Horticulture Apprentice, Tom McKay from Salford, has won the YMCA Progression of the Year Award. Tom has been recognised for his outstanding achievement in spite of family bereavement, illness and a difficult education. The 19-year-old has just started his apprenticeship in the grounds of Salford University.
Tom has overcome a number of obstacles in life. He was born with gastric reflux – a condition which restricts the oesophagus and makes eating incredibly difficult. At his worst, he lived on a diet of soup and was regularly shuttled back and forth to hospital where he was attached to various tubes and drips. His school attendance suffered and he was smaller than his peers, which knocked his self-confidence. He also battled with anxiety and depression.
As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, his mum passed away from lung cancer when he was 11 and his father plunged into depression. Tom went off the rails at school, which eventually led to his exclusion at the age of 15. Although he failed his GCSEs, he was introduced to the YMCA Salford’s Horticulture Study Programme in 2017.
As a child, Tom had always loved gardening with his dad and longed for a job outdoors, so he set his sights on a horticulture career. With a brighter future ahead of him and under guidance and support from the YMCA, Tom set about achieving his Level 1 qualification in Maths and English and his Diploma in Practical Horticulture. He will shortly embark upon his Level 2 qualification in Horticulture, which will open more career opportunities in the landscape gardening sector.
A brighter future ahead
Tom reflects on his journey:
“I never enjoyed school because of what I went through, but I always enjoyed gardening with my dad. I like to get my hands dirty and enjoy being outside and interacting with my colleagues. I’m being taught new things as I go along. I like starting from scratch, coming up with ideas and changing the landscape. If I didn’t have this apprenticeship, I’d probably be unemployed. I’m looking forward to getting my van and starting my own business. To other young people who are struggling, I’d say, ‘keep your head up, you’re not on your own’.”
As Tom’s self-confidence grew, he began making a positive difference in other people’s lives, such as mentoring new learners on the programme or creating beautiful garden beds at the Salford Women’s Centre for people to admire. Tom’s Manager, Stephen Costello at Salford University’s Landscaping Services, is delighted with Tom’s progress:
“In the short time that Tom has been with us, it’s clear he has a great work ethic, a great sense of humour and a keen eye for detail. Tom impressed us at the interview when he clearly communicated his impressive knowledge of horticulture and his ‘can-do’ mentality. He easily puts his theory-based knowledge into practice and has a nurturing side when sharing his knowledge and experience with the other apprentices. Tom is a great addition to the team and will become a highly valued asset in future.”
Inspired by Tom’s story? Could you benefit from an apprenticeship? We have apprenticeship opportunities all over the UK, from jobs in horticulture to motor vehicle maintenance. What’s stopping you?