husband had to make “tremendous sacrifices to survive financially and mentally.”

Once she was able, Alina started to work three jobs per day. The day started at 4am in a cleaning role, before heading to Invinio Academy in Scunthorpe to work as a TA between the hours of 9am – 3pm. In the evenings, Alina then worked at Vion factory on the production line until 10pm. Also, during the school holidays, Alina worked as a carer and kitchen assistant in order to not only support her family here in the UK, but pay off debts back in Romania. In just three years, Alina and her husband managed to move to the UK, work, study, raise their 3 children and buy their own house. Alina even set up her own cleaning business which gave her more flexibility to look after and provide for her growing family.

Last year, Alina made the decision that she wanted to take a step forward and qualify to become an accountant. This was going to be a challenge as she was pregnant with her fourth child (her children are now between the ages of 10 months and 9 years old) and still needed to manage her cleaning business. At this time, they were also carrying out renovations on their home, but always one to follow her dreams, Alina embarked on an AAT Diploma with Pitman Training in February 2017. Despite juggling work and family, Alina came into the Leeds centre to study on a regular basis and has made amazing progress with her course. A year on, she has completed her Bookkeeping modules, Excel 2013 which she passed with Distinction and passed her first AAT exam, Bookkeeping Transactions. Considering that during this time, she has had her fourth child and run her business, this in an incredible achievement.

Alina has just 2 exams left to complete and they are both scheduled for March 2018, having completed the courses and now working through some revision topics. Alina now has a job working at JN Bentley as an Accounts Payable Clerk – this role has allowed her to realise her dream of now having a career in a Finance Department.

Speaking about her experiences over the last 7 years, Alina said, “Getting this new job was when I realised that I overcame a limiting mind-set and it was the beginning of something called ‘the marvellous experience’ of my life. I wanted to prove to my children how important it is to have your dreams and to realise them. Being constantly helped by my husband and extended family, I am striving to be the mum that is at every school occasion as well as having a rewarding career. I want my children to understand that there is no need to follow a specific pattern in this life to succeed and they don’t necessarily have to fit in a box. They have to work really hard to make things happen and then the reward will come with the time. I have created myself a lifestyle that I absolutely adore and I don’t have to compromise myself or ‘miss out’ in either my career or my role as mother.”

The team at the Leeds centre said, “Alina is an inspirational student. Coming in to the centre each week, we see what an incredibly positive person she is – everything is met as an opportunity and she sees the best in everyone and everything.”

Finally, Alina has said that “The most important thing is that I have been given a chance; people have trusted me and helped me in every circumstance, even if sometimes I disappointed them. All the people I have met so far have been teaching me different lessons about life, failure and success, whether they are family, friends or colleagues. I am so grateful to live my life the way it is - it is so entertaining and so rewarding at the same time! How amazing people are and how good it is to be given the chance to open your eyes and realise that you are free to be what you want to be. I am sure that is only the beginning of what I want to achieve. I will carry on my hard work and I will learn all my life because we live this life only once and we have to make it bloody wonderful.”

We’re sure you’ll agree, Alina has shown a real grit and determination to achieve her goals.

Deborah Revell

Determined student battling through the life’s ups and down to achieve her goal

Deborah is studying with our London City EC2 centre, who have nominated her for this award. She is studying the Secretarial Diploma and has so far successfully completed all but 3 modules.

She has taken a little while longer than anticipated to complete her training as Deborah has faced a rather bumpy road whilst studying. Initially, she was juggling work, home life and her studies but was unhappy in her job as a teaching assistant at a local school. However, she managed to change roles in the same area within a neighbouring borough.

Her Mum had already been diagnosed with dementia and not long after Deborah changed jobs, the condition accelerated and she was forced to quit work to look after her full time. The tough times didn’t let up, whilst she was continuing with her studies and caring for her Mum, her daughter-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. In these awfully challenging circumstances, Deborah stepped up to help look after her grandchildren during this testing time. Deborah is described by the team in the centre as enthusiastic and jovial. They said, “She has had to deal with much stress at home and she still completes her studies, just at a slower pace than when she started. Nevertheless, Deborah retains her enthusiastic disposition for someone who has had to manage a lot of stress and grief quite recently.” Deborah says that Pitman has helped her to keep herself together and focus on her studies.

When asked why they thought she should win this award, the team in the City EC2 centre said, “Deborah started her diploma with a need to change careers. She was on a great track and has hit a few hard bumps in the road. Through it all though, she has stayed positive and dedicated to achieving her diploma and moving on with her career. She is a very strong woman and we believe she is a very worth winner.”

Deborah is a great example of someone who is striving to achieve a better career for themselves and battling through life’s ups and downs to get there. Perseverance and dedication are definitely great attributes for a SuperAchiever.

Holly Garrod

Young student on her way to career success

Holly has been nominated for this award by the team in our Bishop’s Stortford centre.

She studied the Advanced Diploma in Accounting with AAT Level 3 over a period of 6 months and achieved a Distinction in all the subjects and overall.

Holly was just 16 when she first went into the Bishop’s Stortford centre. She went in with her mum, Karen, to talk about the options Pitman Training had available in the accounting world. Both Holly and Karen knew that a career in finance was the right path to follow as Holly is great with numbers and had a real interest in the opportunities that this career could offer.

She initially started out studying for the AAT Level 2 Certificate in Accounting which she completed in June 2017 – this made her the youngest student in Bishop’s Stortford centre to have gained an accounting qualification! Holly then went on to complete the Advanced Diploma in Accounting with AAT Level 3.

One of the main challenges Holly faced was time. As Holly is just 17, it was essential for her to complete the course by the AQ2013 deadline set by AAT. If she did not complete her exams in time and transfer over to the AQ2016, she would have had to wait until her 18th birthday to be able to take an exam due to the change in the AAT regulations.

However, Holly was extremely self-disciplined and motivated; she did not let this worry her! In the end, she completed all of her exams with ease and with 6 weeks to spare! A massive achievement for Holly, especially at such a young age!

She also received some fantastic feedback from her tutor, who was as impressed with Holly as the centre team was. His feedback stated, “I can’t remember seeing a Professional Ethics Practice Exam of such a high standard. Holly really does have a gift for this subject. Quite exceptional!”

With her ambition and determination, Holly really stood out to the team in centre. She knows what she wants to achieve and is now determined to build on her success and positive experience at Pitman Training, and turn her aspiration to be a Chartered Accountant into her next achievement.

Holly is now working as a Trainee Accountant in a firm of Chartered Accountants and will be commencing studies for the ACA qualification in Spring 2018. She believes had she not attained her Level 3 AAT qualification with Pitman, she would not have been considered for this opportunity.

The team at the centre said, “For such a young lady Holly is extremely self-motivated and inspiring, a great role model for the younger generation. She really is our SuperAchiever!”

Nicki Thomas

Changing career while learning how to learn

Nicki was nominated for a SuperAchievers award by the High Holborn centre Course Supervisor, Hanna Craig. He started as a student in centre in January 2017 doing an Office IT Diploma.

Nicki worked in horticulture when he left school and started out as a groundsman, a role he held for 23 years. After this long period Nicki decided he wanted a career change. The thought of changing your career can often feel overwhelming but Nicki threw himself into the challenge saying, “I have taken a huge, financially draining risk: leaving my job means I have no income; and I am a self-funding student. While it would have been so easy to say I had bitten off more than I could chew and go back to manual work, I was determined to succeed.”

Hanna was told by the Course Advisor that he may need some extra support as he was nervous about joining Pitman Training, so they worked closely with him as he began his diploma. The team describe Nicki as a warm, friendly and patient person with a strong work ethic. As he progressed, Hanna noticed that Nicki was struggling with the reading side of the learning which seemed to be holding him back from the course.

Nicki made the decision to look into this and found out he had Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. This diagnoses helped him to understand why he found school so difficult. He said, "I was delighted as I finally understood why everything was so difficult; and devastated too, as I was now labelled as someone with a learning difficulty.” He didn’t let this deter him and if anything, it made him more determined than ever to get through his course and complete his studies.

The team at the centre worked closely with Nicki to support him as much as they could. They read out the questions in his test, discussed his CV/job opportunities and upgraded him to a two-day touch typing seminar. Although at times Nicki felt embarrassed about asking for help when he saw other students being more self-sufficient, he has actually hugely inspired those around him, with Hanna saying, “I have witnessed him speak to other students and they seem to be inspired by him, listening to how hard he is working for his Diploma.”

When Nicki initially met with the centre staff, they discussed how getting work experience alongside his training would help put his office skills to use. Nicki successfully gained a volunteering position within the Housing Association where he is learning basic office administration while he looks for a new job. He said, “It is great to be able to give something back while I learn what it is like to work in an office.” He has witnessed that people are willing to support him and he wants to give back to other people.

Nicki has put his heart and soul into his Diploma, explaining how “I have shed tears of anger, pain and joy. I am very proud of what I have achieved, especially that I have learnt how to learn. Winning this would mean the world to me - it would validate that I have made the right choices, and of course, it would look great on my CV when I apply for jobs. Most importantly, it would increase my confidence further and prove to me that I am an achiever!”

Hanna said, “As a Course Advisor, I have worked with many students and seeing how hard it is to change your career. I have seen Nicki take this on board with a fantastic attitude. Just being nominated has touched him and being his usual humble self has responded “that is just enough”

Nicki is due to complete his Diploma in March 2018 and has been offered other support roles within the company he works for and will be applying for a full time position soon.

A truly inspirational SuperAchiever and everyone wishes all the best for his future career.

Rodica Stratan

Canterbury student transforms her career from farming to accounts

Rodica has been nominated for this award by Sally Miles, our Canterbury centre owner.

She studied the Foundation Diploma in Accounting with AAT over a period of 9 months and achieved a Distinction in all of the subjects.

Rodica is from Romania. She and her husband worked, and still live on, a local fruit farm with their 14 month old daughter. Rodica was determined to progress her career beyond farming so, whilst working, she saved up to pay for her training. This enabled her to pay for and start training while she was on maternity leave.

Not only was Rodica juggling childcare, she was having to work hard to overcome a language barrier. Sally said that these factors, alongside her positive attitude were just some of the qualities that made her stand out the most, explaining how “she trained with a young baby whilst also improving her English, yet never seemed to struggle with anything...She is committed to her career and making a better life for herself and her family.”

Sally continued and said, “She put her daughter into nursery every morning and studied in the centre pretty much every day for 9 months without fail. She was a model student, gained distinctions in everything first time round and was a real ray of sunshine in the office!

As it happens, she completed her training just before the company above our centre mentioned they were looking for a new accounts person - I put them in touch and Rodica has recently completed her 3 months’ probation there. The company adore her! Rodica is now working out when she can start her level 3 training with us - there's just no stopping her!”

This is a great story of someone determined to change their lives and careers through training, a real story of success and perseverance that has resulted in her finding a good job. Rodica has worked extremely hard to put herself in the best position possible to provide a solid future for her family, a great SuperAchiever!

Judges comments: (Our Judges had differing opinions about the students, but Rodica received an overwhelming 40% of the public vote, which made her the clear winner!)

Catherine Asta Labbett: “I have a lot of admiration for Rodica – she is one determined woman on a mission to change her life for the better.”

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Abbie Coleman

Abbie Coleman is an entrepreneurial working mum of a 2 year old - a highly qualified recruitment consultant with 15 years’ experience in the industry, and over 7 years running her own recruitment firm, Harrington Norman, before she set up MMB Magazine in late 2015 - a website for working parents with all the information they need to advance their own businesses, careers or get that work life balance.

MMB has experienced rapid growth, with the business working on year 2 plans in the first few months, thanks to the demand for the community Abbie and the team has created. With Open Letters from Working Mums attracting over 45K views and employment law articles reaching 30K views, women within the working mum community are queuing up to be a part of MMB. They are also working closely with businesses across Yorkshire to change the flexible working landscape.


Twitter: @LeedsWorkingMum

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Catherine Asta Labbett

Catherine Asta Labbett is a Psychotherapist transforming women to achieve their 'Disco Ball Sparkle' through working with to help overcome challenges and blocks that prevent them from living their best life. She established this business after working for 10 years as a strategist in the NHS, after realising that she needed to follow her own dreams and become self-employed, in a role where she could also have an impact of improving the lives of others.

Catherine is also Founder of Girl Tribe Gang, a national community for women who have aspirations to be a #girlboss or who might be in the transition stage of ditching the 9-5 along with those who are already running their own business. With Girl Tribe Gang Catherine wanted to create a space where women can build each other up, where women feel connected, where they can feel they can collaborate, where they can be encouraged and empowered, where they can grow in confidence and their knowledge – a space where like-minded women can feel part of something special. Girl Tribe Gang is growing quickly across the UK as new 'tribes' launch nationwide each month and honorary members include Blogger Honest Mum and radio personality Stephanie Hirst.

Catherine has been featured on BBC & CNN discussing the rise of the female entrepreneur and is passionate about supporting women through coaching, support, knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

Find out more about Catherine's business via:

Website: www.bringingsparkleback.co.uk

Twitter: @BringingSparkle

Facebook: @bringingsparklebackpsychotherapy

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Craig Harris

Craig Harris is an award winning assistant, currently working in the third sector. Prior to his career as an assistant Craig had worked as an administrator and customer service manager.

His experience comes from working in various sectors including finance, utilities, retail and commercial. Craig has described himself as a ‘PA for life’ and does all he can to empower other assistants, encouraging other assistants to support and build each other up. Craig uses his experiences to speak at events and help train other admin professionals.

He also regularly writes articles and blogs about the profession. He recently won the Pitman Super Achievers PA of the year 2017 and was a finalist at the both the London PA Awards and SecsInTheCity awards.

Twitter: @Harris3thatsme

Han-Son Lee

Founder of DaddiLife – a parenting website for dads which focuses on a range of areas to help, celebrate and inspire the modern day father.

I’m so delighted at being asked to judge the awards this year. Winning the award for Working Dad of the Year last year was great and gave us platform on which the site could grow. I’m very much looking forward to being on the other side of the table this year.

Visit Daddilife.com Twitter: @LifeDaddi

Claire Young

Entrepreneur. Media Speaker. Enterprise Champion. Mother.

Claire Young was made famous by her role as the highly driven runner up of series four of ‘The Apprentice’ where was dubbed a ‘Rottweiler’ by Lord Sugar for her tenacious approach in the boardroom and drive not to quit. She beat 40,000 candidates to reach the final and this experience inspired Claire to set up ‘School Speakers an award winning business. It is the UK’s No 1 speaking agency working alongside schools, colleges and universities across the world to provide talks to students and staff. She also works within the media as a journalist & radio presenter in addition to advising the government on a range of projects supporting young people and women.

Claire started out her business career in roles at Colgate Palmolive (sales and finance), L’Oréal UK (brand and marketing) and AS Watson (retail buying for Superdrug). She shares her experiences, and insights, from, climbing the corporate ladder to then starting her own business.

She studied Equine Science at the University of Bristol and remains a keen rider with her Irish Sports horse. She has won several business awards and combines her busy career with being a mum to her young daughter Eva.

Visit www.claireyoung.co.uk

Twitter: @ClaireLYoung