19-year-old Elle wins YMCA Apprentice of the Year Award

Elle Smith

YMCA Business Administration Apprentice, 19-year-old Elle Smith from Doncaster, has been recognised for her outstanding achievement at Healthwatch Doncaster. From disenchanted schoolgirl to committed, passionate employee with a purpose, Elle shares her story…    

At school, Elle struggled with classroom learning, especially maths. She didn’t know what she wanted out of life and – by her own admission – “didn’t care.” Elle’s mum wanted her to go to university and become a nurse, but Elle wasn’t keen: 

“I felt pressurised. I didn’t want to do that.”  

In 2017, Elle’s school told her about a local YMCA apprenticeship scheme at Healthwatch Doncaster - an independent organisation, which shapes health and social care services. Elle had an informal chat with Central YMCA and Healthwatch and agreed to a six week trial. Initially, she was put on a YMCA study programme, which enabled her to pass her maths exam, which she never thought she would achieve: 

“Maths has been the most challenging thing out of the whole experience. I really didn’t like maths. I didn’t think I could pass it, but everyone has been so supportive and really helped me to get through it.”  

Overcoming a negative mindset 

She started her YMCA apprenticeship at Healthwatch –– where she achieved her Level 2 Diploma in Business Administration. This is a City and Guilds qualification that has enabled her to progress onto her Level 3 Diploma, which she hopes to complete in March. Elle is surprised by her award: 

“I’m shocked and amazed that I’ve actually won this award. I’m really proud - this is one of my biggest ever achievements in life.” 

Such was Elle’s commitment and enthusiasm to learning during her apprenticeship, she went on to secure a full-time, permanent role as Healthwatch’s ‘Engagement Support Officer’, but her attitude to life was very different when she was younger: 

“My parents wanted me to do well, but I didn’t really want it for myself. I had a negative mindset - I really didn’t care about what grades I got or how well I did in life when I left school. I didn’t know who I was. I was influenced by a group of friends who weren’t bothered.  

I’m embarrassed about the mindset I had and how I acted. Central YMCA and Healthwatch Doncaster have changed my mindset through different experiences. Now I do care about my future. I’ve learnt a lot about what a work place is, how to prepare for interviews, what to wear, what to say, how to act and how to succeed. Now I want to do well. My parents are proud of how far I’ve come.”  

Gaining valuable skills 

Elle’s apprenticeship has given her focus, direction, confidence and passion for a cause she now believes in. She’s gained many new and valuable skills. Elle reflects on her journey: 

“I’ve been on a lot of training and have developed from an apprentice into an Engagement Officer. I couldn’t be more grateful! It feels good to be part of the Healthwatch Doncaster team. 

This apprenticeship has been the best thing I’ve ever done. The YMCA has been amazing. I’d definitely recommend them because everyone is so supportive from start to finish, especially my tutor, Mo, who has been so understanding. They listen and understand because they have had people in my situation before.  

I’m glad that I’ve been given an opportunity to do an apprenticeship and actually get a full time job out of it. If I didn’t have this opportunity, I’m not sure where I would be today. Life is really good now.”    

Proud of their employee 

Elle’s role entails answering calls and signposting people, administration and face to face public engagement on a range of services including mental health and missed hospital appointments. 

Andrew Goodall, Chief Operating Officer at Healthwatch Doncaster is delighted with Elle’s recognition: 

“I’m really pleased that Elle has been nominated and selected as YMCA’s ‘Apprentice of the Year’ winner. It makes us really proud at Healthwatch Doncaster to know that our apprenticeship scheme and support for employee development, enables our apprentices to achieve success at a national level. 

Thank you YMCA for the help and support that you have given Elle. Your dedication and enthusiasm for learning and development has enabled her to complete her courses successfully and progress into a full time job as valuable member of our team.” 

Onwards and upwards 

Elle has been at Healthwatch Doncaster for two years now and is keen to progress further. She has no regrets: 

“It’s really worked for me. I want to do more training and development because I’ve still got a lot to learn. I want to build on my knowledge and skills. I’d definitely recommend the YMCA apprenticeship scheme. If you don’t know what you want to do, try it out, especially if you’re not into classroom learning like me. Give it a go!” 

Central YMCA is an Ofsted accredited education provider that delivers vocational learning in 11 centres across the UK. Apprenticeships are a cost effective way of recruiting new talent and upskilling existing staff.