Robert challenges stereotypes in childcare
Robert’s experience highlights that career support starts in school - but it doesn’t end there.
Like many other pupils across the country, 19-year-old Robert Dunbar found the sudden shift from his daily school routine to online learning was a tough adjustment at the start of the pandemic.
Not only due to the massive upheaval it brought, but also because Robert is autistic, and found himself struggling with Microsoft Teams calls and without the usual additional support he received in school.
When it became clear to Robert that he wasn’t going to stay on for sixth year, he met with his SDS Careers Adviser, Vanessa Kokota, in school to discuss this decision and his potential options.
“Honestly, I was scared leaving school a year early, it wasn’t my original plan and it felt quite overwhelming,” said Robert.
However, thanks to support from Vanessa, leaving soon began to feel less daunting.
“It felt a lot easier doing that because she showed me so many options. She made herself approachable and the idea of leaving school acceptable for me.”
Vanessa and Robert worked together to explore his interests and experiences, and using his career management skills Robert realised his fifth-year Foundation Apprenticeship in Early Learning and Childcare stood out as a real highlight from school.
If you’re having to leave school early, or you’re at the end of S6 and have no idea what you’re doing next, it’s probably one of the best pieces of advice I was given - to go chat to your Careers Adviser.
Childcare Modern Apprentice
Robert said: “We focused on childcare and social care careers and looked at jobs, apprenticeships and course options that provided the additional support I needed and were close to where I lived, because that was important to me. After a month, I decided on a college course and Vanessa supported me with the applications.”
He added: “If you’re having to leave school early, or you’re at the end of S6 and have no idea what you’re doing next, it’s probably one of the best pieces of advice I was given - to go chat with your Careers Adviser. They will be able to give you really good advice and a few options on what you should do next based on what you find interesting.”
After leaving school, Robert started a Social Care college course but unfortunately delivery became entirely online, and the additional support he required wasn’t available. Six weeks after starting, Robert took the decision to leave the course.
He said: “I think careers can feel very linear from a young age – you go to primary, then secondary, then college or uni, and then get a job. So, after the college course ended like that, I was thrown off a lot.
"But I felt quite lucky that Vanessa had said to keep in touch as she wanted to hear how the course was going. I wasn’t thinking anything of it at the time but when it became apparent I needed to leave the college course too, I reached out to her a couple of days after that and we started immediately working on the next steps and we came up with some very good options very quickly.”
Staying in touch
Knowing that he could rely on career support from Vanessa, even after leaving school, Robert got back in touch to discuss his options. From there, Vanessa helped Robert see what ‘career’ could mean for him, and the journey he could take.
Vanessa said: “Robert now felt that traditional further education wasn’t the route for him - he wasn’t keen to return to a classroom setting or study online. We began looking again at apprenticeship opportunities as we had explored these previously. Then to enable Robert to build his employability skills and experience, I helped get him fast-tracked to start a six-week childcare training programme, which helped him confirm his thinking."
Following the end of the training programme, Robert and Vanessa discussed his next steps and Robert confirmed his interest in pursuing apprenticeships.
Within a few weeks, Vanessa was able to contact Robert with details of a Modern Apprenticeship in Childcare available at a local nursery, and just days later Robert had interviewed and secured the position.
At the start of his apprenticeship, Robert felt ‘overwhelmed and anxious’, as he was keen to do well in the role but found it a big adjustment starting a full-time job and managing his coursework. To support Robert, the coursework was adjusted and broken down into smaller sections and he met with his assessor more frequently.
Working here and doing an apprenticeship means I can have a social life, I have time for myself, and I’m getting paid for it, so I can work on being independent. Because of my autism, I know that’s going to be more of a challenge so I’m able to work towards that, whilst at the same time working towards my qualification.
Now, 18 months after starting at Acorn Park Nursery in Glasgow, Robert is thriving in his role.
He said: “The job I get to do, whilst sometimes tiring, I wouldn’t trade for anything else. It is so fun, and every day there’s a new thing going on and I love it, there’s always something interesting happening, it’s very fun.”
Robert’s now able to work on progressing both professionally and personally, with his main goal being to one day live independently.
“I’ve been told most of my life ‘you will find it really hard to be independent, you won’t be able to live independently’. If you’re going to college or university, and want to be independent, most people also need to get a job, and then you have less free time to yourself,” said Robert.
He added: “Working here and doing an apprenticeship means I can have a social life, I have time for myself, and I’m getting paid for it, so I can work on being independent. Because of my autism, I know that’s going to be more of a challenge so I’m able to work towards that, whilst at the same time working towards my qualification.”
Benefits of apprenticeships
Reflecting on his path into childcare, Robert praised the benefits of apprenticeships, and would encourage other young people to begin their own career through work-based learning.
“If you start an apprenticeship, you’ve got an opportunity to learn whilst doing the job. I learn every single day, whether that’s how to do something, or if I’ve made a mistake how to rectify it.”
Robert is also eager to promote careers in childcare to other young men.
He said: “I’ve had people say to me ‘you’re an autistic guy who works in a nursery, that’s a bit absurd’ – and the autism thing shouldn’t matter, it doesn’t matter to me, I don’t actively think about it.
“And working in a nursery as a guy is just normal to me. It feels like what I should be doing, and I’ve been told I’m good at it. I feel quite strongly about guys working in childcare because I know how important it can be to have a male role model in your life at a young age, and not everyone gets that.”
Fiona Ritchie, Robert’s manager at Acorn Park, said Robert is a great addition to the nursery team. She added: “He’s very confident now and the children love him. No matter what room he goes into, they love him. His confidence grows every day. He gets on with everyone, the parents love him and he’s very good at his job.
Looking ahead, Robert said: “I’d like to stay working in childcare, I think it’s fun and rewarding and there’s lots of opportunities. You can see the children progress and the results of your work panning out in front of you. If I was working a job in an office, I don’t think I’d have the same kind of satisfaction.”
Wherever he ends up in the future, Robert can continue to access support from SDS throughout his career should he need it.
Looking for careers support?
SDS Careers Advisers support pupils in every state secondary school across Scotland and work with customers of all ages at SDS centres and community locations nationwide.
You can also get in touch by calling our customer helpline on 0800 917 8000.