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Full steam ahead for NWRC Travel and Tourism student after winning national award

26 June 2024
A man in a suit, and a student in a hoodie on the platform of a railway station with a train behind them.

I have a huge passion and interest in our railway network, and I enjoy taking the train regularly and discovering places that I have never been to before. I’ve also applied for a Foundation Degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management.

Matthew McGrotty
NWRC student and NCFE Learner of the Year

NCFE UK Learner of the Year

A 21-year-old Travel and Tourism student from North West Regional College (NWRC) has won a UK national award for showing incredible dedication to his education.

Matthew McGrotty, from Lettershandoney, has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, which impacts his learning in several ways, but he has overcome any challenges in his way to be named the 2024 Learner of the Year at NCFE’s Aspiration Awards.

Progressing from a Level 2 Work Skills programme, Matthew has just completed the NCFE Level 3 Extended Diploma in Travel and Tourism at NWRC, and sees a bright future ahead within the travel industry. He’s due to return to the college in September where he will study the Open University Foundation Degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management.

A man in a suit, and a student in a hoodie on the platform of a railway station with a train behind them.
Matthew McGrotty receiving his award from Clive Watson, Assistant Route Manager, Translink

Earlier this year, Matthew secured a placement with Translink at Coleraine train station. This opportunity provided him with a firsthand look at the inner workings of the transport industry. Translink offered him a structured schedule, rotating him through different areas like ticket barriers and customer service.

Matthew thrived in the customer service role, providing passengers with information on train services and navigating unexpected situations like cancellations. Beyond the tasks, Matthew valued the opportunity to work as part of a team and witness how the transport industry adapts to real-world challenges.

The supportive staff at Translink took the time to explain their operations in full detail, so Matthew left the placement with valuable insights to support his future. The positive feedback on his contributions further fuelled his passion for a career in transport.

Commenting on the experience, Matthew said: “I’m really glad I had this opportunity because it’s something I’ve always had a passion for, and it’s shaped my knowledge for my future long-term employment.”

David Gallagher, Chief Executive at NCFE, commented: “Matthew is a remarkable learner and a shining example of why alternative pathways are essential to ensure no learner is left behind. He is an inspiration to his peers and goes above and beyond to make a difference for others, through being a class representative, his participation in the Youth Council and his volunteering work. It’s great to see that the NCFE travel and tourism qualification is helping him to progress to the next step in his career within an important industry. NCFE is delighted to present Matthew with this award.”

In addition to his placement experience, Matthew is consistently exceeding expectations with distinction grades in his modules and inspiring his classmates with his dedication and work ethic. His leadership qualities led to him being elected as class representative, where he actively supports his peers and advocates for their needs.

Luane Quigley, Curriculum Manager and Course Coordinator at NWRC who nominated Matthew for the award said: “Matthew is not a learner who works in isolation, he is very much a core individual at the heart of the provision within the college. He is very driven, focused and above all, completely selfless. He assists others in his class when they don’t understand something, and it was great to see him be elected class representative this year. He has touched the lives of others and has been a fantastic ambassador for not only the programme but the college overall.”

A male student and female lecturer smile looking away from the camera. They are holding a framed award.
Matthew McGrotty with his lecturer Luane Quigley

Mark Montgomery, Northern Area Railway Route Manager at Translink, said: "We're proud to have been a part of Matthew's journey so far and congratulate him for securing for this much-deserved award. As one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, we’re committed to supporting individuals who need practical skills and experience to enhance their employment prospects. We also want to highlight all the opportunities that are available to young people at Translink.

As we work towards net-zero emissions across our entire fleet, we have collaborated with a range of stakeholders including bus and other vehicle manufacturers, energy suppliers and universities to develop the region as a centre of excellence for zero-emission technology supporting the local green economy and creating new jobs. It is heartening to see the dedication of young individuals like Matthew who can play a key role in shaping the future of our sector and help us create advanced public transport services and integrated networks which connect people and communities, enhance the economy, improve health and environmental wellbeing for all.”

Matthew also actively participates in the Youth Council for Northern Ireland, giving speeches and advocating for young people across Northern Ireland. He is a dedicated volunteer with Voices Of Young People In Care and Care Leavers (VOYPIC), sharing his experiences and supporting others. He helps to organise residential trips for the organisation and participates in various other activities to support young people in care and care leavers.

A male and female are in front of blue signage with NWRC written on it, The male is holding an I did it sign while the female is holding a Proud mum sign
Matthew with his mum, Kitty

Reflecting on the qualification and looking ahead to what’s next, he said: “I chose to study this NCFE qualification because I have an extensive interest in traveling to different destinations and learning about the operations of the transport sector.

“My ultimate long-term goal is to seek employment with Translink, Northern Ireland Railways. I have a huge passion and interest in our railway network, and I enjoy taking the train regularly and discovering places that I have never been to before. I’ve also applied for a Foundation Degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management.”

Created by the leader in vocational and technical learning NCFE, the Aspiration Awards are now in their seventh year and honour learners, educators and organisations across the UK.

Aspirational Awards 2024

For more information about the Aspiration Awards and to see full case studies of 2024 winners click below.

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