Life-changing apprenticeship for Stephen

Seven years ago, Stephen Baker was unemployed and living in a young people’s shelter in Swindon. He could never have imagined then how an apprenticeship with sheltered and supported housing provider Stonewater would change his life and lead to a rewarding career helping others.

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Today Stephen is back at the same shelter – the Swindon Foyer – working as a Foyer Coach where he is helping vulnerable young people reshape their lives and achieve their potential.

Stephen, then aged 20, was living at Stonewater’s Swindon Foyer, in the heart of Swindon Old Town, when he applied for an NVQ Level 2 Apprenticeship in Business Administration. “I had just been made redundant from my construction job,” he explains. “So, they took me into the Foyer’s training room to have a look at some possibilities and the option of doing a business administration apprenticeship for Stonewater came up. It was a complete change from my last job – which was in building and construction – and I was absolutely petrified at first! But I did like the change.”

During his two-year apprenticeship, Stephen was able to work in different departments and areas of Stonewater with experienced staff who helped him develop key skills needed to progress in a business support role. Areas his training covered included administration, business communication, providing reception services, IT skills and specialist admin support for group’s such as Stonewater’s legal and finance teams.

Stephen started his apprenticeship in 2010 at Stonewater’s Swindon office (then Jephson) where he spent three days a week learning the ropes as an admin assistant working in office reception and two days at Swindon College completing his apprenticeship studies. He went on to complete an NVQ Level 3 a year later, working a full, five-day week at the office with frequent visits from his college assessor.

Support from Stonewater and transferrable skills

Stonewater manages around 31,500 homes in England ranging from affordable properties for general rent, shared ownership and sale, to specialist accommodation such as retirement and supported living schemes for older and vulnerable people, Foyers and women’s refuges.

After completing his apprenticeship, Stonewater offered Stephen a full-time job and he’s never looked back. Since then he has been helping Stonewater’s front-line housing teams and 65,000 customers in a variety of administration roles from office reception to supporting the housing allocations and rents teams.

“Stonewater has put me through a few training and career development courses, ranging from telephone skills to system training, which have really helped me move my career forward,” he says. “The skills have all been transferrable and I’m now really handy with a lot of things at Stonewater – especially the computers.

“I’ve had so much support from the organisation to get to where I am now. A lot of the help has come from my managers who really have guided me, particularly Michelle our Business Change Lead. She took me in, even though I had no skills or anything, and helped me get to where I am today.

“My apprenticeship has also definitely helped me. I had no office skills when I started and now I’m really handy with a lot of things at Stonewater and have a good understanding of how the business works. I’ve picked up so many life skills along the way and its helped me mature as a person. I really like this job and feel like I’m quite good at it, so I want to stay.”

Focusing on the future

Stephen now works as a Foyer Project Assistant at Swindon supporting other young people to maximise their own potential, he lives just down the road with his partner Ellie and two-year-old son Noah. “I do think apprenticeships are important. Most jobs want you to already have some experience, so apprenticeships are a great way of getting into what you want to do straight away. It’s good because it’s sort of a staged way of going into working full-time.

“I would 100% recommend apprenticeships to anyone,” he says. “If anyone has the opportunity they should grab it with both hands. I did, and I’ve now been here eight years. Stonewater’s given me a real jump and has helped nurture me into the person that I am today. They even helped me find and move into my own Stonewater property, so I really do owe them a lot.

“I don’t have any solid future plans; I just want to continue working onwards and upwards really until I reach the top. I want to give something back really and show that everyone has potential – you just have to bring it out.”