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Georgia Wilde – From A levels to project manager

“You’ve delivered this really great thing that’s benefiting the business”

Completing A levels was tough for Georgia Wilde. Once she got her results, she started questioning her next steps. “I started to think to myself: do I really want to keep doing this?”

Georgia felt that she couldn’t go on to university and study for another three years. Instead, she decided to look into apprenticeships. She found out about the project management apprenticeship scheme at Direct Line, and liked the sound of the job, and the fact that it was a higher apprenticeship. She knew very little about project management, but she thought that the work sounded interesting. “That’s what prompted me to go for it. I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it’s all worked out really well.”

When Georgia first started her placement, the office environment felt completely alien. Having come into an office environment straight from school, she needed to learn how best to compose emails and how to set up meetings, among other office basics. Thankfully, her new colleagues were on hand to help her out. “They’ve got a lot of experience and they’re very supportive. When you’re an apprentice, everyone wants to see you succeed and do your best.”

Learning the ropes

In the first six months, Georgia was placed in the project management office (PMO), to help her get a better understanding of what a project is and how they are set up. She learned about governance and assurance, risks and issues, and project administration – she was often called upon to take minutes in meetings, for example. She then worked with Direct Line’s business analysts.

“That was about working through the requirements of the project, speaking to the business, getting to know process maps and stuff like that,” she says. “It was great, because when I did move onto managing my own project, I realised that I needed a business analyst, but only because I really understood what their roles and responsibilities were.”

Her first project was for Direct Line’s rescue and breakdown teams. As part of an ongoing change in operations, she was responsible for delivering a new complaints process for the service. She spent a lot of time working with various stakeholders to build a picture of what the process should look like, ensuring that it aligned with the new operating model.

“It was really interesting. I worked with people from the customer relations team, as well as the rescue team. The key learning for me was to understand that as a project manager, I’m not expected to know everything. When I went in on that first project, I was worried because I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. But it helped me to think about the right questions to ask so I could learn new things and get all the information that I need.”

It might have been a short project, but it was a big leap forward for Georgia. Her line manager, a senior project manager, gave her support throughout the project. It set her up to take more responsibility going forward. “I captured my own lessons learned afterwards,” she explains. “More like personal lessons, rather than a project one. Then you automatically apply those experiences without thinking about them. It’s a bit like when you’re little and you touch a hot pan – you’re not going to do it again.”

Winning over stakeholders

Overall, Georgia enjoyed the experience of learning as she worked, building her knowledge on the job as well as through her course. Balancing everything out was not too much of an issue for her, though she had to work hard to win over stakeholders.

“What I do is make sure that whoever it is I’m working with and the stakeholders feel comfortable that I’m going to be delivering a part of a project for them, even though I am doing an apprenticeship.”

It’s about building great relationships within the business, says Georgia – looking beyond your core team and connecting with people across different departments, including senior managers. “If you have their backing, it becomes easier. It might also help you develop your confidence.”

When you take on a project for the first time, you constantly worry that you’re not doing the right things, she says. It was a big concern for Georgia, but her line manager helped to coach her to be more comfortable about what she knew and what she didn’t.

“As project manager, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do things. My line manager really helped me to understand that. Direct Line is also a massive company with different teams and processes throughout, so it’s about knowing what questions to ask.”

Now she’s progressed through her apprenticeship, Georgia loves the work she does as a qualified project manager. Particularly, the fact that she gets to work with so many different people across the company, and the fact that she is delivering genuine change. “You feel like you’ve really got somewhere when you’ve started from nothing, basically. You’ve delivered this really great thing that hopefully people really like and it’s benefiting the business. It’s very satisfying.”

APM Ambassador

Georgia is also an APM Ambassador, after being invited to volunteer by her training provider, Babington. She often visits schools to talk about apprenticeships, her journey to becoming a project manager, and that there are alternatives to university once you leave school.

“It’s quite important to me, because I don’t want young people to feel how I felt – I thought I wouldn’t be successful if I didn’t go to university, and it’s turned out to be the complete opposite of that.”

As part of her duties as an APM Ambassador, she has also been teaching project skills to students – for example, she did several workshops with a group of students to help them to plan and organise their own school trip. It was a great way to promote project management while also helping the students learn some new skills. “It was really nice to do something a bit different but also using the same skills I use at work.”

She hopes that, through this work, she’ll be able to convince a few more students of the benefits of taking an apprenticeship. ”I didn’t have any awareness of apprenticeships – but I think if someone had come into my school and spoke to us about it, I would have considered it earlier. It’s really good to be able to that. I think it’s important.”

For more information about becoming an APM Ambassador email caspar.bartington@apm.org.uk.

Brought to you by Project journal.

Further reading

Three golden rules for managing your first project

Project:You Student Guide

How to get into project management without a degree

Starting out in project management

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