Young people considering their career paths are being urged to “think again” about what’s on offer at Darlington College. PETER BARRON looks at some of the college’s success stories

FAILURES, as well as successes, can help shape futures – and Ross Lowcock is a prime example.

These days, Ross is flying high and fulfilled in an important role, guiding young people along the right career paths, as Events and Schools Team Leader at Darlington College.

But, when he looks back, he can see that it was the disappointment of failing his GCSE in maths that helped define his own route forward.

“Obviously, I would always urge young people to work hard at school in order to pass their exams, but it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out as you hoped,” says Ross.

“At the time, I was absolutely gutted because not having GCSE maths meant I couldn’t get into Sixth Form, but it many ways it was the turning point for me.”

Instead, Ross found a successful route forward by embarking on an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) course at Darlington College in the town where he was born and raised.

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As well as giving him the equivalent of two A-levels, the course, enabled him to discover a talent for graphic design and, suddenly, the way forward seemed clearer. He completed a degree in Creative Digital Media at Teesside University, and that led to his first job – as a web designer for an independent start-up company in Darlington.

“I would never have thought of going to university when I left school, but the college gave me confidence in myself and unlocked the potential even I didn’t realise I had,” he says.

Having taken the first step up the career ladder, Ross returned to Darlington College seven years ago, initially in a business administration role, and progressing to become a Business Development Adviser.

His focus was on helping students find work experience and placements, and his excellent engagement skills helped forge strong relationships between the college and employers in the local community.

That experience made him a natural for his current role as Events and Schools Team Leader, and he has just enriched his CV again by spending a year covering for Marketing and Engagement Manager, Claire Turner, while she was on maternity leave.

“Darlington College has given me amazing support, both as a student, and now as an employee, and that makes me more determined than ever to want to help young people who may be unsure of their next step,” says Ross.

Claire, who recently returned to her role after having her second child, Reuben, cites Ross as a perfect example of how the college looks to grow its own talent and unlock potential.

“I don’t just see people in the specific roles they are carrying out. If I see their passion is elsewhere, I try to give them the freedom to explore other talents,” she says.

“Ross’s personal experience when leaving school, and how he has built his career since then, puts him in a perfect position to be able to go into schools and understand the decision-making challenges facing the students.”

Darlington College offers a wide range of vocational training and apprenticeships, plus professional qualifications for those who want to upskill in areas such as: procurement, human resources, accountancy, journalism, and project management.

“We go from Entry Level to Level 7 but what’s important is that Darlington College is not just a classroom experience,” says Claire. “We tell our students ‘Don’t just learn it – live it’ and there are always people here to help maximise their potential and unlock their hidden talents.”

Every student at Darlington College gets meaningful work placements, tailored to get the best out of each student, and job opportunities are regularly circulated.

It is because of its commitment to young talent that Darlington College decided to sponsor the ‘Star Student Under-16’ category at The Northern Echo Education Awards, which are streamed live from a virtual setting on September 30.

“A huge amount of good work goes on in the age bracket and they are our talent pool of the future, so we wanted to celebrate their achievements,” says Claire.

“We also want to remind local young people that Darlington College has a lot more to offer than they may think. Our message is Come and find out for yourself.”

Flying high – thanks to Darlington College

HIGH-FLYING Caitlin Walmsley is another success story from Darlington College after overcoming adversity to become a star student.

Caitlin started at the college as a pre-16 student, when she was just 14, having been forced out of her school by bullies.

Now, the travel and tourism student is ready for take-off in her career after securing a distinction with a star, just as the holiday industry emerges from the pandemic.

Caitlin first studied health and social care, along with maths and English, before moving onto a Level 3 extended diploma in travel and tourism, which she has just completed. The Darlington 18-year-old is now looking for a job or an apprenticeship in the travel industry.

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“I came to Darlington College at 14 and was a bit nervous as I didn’t know what to expect. But when I started the course, everyone treated me like I was the same age and I felt very comfortable here,” she says.

“I passed my maths and English, and two years of health and social care, but when I discovered the travel and tourism course I realised I had found something that I was really good at.

“All the tutors at college are really nice and supportive and so helpful. Back then, I thought the bullying was the end of the world but I have managed to rise above it and get a distinction with a star in my extended diploma.”

Her tutor Jeanette Tate says: “Caitlin has grown in confidence since starting her journey in travel and tourism in 2019.

“Her outstanding work has been used as an exemplar within the department and also shared with other further education colleges. Caitlin has demonstrated her commitment to her programme through excellent attendance and college representation when completing work experience and attending visits and trips. I wish Caitlin every success in finding her dream job in the travel and tourism industry.”

The travel and tourism course examines every aspect of a global industry worth billions of pounds a year. Caitlin studied everything from arranging dream holidays to the work of holiday representatives, children’s club entertainers and cabin crew.

She also experienced the college’s own DC Airways simulator, where she enjoyed role play as cabin crew having to deal with difficult holidaymakers on a flight.

“Despite the impact of COVID on the industry, it is something I really want to do and I know everyone is desperate to go on holiday so I think it will come back even stronger,” she says.

“It all started when I went into Hays Travel to book a holiday and my aunty asked if I’d thought about working in the trade. Since then, I have loved researching countries, attractions, resorts and hotels and planning holidays for my mum, dad, granddad and grandma to ensure they have the best time at the best price.”

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