Inspiring Success Stories from Those Who Took an Alternate Route

Inspiring Success Stories from Those Who Took an Alternate Route

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Whether they were distance learners, returned to education or worked their way up from the very bottom, here are some inspirational case studies of people who didn’t do the expected thing.

Not everyone follows the same path on their life journey and that is certainly true when it comes to education and making your way in the world of work. Increasingly, students fresh out of school and those looking to return to education, find that the traditional route is debt-heavy. Who wants to come out the other side with a degree, but a large bank of debt?

With this mind, as well as the fact that life sometimes has a habit of getting in the way of lectures and seminars, we take a look at some case studies of people known for their contribution to business, politics and society but who chose a different path to the university route.

Deborah Meaden

A member of the Dragon’s Den panel, Deborah Meaden is a successful businesswoman. Leaving school at 16, she attended Brighton technical college before her first job. She set up her own glass and ceramics business at 19 and has always been keen to let people know that there is more than one route to success, and university isn’t always it.  She now has a string of businesses and is worth an estimated £40 million. Follow her on Twitter @DeborahMeaden.

Sir John Major

Politics has long been traditionally dominated by white, upper-class males, most of whom will have attended Eton or Oxbridge. This pattern is slowly changing with former Tory prime minister John Major breaking the mould. Leaving school at 16, he didn’t complete higher or further education but by the age of 21, had been elected to Lambeth Council. Climbing the ranks through local government, he was prime minister from 1990 to 1997.

Sir Richard Branson

Possibly one of the most famous entrepreneurs, Richard Branson is known for pushing many boundaries such as introducing a ‘take as much annual leave as you need’ policy within his business. He left school at 15 years of age with no more than a few O levels to his name. His business empire began when he started to produce a magazine called ‘The Student’ but it was his record selling business, Virgin, that he is best known for. Now worth billions, he has always said you ‘learn by doing and falling over’.

Julie Burchill

Leaving school without A-levels or any kind of higher education courses under your belt is almost unheard of but this best-selling author and newspaper columnist did exactly that – and has never looked back. Cutting her journalistic teeth at music newspaper NME, Julie has since said that as a child, she wanted two things. One was to be left alone to read her library books and the other was to leave her provincial town behind and live in London, as a writer.  Despite not having the qualifications expected of most journalists, Julie has gone on to do exactly that, and successfully too.

Steve Jobs

Whether you prefer Android or Apple, there is no getting away from the runaway success of the late Steve Jobs. He did start to attend university but dropped out – possibly through boredom, something he struggled with during formal education – finding what he needed by studying Buddhism in India instead. He was always clear that success is not something gifted to people but something that is worked for. His advice is as true today as it was when he was talking about the start of his now global technological empire. He said “Be early. Stay late. Send the extra email. Do the extra research. Help a customer unload or unpack a shipment”. In other words, go the extra mile.

Life Long Learning

There was a phrase used extensively throughout the 90s and into the 21st Century that encouraged people to not see learning as something that ‘just happened in school’. And neither is the only learning with value in the classroom.

Employers have long realised this too and although they look for evidence of basic qualifications – good grades in maths, English and possibly Science too – they are just as interested in the experiences, soft and transferable skills that someone will bring to a role.

There is no denying that home learning courses from GCSE Maths and English to additional learning awareness courses for those in education and training are incredibly valuable. They allow you to study and consolidate your learning and skills at your own pace and in your own time.

Which of these stories have inspired you?

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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