During the early months of last year, I realised I was feeling reasonably lost; I was twenty, working two part-time jobs and most of my friends were away at university.
I scoured job websites for full-time work, disappointed with the lack of variation and career opportunity – already adamant that an apprenticeship wouldn’t be for me. Since my school years, the word ‘apprentice’ carried with it many negative connotations, such as being only for the less academic; not suited to the modern knowledge economy and paying a painfully low wage with few or no prospects upon completion. It was word-of-mouth from an apprentice at risual that made me reconsider my perceptions.
Long story short, I began my apprenticeship with risual and almost eighteen months later, I am a full-time Bid Coordinator within risual’s Bid Management Team (to me, challenging the notion that work-based routes are second best).
During my one-year Level 3 Customer Service Diploma, I learned that the apprenticeship landscape was shifting, with risual growing their apprenticeship scheme and Education Division not for cheap labour or tea-makers, but to combat the digital skills shortage impacting the whole industry. Not only did I gain live experience in a business environment while working towards a qualification, but I began to adopt a learn-it-all attitude and sought to be a sponge for knowledge from the offset – whether that was through gaining MOS qualifications or shadowing Sales Directors onsite at customer meetings.
Originally, I progressed through Sales Operations to Internal Account Management. Soon after, I had a smooth transition to the Bid Management team as a Bid Coordinator, becoming way more involved in the write-up of documentation for large-scale bids submissions – some as large as a dissertation! The fact that I am trusted to be involved in such large engagements has demonstrated to me that I am of no less value to the industry without a degree and evidently, apprenticeships are no longer only for the ‘less academic’.
My day-to-day in the Sales Operations function consisted mostly of sales administration, which allowed me to build a solid foundation around the functionality of a Professional Services business in the Commercial sector – something I had absolutely no experience in or knowledge of beforehand. As I gained more confidence I was encouraged to undertake a wider range of tasks to help me not only understand, but support the sales team and recognise risual’s culture and approach to engaging with customers. My diploma ran over the course of the year and I found that the theoretical modules of study in the course helped to underpin my application of the practical skills I learned. Now, I am in a position where, even though I am junior, I can see my continual development and added value to the business, thus challenging the opinion that apprenticeships aren’t suited to the modern knowledge economy.
I felt a sense of security as I reached the culmination of my one-year contract (even with my annual review imminent) as I was aware of risual’s passion for their ‘promote from within’ initiative, along with my efforts and dedication thus far. From my initial employment, I was ensured there would be a role with my name on it and if I felt that was ill-suited to me, my senior colleagues would support me in trialling different roles/apprenticeship courses, either technical or operations based. This, along with risual’s generous apprenticeship wage helped to combat my initial perception of limited career opportunities through apprenticeships.
When considering an apprenticeship as your first career step, my advice would be:
Evaluate how much the company you’re considering values career opportunities for younger generations, in this case through an apprenticeship, evidenced by the number of their employees coming through an apprenticeship route – what progression opportunities are available?
Once you know your employer is serious about upskilling, I would confidently question the stigma around apprenticeships… what stigma?