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The definition of ‘clever’: Why university’s not for everyone

Author : Marissa Francis, HVAC improver

06 March 2018

A question I've always battled with is, 'What is the definition of clever?' I think nowadays people are so focused on getting a degree that they overlook other routes.

And if that’s the case it shouldn’t be something someone is judged on.

"Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it's stupid."

I love this quote by Albert Einstein, and it is very fitting for National Apprenticeship Week when alternative routes to success are in the spotlight!

When I left university earlier than planned, there was definitely a moment when I worried about what my future might now hold.

The course I had chosen wasn’t right for me, I knew I needed to redirect my focus. I decided to leave.

I felt a sense of guilt that university didn't work for me, that I had failed in some way, but I tried hard to change this thought process and tell myself that university just wasn’t right for me.

I'd always imagined myself learning in a hands-on environment rather than sitting quietly in a lecture hall. An apprenticeship ticked those boxes. I started an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering and I have never looked back.

Despite juggling work and being a mum, I was so engaged with what I was learning it never felt like a struggle. The apprenticeship worked so well for me and my family, in a way that university hadn’t.

I now work as a Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning Improver (HVAC) and I love it. This year has been coined 'Year of the Engineer' by the Government, an initiative aimed at plugging the skills gap and encourage young people to join the industry.

It's great to see a nationwide interest in this topic, something which will help change the perception of the facilities management and engineering industry as a whole.

At the same time, to mark 100 years since women have been allowed to vote, it is the 'Year of the Woman'. 2018 has started off empowering women and engineers, being both I feel extraordinarily proud to be in this industry.

I would love to see a perception shift in the UK moving towards the idea that engineering and facilities management is an industry that welcomes women and young apprentices.

My career so far has been full of support while I studied, worked and looked after my daughter. It's an industry that prides itself on nurturing talent so I can't wait to see the results of this year's work!

Two role models I admire are Anne Marie Imafidon and Kate Bellingham. These are two women who are passionate about engineering and STEM and encouraging more women into the industry – which is something I'd love to get more involved in.

Looking at women like Anne Marie and Kate shows me that if I'm passionate about something and work hard at my job I could be doing amazing things with my career like them – there is nothing stopping me!

Anne Marie is the head of Stemettes which is a social enterprise that encourages women into the industry.

Kate is currently working on a programme with my employer - it's called the Junior Engineering Engagement Programme (J.E.E.P). This initiative has enrolled 36 students from the Borough of Ealing to take part in 10 immersive modules to give them an introduction to the world of FM and engineering.

I'm so proud that I can be a part of something like the J.E.E.P. This programme aims to encourage young students into understanding all the possible routes available to them – and the value of all of them.

Whether university, apprenticeship or another path completely, the ethos is that everyone can be successful and get there in their own way.

There is no single definition of clever! Between the Year of the Woman, Year of the Engineer and the J.E.E.P, I look forward to seeing a positive change in the industry!

Melissa Francis is a heating ventilation and air conditioning improver at ABM UK.

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