Paralympian, Amy Marren, discusses how elite sport has shaped her outlook, taking on an apprenticeship in the legal sector, as well as the new ‘Get the Jump’ Skills for Life campaign, designed to help young people understand their education and training choices.

Can you tell us about the ‘Get the Jump’ Skills for Life campaign?
The campaign was set up by the Government with the aim of educating young people on the choices that are available to them at 16 and 18. I wish it was around when I was leaving school! 

Get the Jump is just a great place for young people to start. I think it’s going to be a real trailblazer in opening up so many avenues to young people by realising that there is a whole world out there and that there are lots of different ways to get to where you would like to be. I think this campaign can offer a bit of a reassurance that it’s okay to be at that place where you’re not sure about what you want to do. I didn’t have much of an idea about apprenticeships. I think the beauty of this campaign is that it targets 14 – 19 year-olds and reassures you that you don’t necessarily have to have a starting point. You don’t need to know where you’re going, essentially. I think one of the key messages that I really love about the campaign is the fact that it’s okay not to have your life mapped out but looking forward and creating that pathway for yourself and looking at those next steps, is the best place to start.

Did a lack of those choices make sport a more apparent choice for you?
Yes, that was definitely the case with me. I went to what I would describe as a very traditional sixth form, with very traditional subjects: maths, economics, business, all the sciences, English literature… As we got to the end of sixth form, UCAS season came about and it was very much suggested that university was the only way that you would be successful; university is the path, this is the future! Which in retrospect, I now know isn’t necessarily the case, and there are options such as apprenticeships in place. So, for example, after the Rio Paralympics, I came home and I went straight into a university and I chose a degree that was in sport management with geography. Because, as you said, sport was a given for me. I was good at it and it’s something that I really enjoyed. So, it could have been a very viable career path. 

University wasn’t for me, but thanks to the support of my parents I was very lucky to have landed on my feet with my apprenticeship. My dad was a painting and decorating apprentice at 16, and it was both my mum and dad that supported me in beginning a new journey as an apprentice. 

What are your perceptions of the representation of disabled people in the legal sector?
I don’t think there’s enough representation. But I think there are a lot of industries, typically, that aren’t very accessible to disabled people. However, I do think that the pandemic has almost created this world where, without even trying, employers, businesses and companies, have made the workplace so much more accessible on the basis that you can now work from home. It’s opened up this whole new landscape where people do meetings from home; they don’t have to physically be in office buildings all the time. 

Are you worried that disabled people might become exiled to their homes?
It does bother me slightly. I think there’s always been a concern that employers do have to go the extra mile to make sure that the workplace is not just accessible, but inclusive as well. 

In the legal industry, we are going a bit more digital now. So, we’ve had a few hearings, that for the first time, were over Teams software, which was so bizarre, because it’s one of those industries that you think will never change. It goes back to access needs; if you’re a lawyer who would typically struggle to access very old buildings such as courtrooms, the fact that these hearings can be online, means you can practice your profession properly and effectively.

How have you found your apprenticeship so far?
I love it. It’s been an amazing experience. When I speak with people about apprenticeships, I think people always think there’s going to be a ‘but’. Apprenticeships are a way to enter a profession, as well as having the academic side as well. I have loved every minute of it. I will always say, outside of my swimming career, it has been the best decision I’ve made.

Can we assume that in the legal sector, individuals and organisations are literally going to know the law regarding reasonable adjustments and so on, or have you been your own advocate in pointing out their obligations?
I think it varies from workplace to workplace. I know the legal industry is full of lawyers who are very hot on the fact that they know the law. I would feel comfortable asking, if I needed anything. I do think that HR departments try as hard as they can. The issue with disability is that it is case by case but we do need to have that trust in disabled people that they will speak up when they are not comfortable with something and equally, people should be willing to ask disabled people questions on what their reasonable adjustments would be and take away from that awkwardness that we’ve created around disability. 

What’s your best advice for young people considering their future employment options?
I would say, just be brave and, as the campaign says, ‘Get the Jump’; jump in. For me, I think being brave means pushing yourself to be your very best. And as long as you can say that in whatever opportunity, interview or workplace you’ve been in, as long as you know that you’ve given 100% at that time, and you maybe even took a risk in doing so, you can’t ask any more of yourself.