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Winner Spotlight: Educator of the Year 2023

Q&A: Celebrating Nicola Aviolet – VTCT Excellence Awards Educator of the Year 2023

Meet Nichola Aviolet, the very first winner of the VTCT Excellence Awards Educator of the Year. Her journey from educator to Educator of the Year encapsulates her passion for nurturing future talents. Her dedication to safeguarding learners and innovative teaching methods wowed the judges, showcasing her unwavering commitment to creating remarkable learning experiences.

In this Q&A, Nichola walks us through her career trajectory, delves into the significance of her recent award, shares her creative teaching techniques, and imparts her insights into what truly sets an outstanding educator apart.

Could you tell us a little bit about your career and how you’ve reached where you are today?

I started as an Educator 12 years ago and have always been involved in apprenticeships.  I am truly passionate about young people having the opportunity to earn while they learn and believe that apprenticeships are the best way to learn such a hands-on skill.  There is no better experience in our industry than being involved in it every day and learning from the very people around us that we aspire to be.

After several years of being an educator, I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to complete my IQA qualification.  This then led to supporting the acquisition of another training provider, which became the Kleek Academy, Maidstone.  I now manage the team based in our Maidstone Academy, along with the southern team of work-based educators.  This is both rewarding and challenging in equal measures!

Winning the VTCT Excellence Awards Educator of the Year is a tremendous accomplishment. What does this recognition mean to you personally and professionally?

I still can’t actually believe it!

I felt honoured to be nominated for this award.  Each and every nominee this year was such a worthy winner, so I feel incredibly proud to have come out on top as Educator of the Year.

This award has been celebrated not only for myself but across the entire Kleek Apprenticeships team to recognise the hard work and dedication to our apprentices and salons.  It also highlights how seriously we take our roles in helping to develop the next generation of hairdressers, beauty therapists and barbers, as a leading hair and beauty national training provider.

Your nomination highlighted your commitment to safeguarding. Could you share more about how you’ve gone above and beyond to safeguard your students?

At Kleek Apprenticeships, keeping our apprentices safe is at the forefront of everything we do.  We strive to support our apprentices in many ways, through the information they are taught, the guidance and advice given and through having a committed and dedicated safeguarding team available.  For times when learners are unable to seek support from external agencies or waiting times are too long, we provide our apprentices with access to our very own in-house counsellor and can make referrals to them when necessary.  Each and every apprentice is a valued part of the Kleek community and being able to offer them the support we do is a huge indicator of our level of commitment to keeping them safe.  The entire Kleek Apprenticeships team are extremely knowledgeable, fully trained and ready to help apprentices at all times.  On the occasion outlined in my entry, this was one of the more challenging safeguarding cases I have had to deal with.  But making the correct referrals to the right people helped our apprentice and her family receive the support that was needed.

You’ve incorporated innovative methods to engage learners facing challenges. Can you elaborate on those methods and their impact?

Over the last couple of years, we have really focussed on developing and building on the range of functional skills resources we already had in place.  I developed a new series of 50 videos in maths and English, which had a profound impact on the success of our apprentices across the country.  As the lead educator in the creation of the Kleek functional skills resources, the new resources were tailored to further support learners who had struggled to achieve their maths and English qualifications via traditional methods at school.

This interactive approach, which integrates visual elements with creativity, has assisted many apprentices to successfully achieve their functional skills qualifications.  We also still offer a number of weekly Zoom sessions to our apprentices in maths and English on top of the support that they already receive from their educators.  We believe this approach of offering functional skills support in a variety of ways to suit each and every learning style is the key to success.

Can you share one or two significant challenges you’ve faced in your career and how you’ve overcome them?

COVID was undoubtedly one of the most challenging times we have faced in the hair and beauty industry.  As a result of this, there has been a significant increase in the number of apprentices suffering with poor mental health.  With the NHS at breaking point, it has been challenging at times for apprentices to get the support they need.  This is why we are incredibly lucky to have such a caring and committed team at Kleek Apprenticeships to guide and support apprentices across the country.

Our outstanding safeguarding team is also on hand to guide and support apprentices to improve their mental health and achieve the very best outcomes during their time with us.  All apprentices complete work in mental health awareness, helping to foster a culture of awareness and learning through open discussion.

Our focus over the next 12 months is to ensure that all staff and educators are trained and informed through a number of CPD courses that will directly have a positive impact on supporting apprentices with poor mental health.

In your opinion, what qualities define an outstanding educator?

There are some key attributes that can take educators from zero to hero and become the ultimate outstanding educator to their apprentices and team.

  1. The ability to inspire others is the ultimate key to success as an educator.  A positive mindset should lead to a positive impact on your apprentices.
  2. Hard work and dedication are a must in this industry.  Education is a tough gig, especially following on from the turbulent times of COVID and the limited GCSEs sat during this time.
  3. Being adaptable to ever-changing standards and situations that apprentices present is also important.  Apprentices are all individuals – what works for one may not work for the next.
  4. Being approachable and able to support your apprentices through the many challenges that young people face in today’s society will ensure you have a positive impact on your apprentice’s lives.
  5. Finally, be committed to being the greatest educator you can be.  Never stop learning, embrace change and strive for the very best.