First year manufacturing Apprentice Sky-Elouise Hopkins is keen to raise awareness of having a disability and being an apprentice.

Sky-Elouise has Congenital Nystagmus, a disability that causes uncontrollable movements of the eyes, which can make everyday tasks quite difficult. However, Sky-Elouise has not let this stop her, and after completing a National Foundation Diploma in Engineering at Exeter College in 2021, Sky-Elouise decided to pursue a career in Engineering through an apprenticeship with linear motion expert HepcoMotion and Exeter College.

Sky Elouise explains: “After the COVID-19 pandemic, which altered my career plans due to future uncertainties, I decided I wanted to jumpstart my career with an apprenticeship. When the opportunity came to apply for HepcoMotion’s apprenticeship scheme, I knew I had to.”

Sky-Elouise was particularly drawn to HepcoMotion as it has an award-winning apprenticeship programme where many former apprentices have progressed into full-time roles within the company.

Having started her apprenticeship in September 2021, Sky-Elouise decided early on that she wanted to raise awareness of being an apprentice with a disability in the hope that it will inspire others to overcome their fears and pursue their careers. Nystagmus Awareness Day, which takes place annually on 20th June, provides the perfect opportunity.

“Nystagmus is a condition that few people know about, but one that has a huge effect on thousands of people. For me personally it has a significant impact on my confidence, and I often struggle to interact with people because of the way my Nystagmus makes me look. My Nystagmus also affects my co-ordination and balance so I can often find some simple things, like sports, quite difficult” says Sky-Elouise.

Although she faces everyday challenges, Sky-Elouise continues to push the boundaries of her disability and be resilient in order to be able to do things. This is highlighted through her choices of hobbies: taekwondo and cycling. Indeed, Sky- Elouise has already been graded for her first coloured belt in taekwondo and has set many goals in order to progress within these areas, such as charity mountain bike rides and competing in more competitions

Sky-Elouise highlights that employers have a crucial role in breaking down the barriers for apprentices with disabilities: “When I first applied for HepcoMotion I was apprehensive of how my disability would affect me and whether I would be given the same opportunities as others. However, sat here six months later, I can positively say that my disability does not hold me back, and that is thanks to companies like HepcoMotion. Any challenges I have had, such as finding suitable safety glasses, or doing a specifically challenging task, they have supported me every step of the way to find a resolution and get me through it.”

Training providers also play an important part in supporting apprentices. Exeter College has a dedicated apprenticeship learning support team with experience in supporting learners with a wide variety of needs, with or without a specific diagnosis. Apprentices with Exeter College can access 1 to 1 or group support for any non-practical parts of their apprenticeship, whether that be completing assignments, making the most of in-class learning, or Functional Skills maths or English. The college also offers training to apprentices to make the best use of available learning technologies, including dictate and immersive readers.

Sky-Elouise shared, “Exeter College has supported me whilst I am training by adjusting my apprenticeship pathway around my strengths, to a technical support position. This new pathway works very well with my current placement within the Research and Development department at HepcoMotion. I have been aiming for this placement since I first started at HepcoMotion, and daily I am progressing my knowledge and skills of SolidWorks, through modelling and animation.”

Celebrating Nystagmus Awareness Day is vital for raising awareness and ensures that adults and children with Nystagmus can access the support they need in work and education. If you would like to find out more about Nystagmus Awareness Day, visit www.nystagmusnetwork.org.

If you would like to learn more about undertaking an Apprenticeship with Exeter College or HepcoMotion, please contact apprentices@exe-coll.ac.uk or applications@hepcomotion.com