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Degree Apprenticeships

Anthony, Chartered Manager

Tell us about your role within the company you work for and what it involves.  How does it relate to the degree apprenticeship?   

I’m an Operational Manager in Adult Health and Care at Devon County Council. I’ve had 35 years of management experience in the public sector, at least 5 of which have been in my present role. Currently I work with a small team of 18 people, sourcing care packages. 

A lot has changed since I did my last qualification, so I’m currently looking to do my job well, rather than promotion. However, I think the insights from the degree would help any manager at any level, not just somebody looking for an opportunity to become a director. I wish I’d done the Degree Apprenticeship before I became a manager! It's really expanded the boundaries and depth of my knowledge around certain tools that I regularly use in the workplace. 

How have you found balancing study for the apprenticeship, but also having a busy working life – any hints and tips? 

I’m surprised how well I’ve been able to balance the two elements! With COVID-19 and lockdowns we work mainly from home and so my studies have become an interesting break from what can become a rather predictable routine, and that’s helped with my motivation and wellbeing. Mixing study and work means I can often apply what I've just learnt to my role quite quickly. 

As my Degree Apprenticeship is only an 18-month programme, time management is crucial as there’s a lot to pack in, but the programme is well structured. My academic mentors have been very good at helping me organise my portfolio of work, linking academic assignments to the apprenticeship assessment criteria. There is pressure to get things done quickly because of the tight timeframe which can be good when it comes to getting things done, but sometimes I also wish I had more time to spend on a topic. Time does fly by so quickly! 

I’ve got a regular day a week I keep free for my studies (Tuesday), any extra I need to do has to be in my own time, like in the evenings or at weekends, and I’ve discussed that with my family. A regular day helps my manager at work, as they know that I won’t be available on that day and somebody else may need to cover for me. You need to make sure everyone who will be affected by your study is aware of your commitments and signed up to what you are about to undertake. It is surprising how many people will be affected by your study, so it is important to keep them in the loop about what you are doing – and to thank them too. It's worth booking time with mentors and tutors in advance to prepare properly and focus on what is important but be prepared to be flexible too! Expect the unexpected – I always try to submit a reasonable draft a week in advance so I can go back and tweak it if I have extra time before the deadline. 

Can you give an example of how the knowledge gained from your DA has directly benefited the company / organisation you are working with - a project you are working on, or exciting changes at your workplace where you have applied your knowledge and skills? 

I’ve been surprised at how doing the Degree Apprenticeship has forced me to find out much more about my organisation. For example, the strategic plan, how many people really read it in detail? By looking at it in more depth I feel I now have a deeper appreciation of all the work my colleagues are delivering across the company. It’s beneficial to both myself and them as I’m clearer about what we’re trying to achieve and the bigger issues there may be that I don’t necessarily encounter when delivering my own role. 

How has studying for a Degree Apprenticeship benefited your future career? Has it opened new doors or progression for you? 

I think it’s opened more options for me and made me less fearful about the future. If I should unexpectedly get made redundant, for example, I might consider working in another department for my current organisation, rather than feel I must pursue the same type of role. With the skills I have gained I also feel more confident about looking further afield, in another local authority or even moving to the private sector.

A Degree Apprenticeship can benefit more than just the apprentice, providing opportunities for others in the company to step up. Have you seen any positive developments in your team as well as in yourself? 

Part of my studies included a Design Thinking workshop, which explored a methodology to generate ideas and solutions quickly which can be applied in a variety of workplace scenarios. I was able to pass this knowledge on to a social worker colleague of mine who found it a very powerful technique and wanted to use the approach when working with service users to co-design care packages. 

What would you say were the benefits of doing an apprenticeship in comparison to returning to full-time education? 

I worked whilst studying for my A levels and didn’t go to university, however my children have, so I can only draw on their experiences. No tuition fees is definitely a benefit, and you get paid whilst studying, but I don’t think you get the full student experience, you get ‘work with study'. It's really a question of personal choice. If you’re ambitious you can fast-track your career by achieving your degree and gain valuable work experience at the same time and you will benefit from turning up for interviews with both qualifications and real-world experience. You’ll also be getting noticed whilst delivering projects for your company, and it will definitely help you if the company are committed to using the DA as a way of training their future senior managers. 

One of my work colleagues is even moving into another position specifically so that they can apply for a Degree Apprenticeship! 

What has your experience of studying a Degree Apprenticeship with the University of Exeter been like? 

Exeter is a well-known brand which ranks highly in the league tables, its Business School has a good reputation and if you’re studying Finance, I would say it’s one of the best in the country. I have worked for and undertaken other forms of study with other universities and Business Schools, and I would say that Exeter is very rigorous, and their delivery feels more polished. All the teaching and support staff have been incredibly supportive, and I’ve found it very easy to engage with the faculty: they’re very direct in telling you what you need to improve on, but in a friendly and informal way. If someone asked me why I would recommend Exeter I think I would say that it is because the Business School has developed a great degree apprenticeship that balances vocational and practical elements with a rigorous academic approach. 

How important are the roles of workplace mentor and academic mentor for you as an apprentice?

I’ve got a close working relationship with my line manager, and they have been fully supportive. You need to have a respectful relationship with your manager as you’re taking the equivalent of a day a week out of work to study for your degree apprenticeship, and your workplace must absorb that. Your academic mentor is your new best friend, and the relationship is critical for clarifying what is required and understanding if you have met the standard. You won’t know where to find all the answers and your academic and workplace mentor will help you find your way. 

How supportive has Exeter been? How have they helped you through the process? 

I don’t think they could be more supportive; they’ve always been there when I’ve needed help. Top Tip - I’ve found Studiosity particularly helpful for proofreading and checking my grammar. It's super quick too, I have always got feedback within 4 hours! The University also has a study skills centre and I’ve been able to attend workshops on things like how to reference, which has been really helpful given my limited academic experience.