#StudentSuccessStories No.2 comes from Juliet Smith, a IoSCM Level 5 student with DLC.

“My decision to enrol on a distance learning course came out of my work situation.  Whilst I went to university after A Levels and gained a BA in history, I was typical of many students in that I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a career in the long term.  I guess at 21 you think you can drift along in life and “see what happens”, then find yourself one day when you land your dream job (Roger Federer’s Personal Assistant in my case!)

The need for a reality check comes around eventually, however! Personal circumstances post-university meant that I needed to find a full-time job and fast.  After some temping work I was fortunate to get a job with Amcor, who are the global leader in packaging solutions for a range of industries, including food and beverages, healthcare, home and personal care, and tobacco.  The company has over 180 sites worldwide across 40 countries, employs over 29,000 people and makes annual sales of US $10 billion. 

I initially started working in Customer Services in the food and beverage business unit and worked closely with producers and packagers in fresh foods industries such as bread, produce and dairy, processed foods such as confectionery and snack foods, beverages (tea and coffee), frozen foods and ready meals, as well as manufacturers of personal and cleaning wet wipes products.  I later went for promotion to become a Production Planner, where I continue to work to this day.  This involves the formulation of daily and weekly production schedules with a view to optimising production efficiency and maximising customer service levels.

Although the skills I acquired during the course of my university studies held me in good stead to progress in career terms, the whole world of business and manufacturing was entirely alien to me.  I may have studied the Industrial Revolution as part of my degree but had virtually no idea about the realities of supply chain and manufacturing in the 21st century.  As a result, I very much had to learn and acquire the skills required for my daily job from the ground up.  For this reason, I think I always felt a little intimidated in my position and suffered from a lack of confidence.  Although I was good at hiding it I recognised that I lacked the experience and long-acquired knowledge of some of my co-workers.  For example, whilst I have always been a strong communicator and keen debater I often felt extremely frustrated and debilitated during workplace conversations.  Because I lacked the rhetoric and language specific to the industry in which I worked, I was on occasion unable to express a strong case or forward my point of view in an effective manner.  Although I loved my work and pursued my job enthusiastically, I nevertheless felt that I lacked credibility and kudos.  I felt strongly that I needed to embark upon a business-related course that would give me the theoretical background to my area of work and give me the conviction to hold my own during my day-to-day working life.

The company were extremely supportive of my desire to pursue further studies and with their support I embarked upon the IoSCM Level 5 Diploma in Managing the Supply Chain.

Having completed the course and come through the other side I can give you good news!  There is a great deal of merit in completing a distance learning course and much to be gained.  Distance learning offered me great flexibility around a busy work life and family commitments and meant that I did not need to dramatically change my current lifestyle. 

Distance learning provides educational and training opportunities to those who are not able to pursue on-site study or a full-time course.  This is extremely beneficial for working professionals who cannot afford to leave full-time jobs or who, due to family obligations, cannot attend regular, on-site study. 

As a DLC student you can complete coursework in your own time via a computer and submit work for assessment via the online learning portal.  You can do this anywhere and at your own pace, which gives you a lot of flexibility.  As you do not have to be physically present in a conventional classroom you have the freedom to set your own timetable and complete work at your convenience.   In addition, the internet provides a world of resources that can help in the pursuit of your studies.  There are many opportunities to watch online lectures, participate in student forums and access other learning materials, including libraries and journals. 

As distance learning is primarily self-directed you have to be focused, independent, organised and highly motivated.  You also need strong comprehension, analytical, written and communication abilities.  This is an extremely positive and valuable skillset for you to develop and take forward into your working life.  You can acquire essential knowledge for application in your current position, build your confidence and enhance your employability.  Your studies can also help you to achieve your career goals or that much sought after promotion.  The qualification you will go on to achieve will be an asset on your CV and demonstrate your commitment to fulfilling your potential.  I also find that learning new things is extremely enjoyable and the mental stimulation provided by my studies was often a welcome contrast to the routine and repetition of “the day job”.  Acquiring new knowledge gave me greater insight into my role and the wider business, which in turn improved my confidence and job satisfaction.

On the other side of the coin, however, I can well imagine that distance learning would not suit everyone.  As with everything there are pros and cons.  Prospective students need to be clear about what is involved and ensure that the decision to enrol makes sense for their personal circumstances.  Face-to-face contact when studying via distance learning is, of course,  minimal and at times it can be a lonely experience. Although the online learning platform allows students to interact online with peers via discussion forums, it is possible to miss the face-to-face communication and personal contact that comes with studying at a college or campus.  Whenever I did feel isolated I found it helpful to call the DLC and talk to a tutor about my studies.  Debating study topics with colleagues and talking to family members or friends about how I was fairing also helped.

As a distance learning student I also found that I needed to be extra-focused and committed to my studies.  I don’t mind admitting that I often fell behind and I struggled constantly with time constraints and the temptation to procrastinate. It is all too easy to become distracted by the demands of daily life when studying from home.  I found that I had to be disciplined in order to keep the studying momentum going.  It was also difficult to complete assignments when there were no set deadlines.  Without the presence of a physical tutor saying “your next assignment must be submitted by XYZ date” things could become something of a movable feast.  You very much have to be your own master and this requires a lot of self-discipline.   The ability to work independently with little supervision is essential. 


Having completed my qualification and come through the other side I can share with you my top-tips for better study…

Make sure you are technology-savvy: To embark upon an online course you need to be comfortable working with computers and the internet.  As I mentioned before the internet is a very valuable resource if used in the right way and provides a host of resources to assist you in your learning.  A USB memory stock to save your assignments and ensure you always have a back-up should your computer go kaput is a vital purchase!

Make a plan: Good time management is a necessity! Look at your life schedule and work out when during the week you can realistically study.  Then look at what topics you need to cover and what assignments or exams you need to complete and devise a timetable.  This is just the start – sticking to it may be another matter!!  So, if you do fall behind or your schedule changes, step back and reassess your timetable and re-plan again to get back on track.

Decide on a suitable study space: Decide where the best place is for you to study.  In front of the television may not be the more productive workspace!  I personally went to my local library each Saturday and tried to stick at it all day.  I found it really hard to study at home where there is always something that needs to be done – the latest pile of ironing, the overgrown lawn and jungle-like garden in desperate need of the shears, the floor that needs mopping thanks to the cat coming in with wet, muddy paws etc. There were also always too many distractions at home – that big, comfy sofa, the temptation to curl up on it and watch Tom Hardy in the latest episode of Taboo or catch-up with the exploits of Ross Poldark, not to mention the allure of the checking social media or catching up with your friends.  My advice therefore is to designate a “study-only” space.  Put your phone on silent, close down your emails and make a firm resolve to study X, Y and Z topics during the time you have apportioned.

Use your time and be realistic about what you can achieve: You will not be able to get through whole modules in a single study session so ensure you break each topic down into manageable chunks. Make yourself a “to-do” list and work through it at an achievable pace.  Also remember to review work regularly to check your understanding – you won’t necessarily take everything in first time around.  

Look after yourself and be aware of your health (mental as well as physical): Give yourself regular breaks and learn to switch off.  Make time for personal / family activities and life’s little pleasures and don’t feel guilty when you do.  The key is to strike a balance between your studies, work and vital “me-time”.  Taking some time away from your studies will help you to re-boost your batteries and ensure you are in the best place mentally to hit the books again refreshed and focused. 

Treat yourself: Bribery can be an effective self-motivational tool!  I personally would promise myself a whipped-cream topped hot chocolate and piece of cake in my favourite café on a Saturday providing I achieved my study goals that day in the library.  Reward yourself when you reach milestones during your course to keep you motivated and help you achieve your goals.

If you need help – Ask for it!!! Don’t struggle on and fret in silence.  You can always call the DLC and talk to a Tutor if you need help with your studies.  Equally, if you are completing your studies through your workplace ask colleagues or line managers for help.  Lots of your co-workers will have knowledge and experience of some of the topics you are covering.  Talk to them about what you are studying and ask for their insight and opinions.  When I was studying production management, for example, I asked if I could spend some time on the shopfloor and test out whether the theories on paper applied to the manufacturing environment in reality.  This was invaluable experience and really helped me to get to grips with the practical application of what I was studying. 

Accept set-backs: If you are working full time and study accept that sometimes the day job will have to take precedence: Working in a fast-paced, pressure-intensive business there were times that I had to put my studies on the backburner.  This was frustrating but necessary and I can only recommend that if you are faced with a similar situation you discuss it with your Line Manager and the DLC.  If you get badly behind you may be able to get an extension on your course (I did!)  If so, don’t get stressed and despairing – be realistic about what you can achieve and devise a new plan from there.  

Keep focused on your end goal: If you ever feel like you are sinking remind yourself why you are doing your course.  What was it that made you start and where do you want to get to?  Remind yourself what you have already achieved and keep your mind set on the light at the end of the tunnel.

Enjoy your course and good luck!”

We loved hearing about Juliet’s distance learning journey, and we hope it inspires you too. Her tips and advice are a great, realistic indication of how studying with DLC can be, and it’s so very worth it!

Have you got a story or experience to share about your studies? If you’re a past or present student, we’d like to hear from you! Email kimberley.jayne@dlctraining.co.uk with your interest.

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