“I knew I needed to perform because people like me don’t often get these opportunities.” Youth role model takes home top prize at Inspire! Awards

A 25-year-old from Cardiff has won a major award for the way she embraced responsibility and pushed her limits under testing times.

Despite leaving school after her GCSEs to support her single-parent family, Wilnelia De Jesus managed to rise through the ranks of legal company Greenaway Scott to become a Practice Manager at the age of just 21.

Whilst working as a Practice Manager in 2018, she started a ‘Leadership and Management’ apprenticeship to give her the skills to progress her career.

Wasting no time in utilising her new skills apprenticeship, Wilnelia put her knowledge into practice, navigating the multi-million-pound group through the operational challenges of a pandemic.

As a result, she was awarded with the ‘Young Adult’ Inspire! Award, a recognition of her remarkable achievements in rising through the ranks in the legal sector and being a positive role model for aspirational young people from all backgrounds.

Wilnelia was one of 12 winners to be recognised at the 2021 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, the Inspire! Awards recognised those who have demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning, building confidence and developing vibrant and successful communities.

The Inspire! Awards are were part of Adult Learners’ Week, which took place this year from 20-26 September offering taster sessions and live online sessions to inspire people to keep learning throughout their lives.

For Wilnelia, the award win is about more than her academic and professional achievements.

Wilnelia said, “It’s a really surreal feeling. It’s so nice to get recognition on this national scale as you don’t often see people that look like me celebrated like this.”

“I hope my story can show other young people of colour to disregard career stereotypes. You can do anything you put your mind to if you’re willing to work hard enough.

“Growing up in a Portuguese speaking household, we ate Portuguese food, watched Portuguese TV and listened to Portuguese music. In primary school it sometimes felt like a setback and a communication barrier.

“Now though, I realise that being bilingual is a massive bonus and it has loads of benefits.

“I’d always been passionate about the legal sector – I dreamt of being a lawyer. But I left school after my GCSEs because I needed to support my mother, who’s my biggest inspiration.”

“At 18, I landed a job at Greenaway Scott as an apprentice and receptionist – it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I was surrounded by some remarkable characters who filled me with confidence in myself and how far I could take my career.

“At 21, I became the practice manager – whose role is the operational management of the group. From IT infrastructure to opening offices throughout the UK, every day is different. I love it.”

Wilnelia began her journey into higher education when she enrolled as a learner onto the Leadership and Management Apprenticeship in 2018 at the age of 23.

“Initially, I was overwhelmed to have so much responsibility in a multi-million-pound company. I knew I needed to do as much as I could to develop my skills because people like me sadly don’t often get these types of opportunities.”

Despite a rocky start and some setbacks, Wilnelia excelled in her course. Since then, she has completed another ‘Project Management’ qualification and is soon due to enroll on a Level 5 Management Diploma.

Wilnelia continued, “It was a baptism of fire. Balancing a full-time – and often intense – job alongside a challenging qualification wasn’t easy. At first, I was plagued with doubts – I struggled to believe in myself and find a work life balance.

“But I stuck with it, and I’m so grateful that I did. My course was life-changing. It gave me so much confidence and lots of knowledge I could use on a day-to-day basis. It really broadened my horizons.

“When we were just about to go into the first lockdown. I had two days to get everyone set-up to work remotely.

“Using what I learnt about people management and change on my course meant I didn’t get caught up in the chaos and I could both ensure a smoother transition and communicate these changes to everyone much more clearly.”

Reflecting on her adult learning journey so far, Wilnelia said: “Even though I haven’t taken a traditional educational path with A-levels or university, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a great support system at work, with directors who saw potential in me and have kept inspiring me to get to the next level.

“I’m going to continue learning, I haven’t come this far to stop now. Knowledge is power, so whatever I can do to better myself and get to the next level – I’ll do it. I’m really proud to be a person of colour making waves in this sector.”

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to all the winners and nominees in this year’s Inspire! Awards. There’s some really powerful stories behind this year’s participants, with some great examples of people overcoming personal challenges in their commitment to learning, and it’s important to celebrate the achievements of everyone who took part. Well done everyone!”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute said: “What better way to realise the value of adult learning than to hear the uplifting stories of our Inspire! Award winners. Each and every one of our winners demonstrates the benefits lifelong learning can bring – from improving mental wellbeing, to gaining the skills to land a new job.”

“We hope their incredible stories will inspire people across Wales to take that first step back into education. Whatever your motivation for gaining new skills, there’s never been a better time to change your story.”

For personalised advice on your own learning options and support available, get in touch with Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or search www.workingwales.gov.wales.


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