Jamilah Simpson and Amelia Russell

Part of our apprentice panel podcasts, Jamilah Simpson our apprentice panel host interviews apprentice panel lead, Amelia Russell 

Amelia, 23, is currently completing her level 3 business administration apprenticeship at The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.
 
As a care leaver, her education journey has been a challenge:
“I become very aware of the possibility of failing school and of not being able to do well in life. It terrified me. At the age of 14, I was fostered. Luckily, I was encouraged massively by my foster parents; I am forever grateful to them for giving me the confidence and self-belief I needed.”
 
Another obstacle Amelia has faced is preparing for her end-point assessment in lockdown. Working from home since March 2020 and adapting to virtual learning but that hasn’t stopped her:
“It's definitely been a challenge, but if you really want it to work, you really got to put the effort in. I am leading up to my EPA, and I've been so excited, just to finish my apprenticeship, and to say I've finished it, and I did it. Even after a year in a pandemic and lockdown, and it's been a real struggle.”
 

Transcript

Jamilah Simpson:

Hi, I'm Jamilah Simpson the Multiverse community programs and networks associate. I joined Multiverse early last year after completing my digital marketing qualification as an apprentice at Google. I'm also an apprentice panel member and your host for this podcast. Today we're joined by Amelia, Amelia did you want to quickly introduce yourself before we get started.

Amelia Russell:

My name is Amelia Russell, and I’m doing a business administration apprenticeship and I'm currently coming up to my end-point assessment, and I work at the Institute for Apprenticeships as a Governance and external affairs officer.

Jamilah Simpson:

So, Amelia, I was luckily able to finish my apprenticeship before COVID and lockdown hit. So I was able to stay in the office and do my EPA and finish all the coursework with the other apprentices who were also in my company. But I guess it's a little bit different for you because you're continuing to do your apprenticeship and we're still in a national lockdown. How has that whole process been, and has it affected in the approach to your EPA?

Amelia Russell:

It's been definitely challenging, because receiving that text message from work saying we were no longer allowed in the office, it was a bit of a shock. I thought it would only last about three weeks so. Since March 2020 I've had to do a lot of online learning myself, and having to meet virtually and not having the workshops. I did actually have a break in learning because I live with my nan, so I wanted to make sure that I was around to support her in the first few months of being in a lockdown. Having to do a lot of apprenticeship work, and trying to still get that on the job training and learning, and trying to shadow with the teams and work with other people. It's definitely been a challenge, but if you really want it to work, you know, you really got to put the effort in and make sure it works. Which is what I've tried to do, and I am leading up to my EPA, and I've been so excited, just to, you know, finish my apprenticeship, and to say, you know, I've finished it, and I did it. Even after a year in a pandemic and lockdown, and it's been a real struggle. But yeah, I would say I'm just going to keep pushing on with it, and fingers crossed I aim for that distinction.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, like completely hats off to you. Because I like I'm in a full-time role not doing an apprenticeship as well, but I really struggled working from home. Especially when it first started, but the fact that you're doing your full-time role, plus your apprenticeship and now in the approach to your EPA, it's like I commend you.

Amelia Russell:

Thank you, it's very hard because usually in the office you just turn around and say, oh by the way how do I do this, and all I have is my bedroom door to turn around too. So, it's a very different environment to be learning in, and working in, so yeah it's a challenge, but we'll all get through it.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah. Well we have each other to get through it all we do

Amelia Russell:

We do

Jamilah Simpson:

I’m sure you will do amazingly. So I want to talk about apprenticeships for a little bit. So Amelia, you and I both know that apprenticeships aren't really the conventional route after finishing GCSE’s or A-levels. Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

Amelia Russell:

So, my journey from school to being an apprentice has been a real challenge. Especially being a care leaver, and I knew I wanted to do an apprenticeship as I could get experience then a qualification, as well as earning a wage. After searching for such a long time, I found an apprenticeship come up at the Institute for Apprenticeships, and it was perfect. I could do an apprenticeship and still influence the world of education for anyone of any age and background. I decided to do an apprenticeship as well because after trying the university route, I felt like it wasn't for me, and I was studying adult nursing at the University of Northampton, and after doing it for a year I ended up absolutely hating it. Finding that it just wasn't for me, and it's something that I wanted to do as a career, but in the end, I felt like, you know working on the wards, and attending lectures, and studying, doing assignments, it was just really hard at times. That's why I decided to drop out at the end, and after that, I decided to work in a secondary school before this apprenticeship. Which really cemented more into me about getting the experience and choosing to go for an apprenticeship route and being passionate about education and apprenticeships.

Jamilah Simpson:

Wow, that sounds amazing. I kind of chose to do an apprenticeship as opposed to university because of the same reason. Because I enjoy like the practical learning environment, and you can't, well you can get that at university, but not as much as you can in an apprenticeship. Because you're actually in the workplace and applying your learning straight away, as you mentioned, so I can understand like, where you're coming from.

Amelia Russell:

It really shows how important on the job training is as well, with you know, you don't really get that with some university degrees as you can't really go and work and do both at the same time.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah definitely, definitely. You mentioned being passionate about like, the role of education, and creating an influence. Is there anything in particular that you enjoy working on? Especially as you're at the Institute?

Amelia Russell:

I think it's the apprentice panel most that I do enjoy working on. As I get to have a huge network of apprentices and get to work with all of them. As they all come from amazing backgrounds, and organisations. I think it's just really building up those relationships, and engaging with all these other people, that are just as passionate about them, is what I really enjoy the most. It's just having that communication and that creativity to work with them.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah definitely, and you do such an amazing job at managing the apprentice panel. With the meetings and making sure that all of the apprentices stay connected in between those meetings through your regular communications, and check-ins, I absolutely love that. What's it like being both on the panel but also leading it?

Amelia Russell:

That's a good question. I think, I did start off with being an apprentice panel member, and I did recently, in the summer of 2020, took over as being the apprentice panel co-organisational lead, and it's, I think it's, I get really, happy about having to work with all of these people. But I think leading them all and trying to navigate them to really push and challenge their views, or other people's views is something that I love as well. Because we've all come from different backgrounds, my views on how apprenticeships might work might be different to how yours might think they work. I think that's the joy of it, is getting that wealth of knowledge and experience from all the other members is what's so important to me. Also really contributing towards what's going to happen on the agenda, and what we can talk about. Especially recently with the board strategy, we've just supported for, and having pushing the other members to go and present to the board, and challenge them, and what we want apprenticeship to be like by 2023. I think that's the most amazing thing to happen recently, is being able to speak to the board members, as a panel, and push all of our views that we had in our January meeting forward.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, it's quite an empowering experience isn't it, being on the panel, and I've learned so much since joining, just under a year ago. just speaking to all of the other apprentices, and finding out that about their experiences has been so, impactful, and eye-opening.

Amelia Russell:

Yeah, it definitely is, and even speaking to apprentices, like yourself, when we're working on the best practice guidance. Seeing what you're doing on it, and how other apprentice panel members of what they're doing, and the case studies that they're able to get. I think it's just, it's a brilliant way, to really, we're the final product, really, of apprenticeships. We have the most experience with them at the minute, so, what better way to use our experience than on the apprentice panel.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, exactly. Whilst we're on the topic of the best practice guidance. I know that you're also working on this with us too. Can you tell me why you think the work that we're doing for it is so important?

Amelia Russell:

Yes of course. So the apprentice panel survey last year had actually brought to light a lot of issues, and we decided to come up with recommendations. So to develop this best practice guidance for apprentices, training providers, and employers. For it to act as a reference for quality, and apprenticeship delivery. I really want to set the bar high, and encourage others to aim for what apprentices everywhere should have, that gold star experience. So the reason why it's so important, is because the best practice guidance will not set the minimum requirements, but for the best practice of apprenticeships, and what makes an apprenticeship such high quality. But also it's a great way for people in apprenticeships to share their best way to support apprentices. So for example, their welfare, and what's the best way to prepare for an EPA. So I'm really keen to assure people that we're not on about minimum requirements. It's really the best practice, and when someone really looked after you as an apprentice, and how can we influence employers and training providers to use that.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, and from what I've seen and heard, it seems like you've had a pretty great apprenticeship experience so far. Are there any specific highlights that you would like to mention?

Amelia Russell:

Yeah sure. There's been lots of highlights working Institute, it's really opened a lot of doors for me. One particular moment, is I’ve recently been promoted within my team. I've been really keen to pick up as much experience as possible in the Chief of Staff team where I work, and I was promoted back in October to do governance and external affairs. Before that, I did work on inquiries, and I think it was the best way to start, to really get to know all the other teams. So definitely, a promotion. There's been lots of opportunities. Like a Chinese delegation, and meeting all these professors from Beijing University. I could sit here all day and go through it with you. But yeah, there's been I think promotion, and also the Chinese delegation has been a highlight to me.

Jamilah Simpson:

Oh, congratulations on your promotion. I actually didn't know that, but amazing.

Amelia Russell:

Thank you

Jamilah Simpson:

So earlier you mentioned that you are a care leaver. Has an apprenticeship been the best route for you to take do you think?

Amelia Russell:

When you're a care leaver you can be very independent and rely on yourself, especially financially. So going to university and being a care leaver, there's not that financial support really for you. Whereas, if you're an apprentice, you're getting a qualification, and being able to get a living wage to support yourself, and that's been the best route for me. I don't know what I would do without an apprenticeship, and it's opened up so many doors, despite the background, and the challenging situations I've faced. So it's definitely been about the best route for me rather than university.

Jamilah Simpson:

Oh, I'm so glad to hear that. Do you have any plans for what you'd like to do after you finish your apprenticeship? Would you like to stay at the Institute, would you like to explore a different industry? Do you have any idea?

Amelia Russell:

Sure. I'd definitely say I would like to see myself progressing within civil service, and particularly the Institute. Because I love all the connections it has, and especially with the route panel members, and all the different trailblazers we work with to develop apprenticeships. It's somewhere where I do see my passion laying. Whether that's in the department or the Institute. I'd love to be able to take up a higher apprenticeship, but I'm still yet to decide that. But I definitely know I want to play a big role in supporting the development of high-quality apprenticeships.

Jamilah Simpson:

Oh wow. I was also like, really undecided about what I wanted to do after my apprenticeship. Luckily the job that I'm in now came up as an opportunity, like a month before my apprenticeship ended. I was thinking about doing a higher level apprenticeship, or just taking a break. But I think, yeah, like opportunities come when you.

Amelia Russell:

When you least expect them

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah, I was trying to think of the phrase, but my mind just went completely blank.

Amelia Russell:

Do you have thoughts about any other apprenticeships that you would consider doing?

Jamilah Simpson:

I initially said, so before I wanted to do my digital marketing one. I wanted to do it based on, like, a purely creative industry. Because there's a little bit of creativity in digital marketing, but it's not fully creative. So yeah, I'm always keeping my eye out for any creative apprenticeships. I know there's not that many at the moment, so I'm hoping there'll be, like, a graphic design one, maybe in the future, that I could do. Because I've always been, like, I've always had a creative eye. So I want to really use my skills, but also gain a qualification in that. But, again, I'm not really sure, I just take each day as it comes really. I have a final question for you. Have you got any advice for people thinking about doing an apprenticeship?

Amelia Russell:

Yes, and I would just say go for it. It will be the best decision you'll make, and it was for me. Before you do go for an apprenticeship, I would say you should really research into the apprenticeship, and the organisation you're applying for. So you can really make sure that it's something that you're going to enjoy, and be passionate about, and really want to do. But definitely go for it.

Jamilah Simpson:

Yeah. I 100% agree with you. Cool. So that's all we have time for in today's episode. Thank you so much, Amelia, for taking the time to tell us about your apprenticeship experience and being so open and honest with me today. Thank you for listening in today and look out for our next episode, bye!

You can find more information about the apprentice panel on the Institute’s website.

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