So Zohra, why did you choose an apprenticeship over going to university?
When I was in years 10 and 11 at school in Slough, I was appointed as the co-manager of the executive team. My main role was to recruit new members and it was down to me to conduct prospective candidates’ interviews and assessments. I soon discovered that not only did I enjoy the process, but also I had a flair for it, so I decided to do some research on a career in recruitment. I found out that not only are there many routes into it, but it covers a huge variety of professions so there were lots of options open to me. I knew that university wasn’t the path I wanted to take, even though most of my friends were applying to study there. I wanted to learn on the job and not be in thousands of pounds of debt after three years of study!
Initially, I looked at recruitment in the care profession and after leaving school with three A levels in sociology, media studies and philosophy and ethics, I went for a few interviews, but nothing came of them. Looking back, I am glad they didn’t work out, as I wouldn’t be where I am today, but at the time, it was a bit frustrating and I wondered if I would ever find the role that would fit. Eventually, through the government website, I applied for an apprenticeship position with Brightred, and very quickly I received a call from a consultant at Learn Direct. He was very friendly and personable, telling me they had seen my CV and wanted to ask me some questions about why I was interested in the role and why I thought I was the right person to fill it. He briefed me for half an hour or so over the telephone and said he would show my CV to his manager, which would hopefully then lead to a meeting between me and the managing director at Brightred. The process was extremely efficient and I was kept informed of how things were going on a regular basis. After a year or so of being in the dark, it was good to know someone was championing my cause.
So how was the interview at Brightred?
Well, I was a bit nervous and felt a bit intimidated arriving at an office with all these men looking so busy and professional! But Michael Allen, the Managing Director quickly put me at my ease by getting me talking! I remember he wanted to know why I was particularly interested in doing an apprenticeship in IT recruitment as opposed to going to university. I told him what I have outlined above and throughout what was a normal, informal conversation, I chatted about my life in general and what had led me to this place. Michael was very up-front with me, telling me that if I was successful, I would be the first person to be an apprentice at Brightred, so this was a new thing for them too. At the time I remember thinking that the interview went really well and when Michael asked me if I could see myself working in this environment, I felt cautiously optimistic that things were going in a positive direction.
It turns out my instincts were correct and I started working for the company as an apprentice on January 7th 2014!
How have you found it since, and what is your day-to-day role?
It’s been amazing! I have learned so much and I feel fulfilled as a person. My relationships with the team couldn’t be better and I can’t stress how much I have changed and grown not just in confidence, but also in skill-set too. The team dynamic here very is strong and everyone is pulling together in the same direction with a great boss at the helm.
When I started with the company, my role was to simply learn how to become more confident on the telephone. This was my first job, I had only ever done volunteer work before, so I knew very little about how to adopt a good telephone manner, and I remember feeling very self-conscious at first as everyone in the office could hear me: not easy for a shy person! But I learned quickly, and it soon became second nature to me. After a few weeks, Michael gave me the opportunity to work with a major client back alongside one of our account managers. It was a big deal as it involved the potential for multiple sales and we were the only company assigned to it. Ian, the account manager, was very patient and took plenty of time with me, coaching me carefully through the process, and I am pleased to say I got five placements out of it! This is an example of how effective it is to learn on the job: watching how others do it and being trusted to take some risks while all the time being mentored and guided well.
Your apprenticeship year has just finished. Do you feel it has been worth it?
When I started with this company I had very little knowledge about anything to do with the IT recruitment industry even though I had done some research for my interview. In the beginning, I was worried I would fail as all the key skills were in another language and it’s fair to say, in those early days, I was more aware of what I didn’t know than what I did. But I learned quickly and I decided to ask lots of questions of the team in the office, knowing that whatever question I asked they would explain it fully. (This still happens, even now!)
What qualifications do you have after this year?
I have achieved an NVQ level 3 in Recruitment and Sales and now I can develop and grow in my profession.
How did Learn Direct stay involved in your apprenticeship year?
Every month I was visited by my assessor, Liz, who for the first six months would watch me at work, writing notes on my methods of engagement and client liaison, as well as my interactions with the team. When I embarked on the apprenticeship, I was given a portal on the Learn Direct website into which all the evidence of my work was uploaded. There is no examination for this NVQ; it is all evidence based so it was important to have proof of everything, including the progress I was making. I have been guided well by Learn Direct and my assessor has always kept me up to date with what I needed to do month by month to fulfil all the requirements of my course. Michael has also made sure I have had plenty of time to do what I have needed to do to complete my apprenticeship by suggesting I set time aside from the recruiting once a week to complete my work.
So finally, Zohra, how have you changed this year?
I have definitely become a lot more confident. Coming from an all-girls school into a virtually all-male environment was a bit of a shock at first, but I am now one of the team and can definitely hold my own! I have grown in my knowledge and understanding of the IT industry to such an extent that if I ever went into another IT Recruitment Company I know I would thrive. There is still so much to learn of course but I am on my way! I cannot praise Brightred enough for all they have invested into me. Michael Allen is a huge inspiration in terms of how I want my career to progress in the industry and he is someone to look up to as a long-term mentor. Put simply, I would change nothing about the past year: it has been 110% brilliant!