Nicola Beeston

My name is Nicola Beeston and I am currently studying a Higher Apprenticeship at Blackpool and The Fylde College.

I would like to inform you why I chose a Higher Apprenticeship or rather why a Higher Apprenticeship chose me!

I am a 40 years old with two children. I studied to HNC Level (4) in Business with Personnel Management when I was younger, but decided, I did not want to continue in Higher Education. At the time the employment market was not as competitive. The “it’s not what you know, but who you know” would help you to gain successful employment.

As time has progressed, I have found myself in a job where I have been given greater responsibility for my own and my colleague’s workloads, supervising teams and thriving when being developed and learning new skills.

I am currently in the position where I am at the top of my scale and if I wanted to progress to the next level within my employment, I would require the skills and qualifications to do this.

I work in a busy office environment where I am a senior member of the team. Many times I have taken on supervisory and management level work but only to cover or to offer assistance. This is not sufficient for any progression to Management level. Employers will no longer just accept experience, they also want the qualification.

The employment market has changed and is now very competitive. More and more young people are applying to University creating a larger market for graduates, making it more competitive when applying for management roles.

I did consider a full or part time degree, but I had to take the following into consideration.

Reducing my hours to attend my course
Reducing my income due to the reduction in my working hours
Potentially taking out approximately £27,000 student loan over 3 years to pay for my tuition fees
Having a debt this large at the age of 40

I whole heartedly support people returning to higher education at any age, I have friends that have done this and they have gone on to be a teacher and a nurse. However, taking my life and work balance into consideration, I did not feel that I could consider this option.

Each year at my review, it was a difficulty to find alternative ways to progress me, difficult but always interesting.

When my employer suggested the Higher Apprenticeship in Management with Leadership, my immediate thought was:

  • I am too old
  • Apprentices are for school leavers working in offices or building sites – old YTS schemes
  • An apprenticeship is for somebody who is not academic and more vocational
  • Will the Higher Apprenticeship be recognised by an employer when wanting to progress?

Once my employer explained how the apprenticeship worked, it ticked all the boxes for my own personal circumstances

I do not need to reduce my hours to attend the course – the majority of the teaching is observation via an assessor who comes to visit me in the workplace
This does not have an impact on my income
It does not have an impact on my employer – I remain in the workplace
I do not need to take out a loan – I do not incur any fees to study the course
I was also given flexibility on how quickly / slowly I complete the course so there is flexibility for my work, study and lifestyle balance – there is a minimum and a maximum time to complete
The Apprenticeship is vocational as it is placed in the workplace. It is equally academic, the units I am studying vary from level 4 – first year of a degree up to level 7 postgraduate level
The Higher Apprenticeship is a recognised qualification – not only do you study the theory, but unlike some degree courses, you are able to apply your new skills within the work place whilst still studying. Ongoing work experience and staff development which employers want and need.

Initially I was apprehensive but excited when I first enrolled on to the Higher Apprenticeship. I have not studied since I was 19, but my assessor indicated I was working at the required level and re-assured me that from the work I undertake on a day to day basis, she was confident that I was able to successfully complete this course. My employers and my assessors both indicated, they do not want to set me up to fail.

I sat with my employer and assessor and discussed the Higher Apprenticeship This has helped me to understand the qualification and its framework but also the work and responsibilities my employer will be asking me to undertake whilst I am on the course.

The Higher Apprenticeship consists of mandatory and optional units. When choosing the optional units, I sat with my employer and we discussed areas that we knew we wanted to improve and how we would like to action this within the team. Therefore, work that I may not have previously been part of my job role or deemed not my scale, is now delegated to me as part of my Higher Apprenticeship. This way, I gain the knowledge and work experience that I valuably need for progression to Management and my employer is able to utilise me within the company so we can improve our services where we may have previously been unable to do this due to experience and manpower.

Once I enrolled, my assessor worked with me and my employer to select my first assignment.

Each assignment is clearly defined including the criteria, outcomes and how the course is assessed.

As the majority of my course is assessor based and not classroom based, I did have an initial concern that I would struggle to understand the units and complete the apprenticeship successfully. However, my assessors and my employers have been an incredible support network and I have been surprised at how much I already know and how much I use these skills on a day to day basis.

I have also learnt new skills that I can implement within my job which is a distinct advantage to my employer to have a member of their team with an extended skill set.

Again, I refer to my friends that have studied a Degree whilst in full time employment and they found this brought immense pressure and they used their holidays and most of their spare time to complete their assignments, revise and take time out for tutorials and lectures.

Whilst studying on the Higher Apprenticeship, I am able to fully concentrate on my job role and use my new skills as it progresses. As I do this, I find I am able to still be 100% focused on my job, and there is little pressure on completing my units outside of my working hours.

My eldest child is 16 and my youngest is 7. They are both at school and I feel that I have good work and life balance with my children whilst working 37 hours a week. However, I was hesitant in returning to Higher Education as I was concerned that the time I get to spend with them would be reduced and have less quality due to assignments, tight deadlines and revision.

With the Higher Apprenticeship, we discuss the next unit I am going to study, so I can fit this in with any work and life events to ensure I have sufficient time to complete to the best of my ability without having an effect on my employment or reducing my time outside of work.

The units are completed online using a facility called One-File. This ensures my assessor receives my work on time and there is no discrepancy as to when this has been returned.

One File also allows me to review all my units, almost a checklist of what I have done and what is yet to be completed.

The Future

I am enjoying my Higher Apprenticeship in Management and Leadership and have thrived using my new found skills and knowledge within my work place. My employer has also noticed these changes and is confident in my ability when being delegated extended tasks.

I am enjoying developing my new found skills and knowledge and using these more and more within my current job role and as the Higher Apprenticeship continues I will be given further skills which will empower me to progress further within my current role.

Eventually, I do want to manage my own team and hope I have the opportunity to empower one of my own team by enrolling them on to a Higher Apprenticeship in the future.