Why waiting for an apprenticeship works

Side view of business working on tablet in modern office setting

Aritcle by Heather Peebles

“Willingly exploring the unknown in your career, especially when you are already questioning your value is brave, but it’s also vital.” Here, Heather Peebles from Reward Gateway tells us how taking on an apprenticeship at senior level has helped her banish imposter syndrome and develop her skills.

I didn’t necessarily envisage being a student again more than a decade after leaving university. However having worked for Reward Gateway for the last eight years, and having been promoted all the way from a Partnerships Manager to now Head of the Department, I began to question whether I had the right to be where I am, doing what I do.

I think it’s only natural for anyone taking the path I took and progressing within their company to instantly feel like an imposter in the role they hold. But, rather than letting it rule me, I instead decided to put some theory behind my management practice and find a way to stop questioning my worth. Enrolling on an apprenticeship has given me the means to not only prove to myself that I deserve the position I hold, but to boost my skills further.

I’d had basic training in leadership at my current company, so whilst pursuing some form of further leadership training felt like a natural progression, I did not know that an apprenticeship could support such a move at the stage I had reached in my career. I was gratified and instantly interested when a member of the People team at Reward Gateway suggested the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy could be an option for me, and what types of learning it would provide me with access to – especially as some programmes were offered by business schools. I quickly settled upon Imperial College Business School and Corndel to help further my education and enrolled myself on their Executive Leadership Development programme.

Ordinarily, attending business school would have perhaps required a career break and a significant financial investment. However this course is completely funded by the Levy, removing the need for any financial support from my employer or, better yet, me! The Levy made it possible for my employer to harness this programme as a development tool for staff. I felt safe in the comfort that my professional growth was valued by my company, rather than my learning and my employment being at odds with each other. The Levy also opened the door to education for many of my classmates.

No matter your age, gender or background, I think it’s of vital importance to continue to learn and develop yourself both personally and professionally, in whatever way works for you, but most of all to support your own wellbeing. For these reasons, this course was just what I needed to increase my confidence and to become the leader I hoped I could be.

A real benefit for me has been building connections with people outside of my company, and even my sector. Returning to the classroom was, of course, daunting, but I’ve been well-supported – from a tutor who is on hand to answer my questions and have regular one-to-ones to ensure I’m staying on track, to my colleagues or “study buddies” who help to motivate each another along the way. It’s really cemented relationships internally and improved the communication across departments, a community where we’re all in this together!

The module topics have been so varied, but have applied directly to my role and the areas in which I wanted to further develop my knowledge. I’m gaining both the theory to help build my confidence in my decision-making, and the practical experience to develop my skills further. I’m already utilising my newfound skills  in my day-to-day work, whether it’s promoting the importance of giving and receiving candid feedback as a valuable tool in creating an engaged workforce, or building upon my personal brand within my company and the wider industry, a true sign of leading by example. I’ve certainly involved my team a lot more in strategy-led decisions so they’re more invested in the process end-to-end and can feel a part of its wider success.

One hurdle people already invested in their careers may see when it comes to further education is the time commitment. However, the benefit of taking an apprenticeship at a later stage is that you have the benefit of experience to know when and how you work best. I cope by setting myself study periods within the working day when I know I have higher concentration levels and am likely to have less distractions. I give my team a heads up so they know when I am studying and I set expectations with my manager. I also plan ahead.

Willingly exploring the unknown in your career, especially when you are already questioning your value is brave, but it’s also vital. If you’re currently questioning whether further study is the right thing for you, whatever stage you’re at in your career, I’d say go for it. Learning and development can often become side-lined in an organisation due to a focus on productivity and profit, and this oversight can happen at cost of its people. Much of the Government’s Levy funding has, so far, gone unused by industry, which means companies are missing out on the benefits. Aside of gaining new skills, such training can increase employee happiness and motivation – not to mention performance – which increases the likelihood of that company being more successful.

Not only do I feel I’ve grown in my professional capabilities, but I’ve grown in myself too. I hope that, by leading my example, I can encourage others to by brave and explore their unknown potential too.

Heather PeeblesAbout the author

Heather heads up the global affiliate partnerships team at Reward Gateway, which provides employee engagement technology to the world’s leading companies. She also co-founded the Publisher Board in 2019, with the mission to improve industry standards and promote best practices. She is currently participating in the Imperial College and Corndel Executive Development Programme at Imperial College Business School.

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