After deciding to freshen up her career at 37-years-old to become a trade apprentice, Bristol-based Jessica Donaldson continues to inspire all ages to be more open about apprenticeship pathways.
As part of National Apprenticeship Week, where apprentices are celebrated for their ongoing dedication to strengthen their experience and education in their chosen field, Jessica reflects on her experience so far.
Jessica said: “When I first started telling my friends about becoming a trade apprentice at LiveWest, they were really inspired, and they were all saying how great it was.
“Initially, they seemed to think that I was going to do admin but, once I told them about how I would be going out, helping people in our communities and making people feel even more safe and secure in their homes, the more my apprenticeship appealed to me.
“Despite not having any trade experience from my previous jobs, I applied and once I started looking into LiveWest, the more and more it seemed to be a great fit. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”
Moving away from the heart of London and her old life as a civil servant for the Ministry of Justice, Jessica joined LiveWest, the largest housing association in the South West, in August 2023.
Spending her weekdays helping residents in LiveWest homes to expand her hands-on trade experience, Jessica also spends one day a week at South Gloucestershire and Strode College (SGS) where she is completing her Property Maintenance qualification.
Since swapping her notepad out for a toolkit, Jessica has continued to learn more skills which she believes are “skills for life”.
From fixing taps, fitting bath panels and putting up fencing, Jessica has developed a great passion for the trades industry.
Currently LiveWest has 48 apprentices across many departments of the business. These vary from electrical, plumbing and heating engineering to an apprenticeship in property maintenance.
“Some things I learn on the job, I will still be able to do when I’m retired,” Jessica joked. “I genuinely don’t think apprenticeships always cross people’s minds, especially when you go past a certain age point. It can be quite easy to think that they’re not designed for me, that they’re for teenagers or people in their early 20s but that’s not true. They’re for everybody.
“When I came across the apprenticeship advert for LiveWest, I just loved how they were encouraging all age ranges to get involved.
“The housing association doesn’t mind how old you are or how young. If you show an interest and you want to learn, they will take a chance on you. So, I thought, let’s try something new.”
Jessica also admits that one of the reasons she applied for the leading housing association was because of its Women in Trades campaign, which aims to encourage more women to consider a trades career.
Inspired by a former LiveWest apprentice’s story, Jessica said: “It was really important for me to work for an organisation which supports equality in the workplace.
“When I saw that LiveWest has Women in Trades taster days and read one of their stories about Orla, who’s dream it was to break into the trade industry, it spurred me on to apply.”
Since then, Jessica has also felt empowered by some of LiveWest’s residents, with one resident even telling her how great it was to see more women working in trade.
With LiveWest having over 40,000 homes, and with plans to build 5,000 more in the next five years to help with the affordable housing demand, Jessica has lots of opportunities to build her experience. Jessica said: “LiveWest has supported me by giving me some great mentors, who have showed me lots of different skills and tips to help along the way.
“I’m loving it. I really enjoy my job. I get the immediate sense of satisfaction when I finish something which I know is going to help one of our customers. We are fixers and I find that really fulfilling.”