Health and Wellbeing Award Winner
Nominated by: Working Skills for Adults 2: Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
James Atkinson has autism spectrum disorder. Growing up, he struggled with confidence and found social situations challenging, eventually leaving school without GCSEs in maths and English.
After leaving school he started a college course in engineering, but a year and a half after starting the course he knew it wasn’t the right fit for him. Determined to find work, James went through People Plus, an employment support and training services company and secured a work placement with Elite Paper Solutions, eventually landing the position as a delivery drivers’ mate.
The position was life-changing, filled with confidence, he was inspired to go back to college to study ICT and work towards a degree in computer science at university. James has been working towards a level 2 qualification in essential communication skills and level 2 essential application of number skills alongside his Level 2 ICT course.
James said: “I’ve always loved learning; I find it so satisfying. The knowledge that I’m grasping new things feels very powerful and gives me lots of pride. Because of my autism, I struggle with social situations. This made school and college very challenging. It wasn’t the best learning space for me.
“I ended up leaving my first college course sooner than planned, but I wanted to find a job. Speaking with customers every day brought me out my shell and helped with my social anxiety. It’s given me loads of self-belief. Working with Elite even gave me enough confidence to get a job working at a bar in Merthyr. I love the work and getting to speak with people.”
In September 2020, James enrolled on an ICT course at Merthyr College. “When I first started college, I noticed I was quite comfortable in my level 1 and able to answer loads of questions. I had a massive boost of self-belief when they moved me up to level 2 after only four weeks of being there. Balancing my ICT course with essential skills training and two part-time jobs can be very tiring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m working towards something that’s going to make my life so much better and make me so much happier. My essential skills training has been so useful. My writing has improved massively, which helps me to be much more articulate with my exams and coursework for my ICT course.”
Reflecting on the importance of adult learning, James said: “It’s really satisfying to know how many doors this might open for me. With each piece of knowledge I gain, I’m helping my career. I have some regrets about my time at school, so I’m finding it that much more special to have this opportunity to try again.”