National Apprenticeship Week 2018: Donna’s story

Meet Donna, 36, who has worked for Riverside for nearly five years as a service manager in Ipswich. She has worked in housing for nearly 15 years and has recently completed her two-year Chartered Institute of Housing qualification. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy has given her the chance to return to education, gain more qualifications since leaving school and enhance her skills while continuing to work in her full-time role.  

Donna NAW2018

Why did you take on apprenticeship? Was there anything you wasn’t sure about before you started?
An email went round asking if anyone was interested in completing an apprenticeship. I thought it was a great idea and had every intention of filling in the forms and applying but it went to the bottom of my list of priorities until a few weeks later when I had an email notifying me the deadline for applications had passed – this gave me the push to get in touch with our Learning and Development team and the training provider who were kind enough to accept my late application.

Looking back, I put it off because of my workload and it seemed strange doing an apprenticeship in my 30s. Obviously in everyday life you learn ‘on the job’ and you complete one or two day courses and get a certificate, but formal learning seemed a bit like I was going backwards, back to school and I wasn’t sure if I wanted that. I spoke to the trainer about it and she explained it was a formal, professional qualification that is recognised throughout every industry – I was then confident it was a step forwards, not backwards.

What’s the best thing you’ve done since starting here or starting your apprenticeship?
I started at Riverside as a project assistant and tried a few other roles on my path to becoming a service manager. Along the way I have met some amazing people in both colleagues and customers, and have some unbelievable memories that will stay with me forever – some I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at but let’s say they were character building and I am truly grateful for that.

The best thing since starting my apprenticeship is gaining recognised qualifications. I have been in the housing sector for the majority of my working life, and this is the first time since school that I have received a formal qualification for anything I have done.

What is the most difficult thing you’ve had to learn or work around?
I had an assignment to complete on my personal development and reflective practice, but I always find it difficult to look for positive’s in my personal reflective practice – it’s really easy to look for the negatives about yourself and the way you do things. The best way for me to get around this was to ask those around me for their thoughts, after all we spend so much time together at work. My team were a great help, the feedback was really honest and insightful. So although it was difficult to take the step back to look at myself, it ended up being really positive by allowing me to recognise and adapt to the feedback, and also to feel confident in my management style.

What is your next goal at work?
My next goal is to consider a National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) and/or an Institute in Leadership and Management (ILM) course. As much as I have complained at times about deadlines and word counts, I really think I’m going to miss the sense of achievement that came with doing the apprenticeship.

How have you managed balancing work while learning?
My working environment rarely allows for downtime to study or complete assignments, so I learned very early on that if I wanted to complete this apprenticeship to a standard I would like then I would have to study in my own time. I tried a couple of times to get assignments started at work but ended up going home and deleting them because they were pretty rubbish. My role is very reactive and being called away from your desk is not conducive to word-perfect assignments. I don’t begrudge it though, it was my choice to complete it at home and now I have a qualification that I can be proud of.

What would your advice be to anyone considering an apprenticeship
Don’t hesitate, and take the time to enjoy what you achieve along the way. I know we all have busy lives at home and at work, but this really is one of the most rewarding things you can do with the little spare time you have.