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IT contractor beats dyslexia to achieve career dream, with NHS and recruiter help

IT contractor James Middlehurst has overcome dyslexia to achieve the IT career he set his sights on in his early twenties. This has come about through a combination of his dogged determination to succeed, and support from the NHS and recruiter max20, who both recognised his potential.

“I wanted to get into IT since leaving school but I was 34 before I won my first IT contract,” explains James. “It took a combination of qualifications, the right kind of supportive environment and a far-sighted recruiter to launch my IT contracting.”

Now a first-line service desk engineer supporting all of the NHS trusts in the Merseyside area, James finds his skills in high demand within the NHS organisations he has contracted in over the last few years. He has also found his dyslexia to be no barrier to winning new contracts.

An early career of manual work and print rooms

Despite a passion for computing that led to him gaining intermediate and advanced GNVQs in IT in the late nineties after leaving school, James could not seem to find an employer who would take a dyslexic seriously.

I wanted to get into IT since leaving school but I was 34 before I won my first IT contract

James Middlehurst

“I could only seem to find manual work on production lines and in packing rooms,” says James. “The closest I came to working for the IT department during those times was spells in the print room operating printers, scanners and labelling equipment.”

Clearly James’ skills could take him much further, as even within the manual work environments that frustrated him so much, he rapidly rose into roles such as line leader, stock control officer and quality controller.

Even with a foundation degree, IT work was hard to find

Ten years after leaving school and two redundancies later, James felt he was in a rut. He still dreamed of working in IT, so decided to aim for more formal qualifications. He successfully completed a foundation degree in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems support and gained a computer maintenance qualification.

For a short while, James thought that the new strategy had worked. He explains: “I managed to secure what was supposed to be a nine-month contract with one the UK’s leading IT outsourcing firms.

“However, the client’s project manager did not understand my dyslexia meant that, although I could perform as well as the next person, sometimes it took me slightly longer to learn new routines, or I needed to learn them in a slightly different way. I was dismissed after six weeks.”

The right recruiter and the right client

Although he admits he was dispirited, James wrote this knock-back down to experience and continued to apply for jobs and upload his CV to job boards. It was from a job board that specialist NHS IT recruiter max20 first found James, and he’s not looked back since.

“I was contacted out of the blue by max20. The consultant explained they had a service desk role available in a Merseyside-based NHS IT provider. The contractor selected would deliver ICT support to the NHS organisations in the region, and I had the right skills and qualifications. After I said I wanted to go for it, Max20 did everything: all I had to do was turn up for the interview.”

The NHS IT hiring manager was totally unconcerned about James’ dyslexia, and understood from the outset that he might take slightly longer to learn the trust’s systems, or might benefit from a slightly different approach to training.

Lessons for contractors, whether or not they have learning disabilities

James believes that his experience demonstrates that a common learning disability such as dyslexia should be no barrier to a successful career as an IT contractor, if the right agency and client are selected.

“My advice to contractors in a similar situation is to find a sector-focused recruiter and become their best candidate in every way.”

He also suggests investing regularly in maintaining and growing skills: “I would not have secured the role that I did without the qualifications I have gained and the skills I had developed. But make sure any training is very focused on winning you future work.”

Published: 05 March 2014

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