Apprentice Won’t Let Her Mental Health Stop Her Achieving Dream Career


To celebrate World Mental Health Day 2019, an apprentice with schizophrenia and autism-related learning difficulties says her apprenticeship has helped restore her confidence and manage her learning difficulties.

Jodie Gronow, from Port Talbot works as a retail apprentice at Shaw Trust charity shop in Port Talbot. The 19-year-old has autism, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and schizophrenia, which affect her moods and ability to concentrate.

Her conditions mean she has difficulty recognising boundaries and has no verbal filter or perception of danger. At school, Jodie’s learning difficulties meant that she found it hard to keep up with other pupils and left with low grade GCSEs. She faced constant bullying and isolation which affected both her confidence and self-esteem.

Jodie’s mother, Sian Parsons, said:

“Jodie came home in tears on many occasions. I could see that it was shattering her confidence, but I knew she had so much potential. Her dream was to be a baker and own her own bakery, but I knew her experience in school was holding her back from learning.”

After school, Jodie decided to explore the different career routes to formal education, and in 2017, she successfully gained a place at college, on a bakery course.

Jodie said:

“I was nervous about attending college after my experience in school. But I thought it was the only way to get into work and would be a good way for me to learn how to control my outbursts.”

At college, Jodie’s way of coping with stressful situations was to put headphones on and isolate herself from the group. While in her second year, a college tutor told Jodie to remove her earphones, and when Jodie retaliated, she was expelled.

Determined not to get into a downward spiral, Jodie decided to look at other ways she could follow her dreams. After seeking advice from PeoplePlus training, she was told about an apprenticeship at a bakery close to her home.

“After the expulsion, I thought my dream of becoming a baker was shattered so my confidence was at an all-time low. I kept thinking that I didn’t belong as part of the team at the bakery and was struggling to fit in with the team. I knew that I needed more time to recover from my past.”

Jodie decided to leave her bakery apprenticeship and focus on regaining her confidence and ability to trust new people again. With time and the support from PeoplePlus, Jodie enrolled onto a retail apprenticeship with Shaw Trust charity shop in Port Talbot.

Talking about her current role as retail apprentice, Jodie said:

“I’m really enjoying my time in retail. It’s not something that I had originally planned to do, but having gone through a bad time in school, it’s helping me to come out of my shell and I’m learning how to interact with people in a professional manner. I manage all the donated clothing and work closely with a small team of people, which suits me perfectly.

“My schizophrenia, ODD and autism mean that I struggle with crowds and so my training provider helped make sure that I was working upstairs in the stock room at first. My goal now is to complete my study and use the communication skills I’ve gained over the last two years to get back into work and follow my dream of one day owning my own bakery business.”

Lynne Richards, Business Development Coach at PeoplePlus Cymru said:

“Since joining PeoplePlus last year, Jodie’s confidence has increased significantly. She can now walk into a room on her own, her people skills are much better, and she has started to delegate work to her colleagues. Her role requires her to make decisions, which she does with confidence. She is a totally different young lady to last year.”

Sian Sutton, Store Manager at Shaw Trust said:

“Jodie is doing so well. She is enjoying her course work and is getting on with the team brilliantly. Her communication skills are improving every day and her struggles haven’t been an issue at all. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”

Traditionally there has been under-representation from protected groups on the apprenticeship programme in Wales with only 1.5% of apprentices declaring themselves as having a disability or health condition.

Almost all job sectors have apprenticeship programmes and the majority of apprenticeships can be made accessible for people with additional needs.

Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates, said:

“Jodie is a perfect example of someone who has used an apprenticeship to gain the skills they need to get ahead in life. I’d urge anyone who is thinking about their next steps to consider an apprenticeship as a serious option.

Apprenticeships provide individuals with a ladder of opportunity to ‘learn on the job’, earn a wage and build a long-standing career, and stories like this prove that apprenticeships offer many opportunities. For the businesses, apprenticeships are a proven way to tailor an employee’s skill-set to meet the specific demands of a business, leaving employers across Wales with a ready-made talent pool that can rise up through the ranks to management roles”.

The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.