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Adult Education: Heather Ashton


Having graduated in 1984 with a degree in Geography and economics, I entered the world of work not really knowing what I wanted to do. The one thing that I did know was that I never wanted to be bored!

I started work in the finance department of a travel company and, recognising that I had an affinity for numbers, the firm I worked for suggested I study for a professional qualification in finance. I took them up on this, but at the time didn’t really appreciate why I was doing this and quickly found myself distracted by my life in a vibrant city (Manchester). Although I did gain part of a qualification, I paused my studies as I married and had 2 boys, another distraction.

It was when I was in my early 30s that I realised that I had missed a trick and that by gaining a professional qualification I could further my career. So, with two small boys I went back into education and within 12 months was fully qualified and the opportunities certainly opened up for me.

The thing that really struck me at the time, was that there were many individuals in the classroom who were there because their employer had sent them. They were certainly not paying as much attention as I was, and I could only conclude that this is how I must have appeared some 10 years earlier. If only I had been given a different perspective back then, would I have applied more effort? I will never know, but what I do know is that the ability to learn and gain qualifications later in life has certainly impacted on my career and the opportunities that I have been able to take.

A few years later, now in my early 40s, I was given the opportunity to study for the Institute of Directors’ Company Direction programme. I cannot honestly remember why my then employer recommended this, but what I do know is that it wasn’t just the learning experience that was insightful, but the network of peers I gained as a result. Being able to discuss issues from the workplace in a safe place with likeminded peers was invaluable and allowed me to build up a practical toolkit that stands me in good stead to this day.

So, fast forward to my early 50s (is there a theme occurring here) and I realised that whilst I was fully qualified to carry out my role as Group Director of Resources for a large Registered Social Landlord, the one thing that I couldn’t truly say was that I was a Housing Professional, so an opportunity – as ever – presented itself and I embarked on gaining the Chartered Institute of Housing qualification. The ability to reflect on the industry within which I worked provided me with additional insight and skills which continue to allow me to have a greater understanding of the Housing Sector than I would ordinarily have had by simply carrying out my day job.

Most recently, and in part to allow me to ‘give back’, I act as a trustee on the local Further Education College board and can see, very clearly, the benefit that offering a wide range of vocationally focused courses provides the local economy.

Most importantly though, the fact that these opportunities can be taken at any age and at any stage in your career is really important and allows a large numbers of individuals to flex and change and remain in employment at times of constant change in the economy and employment market.