Jason Guest

If you hear a military jet aircraft screeching overhead, the chances are it's a Eurofighter.

At the pilot's fingertips is a maze of electronic wizardry so advanced the aircraft almost flies itself. Having worked on the aircraft's electronics as a test engineer, Jason Guest can tell you a thing or two about cutting-edge technology.

How Jason became so successful in his life, after leaving school with no qualifications, is typical of people who go through this college.

One day, aged just 14, he went home from school never to return. He'd had enough – in fact, he says school had had enough of him too.

He started working in a car repair garage and was in the motor trade until the age of 28.

"I could sit there and read words but I couldn't understand was I was reading – and my writing was all over the place," he said. "I couldn't do any maths at all."

"I never used to talk to people because I had no vocabulary. One day, when I was at the garage there was a bloke who was there doing some building work they needed doing.

"He picked up a magazine and did the crossword. I told him I thought he must be very clever to do that. But he said it was just general knowledge. Easy stuff really.

"I started looking up the words he had filled in on the crossword in a dictionary. Then I started going through the dictionary to learn their meaning. I'd try to do ten words a day.

"Then I would go back to him and ask how to put the words into a sentence. I went to the library and got a book out about mountains and tried to learn the names of the mountains – but didn't realise the names were in Nepalese. I thought I was learning English!

"I realised I wanted to learn but I wasn't doing it in the right way – so I realised I should go to college.

"I phoned the college (now Sussex Coast College) and started with part-time basic education classes. As my reading and writing improved, I went to the library again. I knew I had a lot to learn so I thought I would start at the centre of the earth and work my way out. Starting with the core and going on to other subjects like plate tectonics. I kept having to look up words as I went along.

"Then I was made redundant from my job. I thought 'good, now I've got more time to study'. I studied every day. I was part-time at the college but really I was now learning full-time.

"At college, as my English progressed, I found I could write poems, and I was enjoying my maths. My tutor recommended I should do some sort of pre-GCSE course for English and Maths but I said I wanted to go straight in and do the full GCSEs. It took me a year and I got a B in English and a C in Maths.

"My English and vocabulary was much better now but I still needed the confidence to speak to people. It had been so long that I had been avoiding talking to people. The college helped me with counselling and social skills.

"Then I went to a careers advice place and they recommended engineering."

So, deciding he was going to be an engineer, Jason started with a City & Guilds course at college where he progressed to do a two-year HND in general engineering – the first year at Hastings and the second year at Brighton University.

After successfully completing this, he went on to Sussex University to complete a full degree in Mechatronics in 2001. He went on to work in the aircraft industry in a company supplying sophisticated aviation electronics.

"I'll admit I was very proud to have achieved what I did. I still have all my certificates," he said. "My only regret is that I didn't realise when I left school with no qualifications that, actually, I could have started on this path at 16 by going straight to college.

"Whatever your exam results, or even if you don't have any, my advice is to decide what you want to do and what you are really interested in. If you're interested, you're motivated. Then go to college and just do it."

Jason is married with three children and lives in St Leonards.

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