Grainne McCoy interview

05 April 2017 | Focus | Thomas Peacock

From an apprentice to The Apprentice

The owner of a makeup studio, Grainne McCoy worked for several years in film and TV before finding fame on last year’s series of The Apprentice, ultimately making it to the semi-finals and the dreaded interviews stage.

Unlike many of her friends, Grainne never went to university, after becoming a mother at the age of 16. Instead, she worked as an apprentice at a beautician’s, citing her determination and passion to succeed as what has motivated her throughout her career.

Now, having faced Lord Sugar himself, Grainne wanted to give back to the apprentices of today by hosting a glitzy awards show with TV presenter Laura Hamilton earlier in March. The Qube Learning Awards, held at London’s The Waldorf Hilton Hotel, recognised the achievements and dedication of trainees from around the UK.

What Next? Magazine’s Jack Sadler sat down with Grainne to talk about why encouraging young apprentices means so much to her.

What inspired you to get involved with this ceremony?

It’s something that is very close to my heart. Being an apprentice from a young age myself, I know how difficult it is to try and get recognised, because we do put our heart and soul into everything we put our minds to.

I started looking for work when I was 11. I was there trying to find jobs with any company that would take me on, so it’s an absolute pleasure to be part of this event, to try and inspire young people, even through difficult times, to never give up.

I had so many ups and downs – I became a mother when I was 16 – and I had challenges through my life, but I never stopped. I’d like to put this across to young apprentices and trainees: at this stage in your life, there’s so much more to come.

Why are apprenticeships a great thing for people to get involved with?

It gives them a stepping stone into their chosen industry, and it allows them to build confidence, because a lot of people feel unsure when they come out of school.

These apprenticeship schemes give young people an opportunity to go into a field they want to. And with the funding and new levy that’s just been introduced, it’s helping more apprentices achieve what they want.

A lot of young people doubt themselves, thinking they might not have the right education – I mean, I only had three or four GCSEs! I started out as an apprentice for a beautician, and back then it wasn’t very motivating, but with these apprenticeships and the funding they’re given now, it’s all about giving young people the confidence to further their career.

Why do you feel it’s important to recognise the achievements of apprentices?

I feel it’s massively important, as some companies can take apprentices for granted, especially when these people put everything into these schemes. They need to be recognised for the hard work they’re doing every day.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming an apprentice?

What I would say to everyone is don’t ever doubt yourself. You don’t have to have a degree behind you to succeed; there are so many successful entrepreneurs in the world who started out as an apprentice, started learning business skills and never gave up.

I don’t think we could talk about apprentices and not mention The Apprentice! How was your time on the show? I absolutely loved every minute of it.

When I was going through the interview process to get on the show, I almost walked out, thinking there was no way I would be able to do this. There were all these lovely people in expensive suits, and I was just this country girl from Armagh. But I proved myself wrong and I stuck to my guns.

I worked so hard during the whole process. The tasks were all very hands-on, giving me the opportunity to show my ability to not stress under pressure. The majority of it was common sense.

Did you pick up any useful business tips on the show that you use in your career now?

I never thought I’d be able to brand something and produce it. At the minute, I’m creating an event throughout the UK, like an academy on the road, where I go to different locations and do makeup lessons. I never thought I would have the confidence to do that on a big scale, but now I have people working for me in Ireland and I’m building my business here.

I mean, I never thought I’d be able to host an event. My biggest fear was public speaking when I was on the show. But now, I regularly speak in front of crowds of people.

I’m doing events in schools, too, where the main core is makeup. But around that, I’m teaching these young people self-confidence and the ability to stand up in front of a room of people and talk, which is something many people struggle with.

What do you credit as the reason behind your success?

People always said I was the girl with the rose-coloured glasses, because I saw more than just doing makeup. My dream is to have a brand in Selfridges.

I’ve had ups and downs – I’ve made myself physically ill from working too hard and travelling – but I never gave up and I always believed something massive was going to happen.

That was when I got on The Apprentice, which has given me a platform to put myself out there even further.

So the main thing for young people to take away is to never stop believing in your goals.

Massively. We’re all our own worst critics – sometimes I look at my work and think, ‘oh, that needs fixing’. But if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never going to walk out the door and achieve what you want.

I keep coming back to The Apprentice, but 85,000 people applied and I never thought in my wildest dreams I would make it, but I did and I got to the final five. I kept saying to myself: “I can do this, I can do this.” A hairdresser did it the year before, so why can’t I?

It just goes to show, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, as long as you have a dream and a drive to succeed. I want to make my mark on the makeup industry; I’ve been doing it for 10 years now but I’m getting there.

Where can people go to get more information on apprenticeships?

The Qube Learning website is a great resource with lots on it for young people, with an amazing team behind it.

I give a lot of advice to students; anybody I mentor in schools is always in contact with me and I try to help people as much as I can. In this industry, you achieve more when you work together.

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