A HAIRDRESSER is helping to keep Basildon healthy. A US Air Force engineer is now flying high by repairing hospital equipment. And a fire boss dedicates his life to helping young people train to save lives in deadly situations.

What do these stories all have in common? They are all people who have changed their careers or other people’s through apprenticeships. And as part of National Apprenticeship Week you can find out more about roles available across south Essex.

Harriet Andrews left school at age 16 and became a hairdresser, but gave that career the chop after three years when she realised she wanted to take care of more than just a person’s hair.

After joining the healthcare assistant (HCA) training programme at the Basildon Hospital in 2015, and working on Elizabeth Fry Ward, she set her heart on becoming a nurse, so she started working towards a Level 3 qualification in anatomy and physiology.

Echo: Harriet AndrewsHarriet Andrews

That allowed her to apply for a place on a foundation degree, and she has been a qualified nurse since October.

Harriet said: “At the salon, I found I loved chatting with the older people who came in. It brought out a caring side in me and I was drawn to the idea of nursing, even though I’d originally been convinced that nursing wasn’t for me. I hated the sight of blood.”

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust supported Harriet throughout her training, which allowed her to earn while she learned.

She said: “Now I’m finally working as a registered nurse, supporting others doing the very same courses that I completed, and helping nurture the next generation of nurses.”

One of Harriet’s colleagues is Michael Kitchen, one of almost 370 apprentices employed at the trust.

Originally from Ohio, he was an aircraft engineer for 24 years, but Michael is now one of three technicians in the medical equipment management services (MEMS) team, who repair and test medical equipment from vital signs monitors, to imaging equipment and infusion devices. And he admits that changing career at 48 years old was no easy matter.


“It was painful at first, as I had to get back into the maths side of things which I hadn’t done for ages,” he said.

“But the team were really supportive and gave me time to study and if I had any questions they were on hand to help me.

“I enjoy being a vital part of the trust by fixing the machines that help patients recover.

“The apprenticeship has changed my perspective, I now see it’s not just doctors and nurses who make a difference, it’s also the people working behind the scenes like porters and what I do that keeps a hospital running.”

Echo: Michael Kitchen todayMichael Kitchen today

Our hospitals aren’t the only places which invest in apprenticeships. Steve Kirkham is apprentice manager with Essex County Fire and Rescue, and at any one time will work with almost 100 apprentices.

“I have always enjoyed working in the training and development section,” he said.

“The key skills they learn and build are the communication skills needed to be able to feel confident in a professional discussion, and those are included as part of their final assessments”.