Helm is running a series of interviews with our staff and today we’re shining a spotlight on Michelle Dowles.

Tell us about yourself Michelle.

After leaving school at 16 with 3 Grades, I wanted to train to be a chef and worked in the Tower Café at Dundee University and went to college one day a week. I moved onto the Longforgan Hotel for a year to complete my training.  I left Dundee for the bright lights of London when I was 18 and worked at British Telecom as a Chef.  Life wasn’t glamorous enough as chef so I moved into the advertising world doing reception work.  This led me onto forming a career in Global Custodian Banking working for Indian, Japanese and American Banks and becoming a successful Account Manager.  I decided to move back to Dundee at the age of 30 and set up my own beauty business Tinkerbelle’s which I still do to this day.  I had my son when I was 33 and went back to university to complete a Business Administration degree.

I am currently teaching beauty to young students at the Helm which I love.  I am a great believer in its never too late to learn new skills.  What is for you won’t go past you and if you are willing to learn and try new things the world could become your oyster.

Can you tell us what you job is at Helm?

I’ve worked on both the pathways and the employability side of Helm.  I started as a beauty instructor and now work training the young people in the salon to provide beauty treatments.

What would a normal day at work look like for you?

It often stars with breakfast club where we provide breakfast for young people meaning they start their day with full tummies and can focus better throughout the day.  Breakfast club also gives me a chance to chat to the young people about how their feeling and see if anyone needs additional support during the day.

When young people start in the beauty salon, the first activity we do with them is help them design a mood board.  This is chance for me to learn more about them, what they like to do, their favourite food and animals, their background and their interests.  It’s a great ice-breaker and we always chat as we design the mood boards.

While young people are attending the salon, they do a variety of practical and theory tasks.  Theory tasks might include learning about different skin types or learning what nails are made of.

We do different activities each day.  For example, one day we might be in the kitchen weighing the ingredients they need for healthy meals, which is a great way to teach them core skills like numeracy.

We often do practical skills in the afternoon like giving the young people the chance to practice applying lashes to each other.  It’s a great way for them to get a treat as well as practice their skills.

Sometimes we’ll take trips out of the building. For example, we visit different beauty counters and learn about the different products and trial samples. I found that taking the young people for a walk is a good way to help clear their heads and they’re often happy to open up and chat while we’re out and about.

Alongside teaching them about cosmetology, we help give them practical life skills too.  Sometimes we’ll do practice interviews with young people, helping them understand what a good and bad interview looks like.

We also do some arts and crafts with you the young people, helping them to be creative and practice different skills.

Basically every day is different – there is no normal day at Helm!

What is the best part of your job?

It’s knowing that I’m making a difference.

When young people come to Helm, they need support.  I get to watch them grow in confidence and develop over a couple of years and they’re young adults when they leave. 

I’ve found that the young people never forget Helm or me – I sometimes bump into them in the streets of Dundee and they tell me that I helped change their life which is fantastic. I really enjoy being there for the young people and helping them.

I’ve also found that because Helm offers so much support to young people, there’s a huge amount of versatility in my job which I really enjoy as well.

How do you feel young people benefit from attending Helm?

Helm provides them with a safe environment where they can develop and grow.  Many of the young people who attend Helm come from a difficult background and can need additional help and support.  One of the great things about Helm is that we work with smaller groups of young people meaning they get more support than they would in a school classroom. At Helm we’re able to provide more 1-1 support which benefits young people.

I think that Helm works to help young people recognise their own skills and helps them explore different opportunities based on their skills.  For example a young person who attended Helm a few years ago was a fantastic artist and they’ve gone on to become a tattoo artist! Helm really does give young people freedom to express themselves while learning.

We have some great facilities like the gym and the kitchen which young people can use to build their life skills and confidence.

I think Helm gives young people choice and variety.  We also work hard to make their experience at Helm engaging and supportive.

What opportunities do you give young people when they work with you?

We give them placements so they can get a taste of working life.  We often let them try different things and different jobs – we give them choice to they can work out what they might want to do in the future.

We help them develop their skills and confidence.  Staff at Helm really do care about the young people.  If anyone coming to Helm feels overwhelmed or is finding things difficult, we rally round and offer them extra support to help them.

We also build on young people’s skills to help them get ready for the world of work.

Sometimes young people visit care homes to provide residents treatments – can you tell us this side of your work?

We take the young people to different places each Wednesday – usually it’s care homes and we’re working with over 25 in Dundee but sometimes we visit different places.  Recently we helped deliver a ‘pamper day’ for carers from Dundee.

First young people get in-house training so we know that they’re ready to give treatments to people.

We then give them the opportunity to visit different places to provide treatments.  These are usually either a manicure or a hand massage.

It’s great to watch the young people interact with care home residents – they have the chance to chat to them as well as practice their skills. One young person even ended up having a career in caring because they enjoyed the experience and the interaction so much!

This week Helm is supporting the “Young people are great” campaign – can you tell us about a young person that you remember from the past couple of years who really was great? 

There’s one young person in particular that I remember.  She had a difficult background and challenges in her family but she always showed up on time and tried her hardest.

She really shone within beauty and was a natural.  She got a job when she left Helm and then went on to own her own beauty salon a few years later.  It was fantastic to watch her develop and I’m so proud of the success she made of herself.

Thank you Michelle for talking to us today – it’s great to hear about the work you do and the young people at Helm.