How to get into project management without a degree
Very often we feel like university is the next step after school or college – it’s what everyone does. I initially left college and started studying for my law degree; after completing my first year I realised that university was not right for me. Although I enjoyed the challenging aspect of university I knew deep down that the academic route was not suited for my personality.
This feeling grew, and I spent the summer before my second year of university researching what I could do that was suited to me. Now I’m a qualified project manager at Lloyds Banking Group (LBG), something I didn’t think would be possible.
Here’s what I learned:
- Have courage to go against the status quo. Everyone else was going to university; it’s what most people do after school – it’s how you get a job, it’s the right next step. We were never informed much about apprenticeships at school especially ones within a bank. I personally could not be happier my choice of becoming an apprentice instead of going to university, I have a professional qualification in a profession I have gained experience in all whilst earning a competitive salary, it was a no brainer for me.
- Trust your gut. You know you best. When I first started university I tried to make it work for my lifestyle, but the feeling that ‘this isn’t right’ kept growing. I realised working would suit me better, something away from pure academics so I started seeking out full time employment within a company I felt I could progress and develop within. In October 2017, just before I started my second year, I secured full time employment within LBG as a customer service adviser and decided to drop out of university to work full-time. This was a huge decision within my life and at the time it felt scary, looking back now I’m so happy I trusted my gut as it has led me to where I am today.
- Understand you have options. After 12 months as a customer services adviser, I knew I was ready for a new challenge. Management is something that always excited me throughout my life, I am passionate about working with people and creating an environment in which individuals and teams can reach their full potential. I came across the apprenticeship programme at LBG; the ability to work and learn appealed to me so I pursued my options and realised that the project management apprenticeship was perfect for me. At first, it was daunting choosing an apprenticeship. There were so many options and I wanted to be sure I chose one that was suited to my capabilities, I felt I had wasted enough time jumping from post to post. I took my time, thought about my options and made the application.
- Push yourself to continuously improve. I have always lived by the motto of continuously improving, even if you are making small steps as opposed to big strides. Once I had spent 12 months working I felt ready for a new challenge and wanted to push myself. I’m a big believer in remaining out of your comfort zone as I feel this is where you develop the most. The idea of taking a leap into a brand-new industry all whilst studying for the APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ) certainly appealed to me as I knew this would be a challenge in which I would be well out of my comfort zone, and I’d be getting a qualification that’s recognised. Following an extensive selection and assessment process I secured a role on the programme in 2018. I went on to complete the programme this year, eight months early and I achieved a distinction overall.
- Don’t worry. It all falls together eventually and it’s okay not to have a plan for a career. I wasn’t sure of what to do, but now? I’m happier than ever. Since those summer days lost about whether to stay in university or not, I've worked as a project assistant supporting the successful implementation of a high profile project within LBG. I have been involved in a multi-million pound programme which was a complex implementation impacting over 75,000 colleagues with multiple platforms. I completed the scheme in 2019 before moving to my current role.
After school or college, you can start an apprenticeship to become a project manager – you don’t have to go to university to be successful in the workplace. You can also work and figure out what suits you. Take a year out to explore your options. I have found the last 18 months challenging but equally rewarding. Having started the programme with no knowledge of project management I have seen continuous progress as the days have gone by. To be able to say I am now qualified as a project manager is a fantastic feeling but I also know the hard work now begins as I build upon my accreditation with experience.
Have you just finished school or college? What are you planning to do?