Joanne: “That apprenticeship changed my life…”

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Joanne Abraham from St Helens at 29 is a Director at St Helens Chamber of Commerce. Having started her apprenticeship journey at 17, Joanne has recently completed the Level 5 Leadership and Management apprenticeship.

“I finished my GCSE’s at 16 with good grades and from there decided to stay on at the 6thForm. On my first day of the 6thForm I found out I was pregnant so I never completed my A-levels.

“My son was born in May 2007 and I decided that I didn’t want to be a stay at home mum and not progress my career. My dad worked at the Giro Bank at the time in Bootle and had told me that they had these opportunities where people come into the Bank every day and learn new skills, become qualified and also get paid, he didn’t know they were called apprenticeships.

“I went to a local training company who informed that these opportunities were known as apprenticeships and whilst they had none available within the Giro Bank at present they looked at my skills and behaviours and matched with a training company in Liverpool. So at 17 I went to work at the training company as a Level 2 Business Administration apprentice. I was there for 6-7 years and whilst there I completed my Level 2 and progressed on to and completed my Level 3 Business Administration apprenticeship also.

“Whilst I was there they also trained me to become a trainee tutor with the relevant accreditation and qualifications. As I was so young I didn’t have the occupational competency for me to deliver apprenticeships I did however have the skills required to do so. I could plan lessons and identify needs etc. I was very fortunate with it being a small organisation that I learnt so much about the technical processes as well, such as registering learners, working with funding allocations and tasks such as invigilating tests and exams.

We all have somewhere to start in an organisation

“At 21 I moved to St Helens Chamber of Commerce as a training advisor to deliver apprenticeships. I was then promoted quite quickly to the position of Team Leader but one of the skills I was lacking in was IT skills to become a more complete Team Leader. So, I was enrolled onto another apprenticeship, this time a Level 3 IT User apprenticeship. I learnt so much from that particular apprenticeship as it was a skill that I didn’t have.

“So from the position of Team Leader I then became the Workforce Development Manager. The then Director of Training Services left the organisation. With me being the only non-Director reporting to the Chief Executive I was given the opportunity to undertake a Level 5 Higher Apprenticeship in Leadership and Management and as a result I became the Director for Training Services.

“That particular apprenticeship was very unique for me in that particular units made you analyse yourself and apply that to various theories. As a result of each unit being done an action plan was put in place to better yourself and to add value to the organisation. Skills such as recognising and working better with people’s personalities and behaviours and how to effectively manage them have been such an asset to me as a person as well as the organisation.

“All of these things I relate to as being tools for your tool box. That apprenticeship changed my life and really benefitted the organisation as we have such a high performing and engaged team.”

Having had the experience you have had in such a short period of time, what advice can you offer to others seeking those opportunities to learn and progress?

“When I was in school I always thought that it would be school, college and then university for me. I stand up at a number of events and talk about me and my journey. I have got friends who went down the academic route and they have gone on to secure fantastic jobs. I didn’t, I did an apprenticeship, I started from the bottom and worked my way up and that is no different to those who have been to university also. We all have somewhere to start in an organisation.

“A business and a training provider will teach you the skills and provide the knowledge and I think if you have the right behaviours and attitude, you’re willing to learn and prepared to work just as hard as everyone else then the outcome can be just as good and no different to those on the academic route. I’m not saying that apprenticeships are the right route for everyone and neither is the university route, they’re different but the outcome can be just as good regardless.

Being involved with and working for a training organisation have you had questions from learners or businesses with regards to the validity of some of the qualifications?

“I work with employers a lot and someone once told me that NVQ stands for Not Very Qualified and I found that really upsetting!

“That particular organisation had an apprenticeship levy and despite this were paying for their staff to complete AAT (accountancy) qualifications. When it became clear that the same qualification could have been done as an apprenticeship with the exact same qualification they were gutted! They had been paying for the training when all the time this could have been funded as an apprenticeship.

“My Level 5 Leadership and Management apprenticeship was funded via the Government and accredited by ILM (institute of Leadership and Management). My point being that this qualification is no different just because it was funded via the apprenticeship route.

“What an apprenticeship offers is for someone to be moulded to the organisation and for them to learn the culture of the organisation.

“There are a number of managers here who started their journey as apprentices! Out of the 15 apprentices that we have recruited in my time here, only 2 have left and that demonstrates the value of apprenticeships. These apprentices have also brought with them a fresh perspective and so many new ideas and that keeps the organisation fresh in its operation.”

So having a number of apprenticeship qualifications already, what’s next for Joanne?

“I feel very lucky. I’m only 29 and already I am a Director of Training Services and I don’t have a penny of student debt. So having recently completed my Level 5 apprenticeship the next step would be for me to progress to the Level 7 degree apprenticeship MBA in Leadership and Management. And to be able to do this with no cost to myself is an amazing opportunity for both myself and the organisation as both will benefit. I would be able to develop my skills and therefore share and use these skills in my role.”