Things are looking up for London graduate Claudette Shay. In the space of a decade, the 26-year-old has gone from being homeless and pregnant to a graduate in Human Resources with Management at GSM London and in full-time employment. To top it all off, she was recently head-hunted by a property management company and plans to start her new job in March.
Claudette believes these achievements are down to the support she has received from friends and family who guided her decision to go back into higher education. Claudette was forced to drop out of college at 18, having left home two years earlier. She found herself homeless but luckily found refuge at youth homeless charity Centrepoint which found her specialist mother and baby accommodation before she had her son in 2010. Through the charity, Claudette gained work experience for 18 months as an accounting assistant and library technician at the Bishopsgate law firm. Despite not finishing her A-levels; Claudette was accepted on to GSM London’s degree course in Human Resources with Management.
“I did not think I would qualify for the degree,” she said. “I am someone who prefers to gain hands-on, practical work experience. But it was my sister Valissa, who works at the college, a friend who had started there and a cousin that convinced me to apply. My work experience at Latham and Watkins ended on 31 January 2014 and I was enrolled at GSM London on 10 February 2014.
“Initially, I was going to do the Oil and Gas Management course, but it was not practical because it would have meant uprooting myself and I had a small child to consider,” she said. “My mentor at the law firm worked in HR and had suggested doing the Human Resource and Management course as an alternative.”
Claudette has an inquisitive nature likes finding out more about people and taking care of them. She continues to be an active ambassador for Centrepoint, having supported the charity’s ‘Lifeline Appeal’ and ‘Youth Parliament’ initiative on TV and the print media. She believes it was these qualities that helped to make her HR degree a better fit.
Being aware of GSM London’s accelerated degree was also a big help to Claudette as she was able to study over a two-year period and not the traditional three-year timeframe without losing out to financial support.
GSM London’s two-year degree is structured into three semesters a year with short breaks in between. The two-year degree covers all the same modules as the traditional three-year undergraduate degree. The benefit is students can take their place in the working world a year earlier, and start earning and climbing the career ladder. In Claudette’s case, it also meant she was able to learn continuously and still remain eligible to access financial support.
After graduating from GSM London with a 2:2, Claudette initially struggled to find a job but found that skills she had acquired during her student days at the institution and work experience working as a phone adviser briefly at the institution stood her in good stead.
“Even though I have not been able to use my degree directly, there are aspects of the course curriculum – such as the accounting module – that have been beneficial,” she said. “The degree has enhanced me as a person. It has helped me to improve my academic writing, helped me to broaden my horizon, pick up things and understand them quicker.”
Following on from the coverage she received in the Independent and Evening Standard, she was head-hunted by the ceo of a recruitment company, who was touched by her story. It resulted in her securing a place at a property management company. The new job offers a number of benefits including being closer to home, more pay and more career prospects.
“I feel happier, now I have more of a routine and things are falling into place for a brighter future,” she said. Claudette believes that others considering a return to higher education should have a good network of support around them and the drive to succeed.
“I definitely believe you have to be ready to do it,” she said. “You have to have a good network of support. I know that I could not have done it on my own. I had my mum, sisters, friends and other support. I feel like it is not for everyone but if you go for it give 110% commitment,” she said.
This is a view shared by one of Claudette’s lecturers – Tawa Edwards – a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader in HR and Management at GSM London. “One word that comes to mind regarding Claudette is dedication; she was always present in all sessions, punctual and engaged. She took on leadership roles as well as provided support for her peers. I am very proud of her and what she has accomplished, she definitely did not let personal challenges stop or hinder her in any way. She was first in and always sat in the front row, taking notes, answering and asking questions. I definitely wish her all the best in her future; she will go a long way as she has the right attitude.”