Ellie Macdonald talks about her experiences as City-REDI's first apprentice and how it has benefited her career going back into education.
I started at City-REDI in January of 2022 and it was one of the best decisions I made going back into education after I graduated in 2021. I learnt new skills in classroom sessions and then was able to put these into my day-t0-day working routine. I also learnt skills on the job that enabled me to write excellent assignments to reflect my ongoing learning and progression.
What is it really like being an apprentice?
Being an apprentice can be tricky at times, juggling work that needs doing from a business perspective, as you are still employed, and the work that needs doing for your qualification as this also needs to be completed can be a struggle. But having the right support from your manager and team in place can really relieve that pressure and allow you to thrive in all areas of the workplace.
I was lucky enough to have the full 20% of my work hours dedicated to my apprenticeship work, which worked out as a day a week. This helped my time management hugely and I did not have to worry about getting the apprenticeship work done on time and if I was worried, between myself and my manager, we worked it out. This also allowed me time to work on other things to help my career progression like volunteering to help run the apprenticeship team’s social media, doing courses to advance my knowledge and helping with events.
What do you have to do within the course?
I did a level 3 digital marketing qualification, so I had a variety of assignments throughout the year, two exams which were completed online, 3-week long classroom sessions completed via Zoom, a week-long independent project and an end-point assessment, which is like an interview/informal discussion about the portfolio of assignments you have done and allows you to go into more detail and showcase anything that isn’t included in the presentation.
Of these, I had support from my manager and tutor from my training provider.
How do apprentices add to the workplace?
Apprentices allow you to upskill your business and give opportunities to people to progress in a career they might not be able to get into without experience or a degree.
Apprenticeships give an industry-recognised qualification allowing the apprentice to add value to the workplace with their qualification, skills and experience. There are also other benefits like improving staff retention, it is government funded, the training is tailored to your company and inevitably boosts productivity.
Even though all these good things benefit the business, having an apprentice also requires a level of commitment from the business such as providing on-the-job training and allowing your apprentice time away from their day-to-day duties to complete their formal qualifications during working hours.
Apprentices often bring a fresh approach and a positive attitude into the workplace, which can have a knock-on effect on existing staff. By embarking on an apprenticeship, they are showing themselves to be willing to learn and can bring new energy and innovative ideas into the company.
National Apprenticeship Service data has shown that 81% of consumers favour using a company that takes on apprentices. You can even calculate the return on investment of an apprenticeship on your business on the organisation’s website.
The perception of an apprentice is that you have just come out of school and you are trying to find a job in the sector you want to work in and you don’t want to go to University. But the apprentice world has opened up in the last 10 years and now you can get your degree whilst learning on the job and getting paid.
You do not have to be straight out of school or college, you can be mid-40s and want to change career paths. Apprenticeships are accessible to all.
Having graduated in 2021, it was so hard for me to find my place in the industry and gain a graduate job. FE news says that half of 2022 graduate was worried that their lack of confidence will hold them back when trying to secure a graduate job. This is exactly how I felt. No one would give me a job because of my lack of experience, causing me to then have a lack of confidence in myself and penultimately causing me not to get the jobs I wanted. A degree alone is not good enough anymore. We were never taught how to navigate the industry within education.
The demands of the market and industries are changing and this needs to be reflected. Apprenticeships get you the foot in the door you need in a difficult labour market and allow you to make mistakes and learn from them without it being the end of the world. It has allowed me to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills with support from my manager and colleagues.
In the last year, I have stepped out of my comfort zone more times than I can count and have learnt so much from it. Don’t get me wrong, I have made my fair share of mistakes, but apprenticeships allow you to make mistakes and sit with your employer and learn how you can do better next time.
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI / WMREDI or the University of Birmingham.