Opportunity Knocks for Northern Regional College Student


As one door closes, another is opening for Northern Regional College student, William Wilkinson from Ballymena. Following the shock announcement in October 2014 that JTI Gallaher’s factory was to close, William decided to retrain and work towards a career in accountancy. He has now reached the first major milestone on that journey by coming third overall in the prestigious Accounting Technicians Ireland (ATI) 2017 summer exams.

The ATI Diploma is an internationally recognised professional qualification to fast-track a career in accounting and finance. William was one of over a thousand students who sat the exams this summer at 16 different locations throughout Ireland. He got a total score of 350 marks, just five behind the top student.

Currently employed as a production operative at Gallaher’s, William was devastated when the Japanese owners of the company Japan Tobacco International (JTI) announced in October 2014 that, due to a restructuring programme, the Ballymena factory was to close with a loss of over 850 jobs. But, once he got over the initial shock of facing redundancy in his early ‘thirties, William decided to go back to school to get some further qualifications to improve his employment prospects after the plant’s closure.

William says he had fully intended going to university after A levels but a summer job at the Michelin factory in Ballymena put paid to that idea.

“I got used to earning some money so the thought of being a student just didn’t have the same appeal anymore,” he admits.

He stayed on at the Michelin factory for another seven years before taking up the offer of a job with Gallaher’s. He is one of around sixty staff still working there as preparations are made for the plant’s final closure later this year.

Northern Regional College liaised with the company when the redundancies were announced and carried out a skills audit to help the workers obtain relevant qualifications, either by accrediting their previous experience or providing the training necessary to gain relevant skills and qualifications to improve their employability.

William enrolled on the ATI Diploma as a part-time student at the College’s Magherafelt campus and, for the next two years, continued to work at the factory while completing the course on a day release basis.

Now with his sights set firmly on a career in accountancy, he says signing on for the ATI Diploma at Northern Regional College was one of his best career moves ever.

Since getting his ATI results, William has been getting some experience working with a local accountancy firm and, in the longer term, he plans to continue working towards becoming a Chartered Accountant.  
Congratulating William on his success, Alyson Scott, who co-ordinates the ATI programme at the Magherafelt campus, said it was a great achievement for William and the College.

“We are all really delighted for him and wish him the very best for his future career.”

This year, Northern Regional College has introduced a number of new courses, including Foundation Degrees and Higher Level Apprenticeships, to offer more choices than ever before across its six campuses. There are 70 full-time and part-time higher education courses covering a range of vocational areas, including Construction, Engineering, Sport, Health & social care, Counselling, Computing and Business.

Vincent Taggart, Vice Principal Teaching & Learning at Northern Regional College, says the extended curriculum allows students to access higher education without the burden of student debt.
“We put the student first in everything we do to make sure they are equipped with the necessary skills to meet the needs of local industry and employers and compete successfully in the global employment market.”


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