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In challenging times, there are still positives for project apprentices

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This year’s National Apprenticeship Week has a special significance. Apprentices are building the foundations of their careers in what – for many – will be an uncertain environment. My apprenticeship experience taught me the value of colleague support and a positive mindset. Now, if it’s possible, the coronavirus pandemic has made these qualities even more important.

Before joining Rolls-Royce, I completed GCSEs and A-Levels. Recognising my learning style was more applied ‘on-the-job’ than ‘from-a-book’, I decided that I’d be more suited to an apprenticeship than purely attending university.

The Rolls-Royce apprenticeship scheme consisted of a good mix of theoretical learning, blended with the opportunity to apply academic theory in a complex environment. I was able to work across a range of areas and environments including civil aerospace, IT and nuclear submarines. I have since completed my first substantive role at Rolls-Royce and this has further emphasised the importance of the apprenticeship experience – being able to hit the ground running to make a real, positive difference in a great company surrounded and supported by great, talented people.

Whilst on the scheme I made the most of all internal and external development opportunities and was continually recognised as a high performer. As a result, I won the RateMyApprenticeship National Apprentice of the Year (L4/5) award in 2018 and was named Apprentice of the Year by APM in 2020. During the scheme, I arranged the opportunity to shadow Rolls-Royce CEO, Warren East for a day – an invaluable experience which has given me huge motivation and insight, which I’m certain will have a positive influence through my career for years to come.

Why an apprenticeship?

It’s important to choose an education path and career path that suits you and your learning style, whilst considering how your passions can be incorporated to ensure your longer-term engagement and interest. Based on my experience and perspective, here are some of the benefits of completing an apprenticeship:

  • Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to work towards a qualification that is relevant, completing training in the skills that employers want and obtaining accreditations with the company or industry’s preferred bodies.
  • Gaining experience in the industry, with the opportunity to further apply academic learning, will help to set you apart from others who only have academic achievements.
  • The experience you gain in a working environment will greatly help your confidence, which is key to effective working, especially in complex and challenging project environments.
  • Earning whilst learning – no student loans, no tuition fees and, on apprenticeship schemes, you’re paid a salary which can rapidly increase once you’ve achieved key elements of the scheme (such as qualifications, training, etc).
  • As well as gaining experience on-the-job, apprenticeships also offer broader opportunities to develop, such as; community investment; business development projects; career mentoring and more.
  • Whilst working in a company, you’re able to build a vast network of people to support your career and your development. Being able to work with people in your network on a day-to-day basis is crucial for building trust, working, and mentoring or coaching relationships.

Advice for current apprentices

We’re all experiencing greater challenges in the current environment, but it’s as important as ever to ensure we continue making the most of opportunities to develop, deliver and to be the best we can be – in work and outside of work. Based on experience, my advice to apprentices would be:

  1. Set yourself daily targets, weekly targets, monthly targets and yearly targets – for both work and development. It can be hard to stay focused during difficult times with so many distractions but setting challenging and realistic targets will help you to continue progress. (Don’t lose motivation if you miss a target, be positive about everything else you’ve achieved to that point.)
  2. Build support networks around you made up of other apprentices, people around you at work, mentors and coaches, and people outside of work. Whilst it’s important not to dilute advice, being able to get support and opinions from different perspectives helps to form a balanced judgement.
  3. Rather than focusing on what can’t be done because of the current global situation, re-focus and consider what improvements can be made by exploiting aspects of the new ‘normal’ – can meetings be made more effective using virtual technology? How can you modify your approach to learning to apply it in a virtual working environment?
  4. Use the existing support and advice available. APM provides tools and information written by experts with a wealth of experience in careers, industry and the project management profession, to support you through your career

Being a student member with APM – which is free for students and apprentices – opens a range of potential ways to better inform your career and enable your development. With access to the latest information from across the project management profession, you can share best practice within your organisation as well as new ideas with the project management community. Engaging with such a diverse range of people can enable you to build new networks and connections whilst building your credentials to operate within the profession and increasing your confidence to deliver and succeed. This National Apprenticeship Week, I hope project management apprentices will take the opportunity to look into how APM can help them, not only in the midst of a pandemic, but in a post-COVID world too.

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Image: Viktoriia Hnatiuk/


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