Practical apprenticeship is the answer for Ballyclare woman

Emmalee O'Connell from Ballyclare - a food and beverage service apprentice with NRC and the Galgorm Resort & Spa Hotel.
Emmalee O'Connell from Ballyclare - a food and beverage service apprentice with NRC and the Galgorm Resort & Spa Hotel.

A young Ballyclare woman has made the brave decision to eschew university in favour of a practical apprenticeship.

Emmalee O’Connell, an 18-year-old Food & Beverage Service Apprentice from Ballyclare, hasn’t looked back since embarking on the apprentice scheme with Northern Regional College and the Galgorm Resort & Spa Hotel.

Emmalee attended Ballyclare High School where she excelled in her studies, obtaining A-Levels in biology, politics and business studies. She was on track to study forensic science at university, however, at the last minute she re-assessed her career options.

She said: “I realised I really didn’t want to study forensic science and that, actually, I didn’t want to go to university at

all, so I started looking into apprenticeships.”

Emmalee had assumed that she would only be able to get an apprenticeship in engineering or a similar trade. When she stumbled upon the hospitality apprenticeship which Northern Regional College and the Galgorm offer, she jumped at the chance to enter a field she knew she would like.

She said: “I couldn’t recommend an apprenticeship like this more. Everyone has been so encouraging and supportive and it’s a great environment to work in. Then there’s the added incentive of earning while you learn, instead of racking up astronomical student debts.” 

Emmalee commends the apprenticeship for its balance of theory and practice. Apprentices at Galgorm are put through rigorous training beginning with the basics. Emmalee’s four days per week at Galgorm Resort are currently taken up with learning the ropes of its popular Fratelli restaurant. She also says that the experience based learning she has gained from the apprenticeship is invaluable.

She said: “You’re getting a qualification and you’re also getting a wealth of experience. Moreover, this is your foot in the door – you’re not coming out of university, and thinking ‘what now?’ It’s a natural progression into a career.”

Meanwhile, Emmalee’s one day at college is spent working through a schedule of theory-based learning. She said: “We learn everything from how to set a table properly to how to greet a customer. Some of that sounds like common sense, but when you’re working in a high-end hospitality environment, you realise that a lot of thought and intention goes into those seemingly small aspects.”

When asked what advice she would give someone in a similar position, she said: “Just go for it. Even if it’s not what you expected, you gain amazing experience in industry, a qualification and you earn while you do it. I really can’t see a downside.”