Staff Spotlight: An Interview with Blathnaid Quinn

In this week’s Staff Spotlight, we will be talking to Blathnaid Quinn, one of East Lothian Council’s Adult Services Tutors. Having worked with adults in the local area, teaching Literacy, Numeracy, and working on Employability, Blathnaid is an important figure in the community when it comes to these subject areas, and therefore she seemed like the perfect person to speak to in order to learn more about this service.

What is your job role and what does it involve?
My job role is as an Adult Literacy/Numeracy/Employability Tutor. I work with groups of adults, or sometimes one-to-one in the community, each week to support people in their learning goals. I get to know my learners and where they are in their lives by listening carefully to them and following lines of careful questioning. This can often mean getting to know details of their lives that they may not have widely shared before, e.g. mental health concerns, family circumstances, etc. I work with these individuals to sketch out their next steps and work with them to achieve their learning goals. I also work with learners on literacy, achieving qualifications that they did not have the opportunity to gain as a young person due to factors such as difficult life circumstances and caring responsibilities.

How did you get into this line of work?
I trained and worked as a Chemical Engineer for 15 years in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Throughout my time as a student I tutored to earn money. While working full-time as an Engineer in Pharmaceutical Production companies, I worked voluntarily as an Adult Numeracy Tutor for my local Adult Education Service, eventually moving on to paid work there. I took a career break, moved to Edinburgh, and completed my Master’s Degree in Community Education at the University of Edinburgh while working part-time as a Project Worker for what was then Adult Literacy and Numeracy at East Lothian Council. I have worked as a Tutor since then with the role developing and changing to include employability, as East Lothian Works developed and formed.

What is your favourite part about your job?
I enjoy engaging with learners and seeing them achieve their learning goals, be it getting the job they wanted, getting a place on/completing a college course they wanted, mustering the courage to start and sustain a volunteering role, or achieving SQA qualifications in Communications.

What is the most difficult part about your job?
Sometimes learners may be quite hard to reach and engage with due to difficult life circumstances or mental health issues. The most challenging cases are when the learner is not aware of these circumstances themselves, and I support them to reach these realisations for themselves and thereby hopefully make progress.

What is a typical day in the working life like for you?
I may work with one or more groups in a day group, or a one-on-one in different settings in East Lothian, such as libraries and community centres. I often work with my learners over months or years so I get to know them very well. Groups are often very informal and require a lot of talking! I sometimes have a volunteer supporting me in my work, doing small exercises with learners, or listening to them as I do too. In employability groups I often start with a review or preparation of the learner’s CV as I find this allows the learner to reflect on their life and work experiences. I try to reframe and reflect back on their stories to them thereby hopefully allowing them to see them more positively. I often need to support learners with IT skills or literacy. I also support learners with literacy in mainstream literacy groups achieving SQA qualifications at National 4 or Access 3 level in Communications.

What types of people do you work with on a daily basis?
I provide employability support to whoever comes looking for it, be that a cleaner or a lawyer. I work with men and women, although probably more females than males, which may relate to women often having greater distance from the workplace due to caring responsibilities. I have learners who are embalming technicians, arts therapists, arts workers, construction workers, bakers, etc. The list goes on!

Why is your service important?
Adults often come to us after poor learning or school experiences in their earlier lives. They may have had difficult life circumstances as children which were beyond their control. They may not have been supported at home and/or school with learning difficulties such as dyslexia which have led them to not achieving qualifications, or lacking confidence in learning or academic environments, or with literacy tasks in their daily lives. Life itself as an adult can also throw up barriers, such as bereavement, mental health, or caring responsibilities, which can cause an adult to lose their confidence or grow distant from the job market. Adults need support too to overcome difficulties, as any child or young person does. Just because you are an adult does not mean that you know everything or do not need help throughout your life span. I have seen the work we do with our learners have a real impact on their lives and cause much improvement. We support our learners to make real and sometimes profound differences in their lives. I passionately believe that our service is important.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to Blathnaid for taking the time to answer my questions – it is greatly appreciated. If you are interested in the services that East Lothian Works offers, feel free to get in touch at elworks@eastlothian.gov.uk for more information.

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