How one woman is learning to be a leader – for free

How one woman is learning to be a leader – for free

Vernetta Clarke hit a bump in her career a few months before the pandemic. After 19 years in the hospitality industry, she was made redundant in December 2019.

Following a brief stint with a temp agency, Vernetta finally landed a role that she enjoyed, as a sales executive in the conferences and events team at a local hotel. But three weeks later, after lockdown arrived, she lost the job. Not only that, she’d found out she was pregnant.

 Moving on up … Vernetta has learnt skills to take her career forward


Moving on up … Vernetta has learnt skills to take her career forward

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m pregnant and unemployed, what am I going to do?’”

To fill the gap in her CV, Vernetta, now 37, started exploring different training courses until, in July, her sister told her about a free Level 3 qualification (the equivalent of an A Level) in leadership and management at Weston College, part of the Government’s Free Courses for Jobs programme.

It’s a common misconception that investing in your career needs to be a time-consuming and expensive process. For adults who want to change tack or give themselves a chance of promotion, the idea of spending lots of money on learning new skills can be daunting.

Courses are offered in a range of subjects that are in demand by employers, including accounting, adult care, construction, engineering, childcare and many more. Plus, lots are part time, creating a flexibility that has been crucial for people like Vernetta.

The free Level 3 qualifications equip students with the skills employers are looking for. The offer is available to anyone in England aged 19 or over, and it won’t cost a penny if you don’t already have an A Level equivalent qualification. From April, you’ll also be eligible if you earn below the national living wage annually (£18,525) or are unemployed, even if you already have A Level equivalent qualifications or higher.

My personal life was the definition of hectic,” Vernetta says of starting her course in 2021. But she was able to fit the work around her responsibilities as a mum of two small children. Although things became a bit trickier when she got a new job in the hospitality industry in autumn last year, Vernetta has still been able to make it work.

“I’ve just had to be really self-disciplined. My family have all been rooting for me, and we’ve got a group on the course where we all support each other,” says Vernetta, who kept working towards the Level 3 qualification after finding employment, in order to widen her career options.

Not all jobs have built-in progression programmes, so taking courses like this can be a way of proving you are ready to advance to managerial and leadership positions.

At the same time, the qualification is recognised by employers across multiple industries, with its practical focus on how to manage projects, people and relationships.

This positions Vernetta to be able to move sectors in the future if that’s what she chooses to do. “It’s really about expanding my knowledge. I’ve got experience of leadership and management but mostly from one sector.

“If you only know one way of working, you don’t get to see that there are other ways of doing things,” Vernetta says. She points to her course mates, who come from all sorts of backgrounds and each bring something different to their interactive sessions.

“My CV was really packed with experience but not with education. If I ever wanted to work in retail or real estate, I’d know different ways of leading and managing, thanks to the skills I’ve learnt from this course.”

Now she has gained the Level 3 qualification in leadership and management, there are doors open to Vernetta that were closed before. She has both the confidence and skills to go for promotions – and boost her salary.

Free Courses for Jobs is just one of the affordable routes funded by the Government to help people get skills for life. There are also earn-while-you-learn apprenticeships and intensive Skills Bootcamps, all available to adults of any age.

For Vernetta, this opportunity to keep learning has been one of the best things about taking her course, alongside gaining the confidence to develop her career and forming some friendships along the way.

“You’re never too old to learn a new skill – so why not?”

If you’re not sure which opportunity might be right for you, the National Careers Service provides free, personalised advice and guidance on learning, training and work to anyone in England. Its qualified advisers can help you think about your needs, make informed decisions about your future, and take the next step towards achieving your goals.

For more information on these and other courses available, visit

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