Juggling life as a busy mum of twins with a new role as an apprentice was a little daunting for Naomi Nicolaou at first – but the experience has kickstarted her confidence, resilience and financial dreams.
“I never imagined the apprenticeship would lead me to where I am now,” admits Naomi.
“It has really built my confidence and showed me you can reach for whatever you want.”
The 28-year-old has been on a rollercoaster journey after joining H&F’s apprenticeship programme in September 2019 as a reception apprentice.
Little did anyone realise that a global pandemic was about to hit, and Naomi ended up being redeployed into an entirely new role helping out with the Covid-19 PPE distribution response across the borough.
Tackling the challenge head on allowed Naomi to learn new skills and showcase her adaptability, resilience and flexibility – ultimately leading to her being offered a permanent post on the council’s facilities management helpdesk.
“I have been very lucky,” says Naomi. “I feel the whole process has allowed me to reach my full potential, and I am so happy I have been able to jump a few pay bands too!”
The lifelong H&F resident had been working in recruitment for M&S in Westfield London when she saw the apprenticeship scheme advertised on the council website, and decided to take a risk.
“I felt like I needed more and although doing an apprenticeship could have been seen as a step back, I also recognised it could be two steps forward,” said Naomi, who lives in White City with her software engineer partner, five-year-old twins and puppy Skyler.
“I initially thought I would be too old, but when I went along on the induction day it was a huge surprise to me that there were a whole range of people there, including some in their 40s and 50s.
“I felt a lot better about applying as that had already broken down the stereotypes I had in my head.”
After a successful interview process, Naomi started working as a reception apprentice in September 2019 at an adult social care department in Goldhawk Road.
Combining her daily work with a BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Business Administration allowed Naomi to get to grips with the job alongside her learning.
“I was given chance to bring in my own ideas and I really appreciated the fact I wasn’t just seen as someone who was learning, but could share my way of looking at things and even change some of the systems they used,” explains Naomi, who had previously studied at Hammersmith College after leaving school.
Unfortunately, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the service was forced to close in March 2020.
Rather than being furloughed, Naomi was offered the chance to be redeployed into PPE distribution across schools, council-run buildings, care homes and for vulnerable residents’ carers.
“I was thrown straight into it, which helped me keep my sanity instead of being at home worrying about things,” says Naomi.
“They were so open to my ideas and I felt really valued.”
It was a tough challenge, she says, with “some days that were really stressful” as the team worked to send out PPE not only across H&F, but also to Kensington & Chelsea, Ealing and even as far as Kent.
“It was such a lovely team, so you always felt like you could talk to someone in the same boat,” adds Naomi.
“Last summer, when it was 40C and we were unloading truck after truck, just getting an ice lolly together afterwards made me realise how lucky I was to work with such a determined team of people.
“Working through one of the hardest times this world has known to this point allowed me to see my own resilience and really built my confidence and skills.”
When Naomi’s apprenticeship contract ended in September 2020, she knew she had made the right decision the previous year.
A leader from the facilities management team had also clocked Naomi’s work ethic and encouraged her to apply for a job in that team.
Since then, “everyone has been amazing at teaching me about the department and helping me upskill”, she says.
Naomi now works as a facilities management helpdesk operative, which involves dealing with contracts for work at all council-run buildings.
“I have had so much support and would encourage anyone to apply for an apprenticeship,” adds Naomi, who has also continued to help with the PPE distribution effort. “It has been amazing.”