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Essentials tips for aspiring project managers

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Thinking about a career change or the next steps after school can be scary. Apprenticeships are a great way to get into project management if you’re not sure about where or how to start. We asked project professionals, apprentices and apprentice employers what essential advice they would give to someone starting out in project management or looking to apply for apprenticeships.  

  1. Commit to the programme. Kate Kelly, learning and development manager at Public Health England (PHE), works with apprentices and always looks for ‘someone who is committed to the whole programme not just the qualification elements, and someone who has a keen interest in what we do in PHE, our mission and our goals. We don’t want someone who just sees it as a job, but look for someone who wants to make a difference and build a career in the Civil Service.’ 
  2. Do your research. “Pick a company that suits you, look at the benefits the company offers, the culture, how many apprentices they take on and the off the job training they offer. Review the location and contact the companies in advance to see if they offer apprenticeships as more companies than people think actually offer apprenticeships. Visit open days so you get a feel for where you could potentially be working for the rest of your lives.” Rifaaqat Ahmed works closely with apprentices and was one himself; he is now project management skills coach at BAE Systems. 
  3. Make sure you’re prepared. “You need to ensure that you’re researching the business and their values, to understand the companies culture when heading into the interview. You need to have a clear interpretation of why you want to pursue the apprenticeship and a vision of where you’d like to be in the future – being confident when answering these questions can be key into the success of your interview. Also, practising interview style questions with your friends and family can really help you prepare.” Luca Lowe, project management coordinator at Direct Line Group completed his apprenticeship in October 2019; you can read his story from sixth form to apprenticeship here
  4. Stand out from the crowd. Project management can be competitive, and ‘apprenticeships are increasingly popular today, so prove you're right for the position from your CV to the interview.” Katie D’Cruz, junior project manager, ITV. “Show passion and a desire to learn and work hard, and you're bound to impress.” Find ways to stand out from the competition, Sebastian Harris advises ‘you must do what others at your level are not prepared to do. This means work harder, this means provide more value.’ Sebastian carved out his career in project management, and recently took on a new role as is associate director of operations at NCC Group where the leading project management function reports to him. 
  5. Network to enhance your career. “There is a perception that apprenticeships are exclusive to school leavers, but they have immense value to anyone entering a new profession… It is also a 'foot in the door' and an opportunity to build your network very early on. Research from The Adler Group has confirmed that 85 per cent of vacancies are filled via networks.” Megan Glynne, project manager, Straighttalking. 
  6. Listen and engage. “Paying attention to your team, the client and colleagues is a great way to soak everything up, learn what to do and what not to do. Listening gives you material to foster successful relationships. The more information you have, the more you can confidently engage, the more success you’ll have.” David Calver, award winning project manager, North Highland. 
  7. Reap the rewards. An apprenticeship offers work and study at the same time. “The support elements of an apprenticeship far exceed other more traditional routes to learning and development or academic studies…you’ll gain those valuable ‘work ready’ skills which you won’t get anywhere else.” Kate Kelly, Learning and Development Manager, Public Health England.

Dominic Turner, apprentice project manager qualification delivery at Pearson graduated from university and began an apprenticeship. He found immense benefit in blended study and work that the apprenticeship offered: “Having graduated from university, I had a great deal of knowledge but lacked in relevant work experience which made starting a career incredibly difficult. Showing a desire to learn new skills whilst studying for a professional qualification can greatly accelerate the start of a new career, and allow you to build the foundations of your professional network within your chosen industry.”

Apprenticeships are a useful, beneficial and unique way to understand project management in various sectors. You can find out more about project management apprenticeships here.

If you have a question or query about project management you’d like project professionals to answer, visit the APM Hub.

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