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What will become of our children if we do not act now?

Author: Jonathan Evans, CEO, Discovery

In a matter of weeks, our next tranche of graduates leave university for the last time with, what should be, the excited anticipation of entering the workforce and starting their careers, but this year it is very different. 

If the last few weeks have taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected. If a year ago it had been suggested that the world would be hit with a pandemic, be entering a lockdown causing a (albeit temporary) global economic slowdown that has forced us to suspend life and liberty, we would be forgiven for imagining that this was the backdrop of an apocalyptic movie. 

Yet the reality is exactly that. As business leaders scramble to get a sense of the shape of their organisations going forwards, this global shock has focused their immediate attention on survival mode, shoring up revenues, protecting their people and delivering for their customers. 

This environment forced upon us is neatly summed up in the term VUCA, (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Drawn from the leadership theories of Bennis & Nanus, it is a term coined by the American military in understanding strategic leadership decisions and the behaviour of groups & individuals at times of VUCA. 

You could apply all of this theory to our current global situation, and whilst it seems impossible for any of us to see beyond the next 12 weeks, it is important that we do look beyond this crisis to the future, for one thing is certain – there is a future and the actions we take as leaders now will shape it for years to come. 

 It is deeply troubling to me to think that this next generation of future superstars and business leaders could be forgotten in all of this. We have spent years encouraging our children to work hard, study and go to university in order to enjoy successful and fulfilling careers. 

This year any excited plans for gap years are put on hold. They will not benefit from the rich learning a gap year provides as they make the transition from ‘student to suit’. Travelling is not possible (not in the foreseeable future at least), summer jobs, working in bars and the prospect of securing any work over the coming months is rapidly becoming an impossible dream. There is no normal in all of this. 

I have spent my career of over 25 years working in graduate recruitment & workforce development. I have seen where it has been done well and where it has not. During this time, my company has helped to start the careers for many thousands of graduates, with highly effective recruitment strategies and impactful development. Many have gone on to be very senior business leaders and are at the forefront of our industry today. 

I am reminiscent of the early 1990’s, which is when I was early in my career, where a recession caused businesses not to focus on the future. Revenues declined, inflation was over 9%, interest was over 14% and unemployment was rising. Businesses, to their detriment as they discovered, stopped investing in recruiting graduates and over the following years struggled to keep up with demand as their markets took off. They simply did not have the talent and the leaders coming through their businesses, and it caused problems for several years.

Recognising the impact this had, over subsequent years many companies have ensured that their early career & graduate recruitment remains protected. I was one of the lucky ones, I was given a chance. 

We have never experienced anything like this before. We are in uncharted waters and life is very unpredictable, but I am fearful that our 2020 graduates and early career talent who will chose not to go to university this year could become the lost generation. 

As business owners and leaders, I believe we have a responsibility and obligation to ensure that this does not happen. We cannot allow our children to fall between the gaps caused by this situation; if there was ever a time that business needs to pull together with humanity, it is now. 

We are seeing already the impact Coronavirus is having on our workforces. Skills gaps were already an issue, but now we have capacity issues as workers self-isolate or are ill. This is not going to change in the short term, but business trading still needs to happen, and life cannot go on hold. Products still need to be produced; salespeople still need to sell; deliveries still need to happen. 

I believe despite the immediate turmoil this is causing, in a few weeks’ time this will become the new norm (at least for a while), and this needs to be the time to take a moment to look to the future. In a few weeks’ time, the next wave of graduates will hit the jobs market, eager to start their careers and where possible we need to do our bit. 

At Discovery, we are going to do just this, and put our money where our mouth is. Over the coming days we will be announcing our plans for how we will support businesses both financially and structurally to ensure they can benefit from these fine people, who come full of fresh ideas and a genuine desire to make a difference, at a time when business could need them most. 

As business leaders, our job is to look at the pin on the floor and view the horizon at the same time. I urge you, amidst all this ambiguity, to take a moment to consider what your business needs in the next two years rather than two weeks, however difficult this may be. 

The secret to graduate recruitment: how to engage Millennials and Gen Zers

Hard-to-fill roles can be a symptom of wider recruitment challenges such as a limited talent pool, remote job locations or unusual working hours. In these situations, organisations often look to increase salaries as a reactive, quick-fix. Whilst this can achieve short-term success in filling the position, the long-term negative impact could be:

You need to recruit the right people to grow your business. Looking to the future, it is widely acknowledged that graduates are incredibly important in the workforce and it’s predicted that by 2020 50% of the UK workforce will be Millennials and 24% Generation Zers.

So, if these individuals are the future of organisations and are crucial for succession planning and innovation, what can be done to ensure that you recruit the best graduate talent for your business – particularly into hard-to-fill roles?

With over 20 years’ experience in delivering top graduate talent, here are some tips from Discovery on how to engage Millennials and Gen Zers with your business, and your recruitment process.

Don’t rely on quirky benefits

Whilst these are definitely fun and ‘cool’ benefits that can be a great hook to get employees through the door, it won’t necessarily keep them there. If you don’t cater to some of the more basic needs of employees, such as work-life balance and professional development, then they may well leave. All the time and money that you spent on recruiting your graduate will be wasted, taking you back to square one.

Talk about what matters to your company

Research shows that Millennials and Generation Z are motivated more by mission than money. In a job advert and the subsequent recruitment process, it’s very easy to get caught up in the fact that you want to give them information about the specific role they’ve applied for whilst also finding out as much as possible about the candidates. Whilst these are both important, you also need to remember that the candidate is judging your company – make sure you tell them about you, and what matters to your organisation.

Are social events important? What about supporting charities? This will help to give candidates a more rounded view of your culture and values, and they will be able to decide if your company is a good fit for them.

Signpost the potential for progression

Employees who feel that they aren’t developing in a company are 12 times more likely to leave. Progression and development are important to most employees, but particularly to those who are early in their career and have a lot to learn. Make sure you demonstrate that you have a plan for your graduates in the job advert – not only for what they’ll do in this role, but also how you will develop them to have a successful career within your organisation. If you also have employees who joined as graduates and have progressed, make sure to create videos, blogs or social media posts telling their story – if others have progressed and been successful, it suggests your new graduate intake will too.

Invest in your employees

94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. Once you’ve recruited a high-potential graduate, you want to retain them for as long as possible. Demonstrating the willingness to further invest in your workforce is also likely to encourage people to apply for the role. Alongside any internal training, think about how else you could develop your employees – are there any professional qualifications that they could complete such as CIPD, CIM, Advanced Diplomas, etc.? Or could you develop them further in their professional skills such as commercial acumen training, Leadership & Management courses or presenting with impact training?

Strike the balance between them being challenged and supported

Most graduates have little to no experience in the working world, but they have a lot of potential. It’s important that you strike the fine balance between giving them real responsibility and stretching them, but also ensuring that they have the support in place to ask questions and not feel overloaded or alone. In job adverts and the recruitment process, talk about what they’ll be responsible for but also who will be there to support them – will they work closely with someone more senior? Or will they have a whole team to support them?

If you would like to discuss how Discovery can help you with your graduate recruitment and development, please contact us

Shaping the Future: It’s all about individuals

In businesses, things can change very quickly – that makes the future very hard to predict. For organisations, this can make training and development difficult; what are you preparing your workforce for?

Having worked with organisations across most sizes, industries and locations, Discovery knows there is one area that is hugely important and often gets overlooked: your people. Whilst most training and development is based on helping your people be better, this is usually focused on providing them with job-related knowledge with little focus on them as individual people.

Developing individuals provides many benefits; however, it can be difficult to determine which areas to develop first. Reflecting upon our OPEN programmes, which are centred on ‘developing the person’, Discovery has identified three areas that benefit employees and their organisations the most. We’ve also included some tips so you or your employees can begin their journey of individual development.


Increasing personal effectiveness

Sometimes the biggest change can come from taking some time to reflect upon you. How good are you at managing yourself? Do you wait for others to give you direction or make decisions for you? Do you lead off in your own direction and others have to reign you back in?

Of course, taking this time to analyse yourself is only successful if you are fairly self-aware and able to be objective about yourself. This isn’t easy, so a good way to increase your self-awareness and personal effectiveness is to involve others. Enlist people you work closely with (not just your manager, but your peers too) to reflect upon your performance in particular situations and discuss it with you – this will help to indicate some areas of development and it will also help you to be more self-aware in the future.

Once you have a good idea of areas you need to develop in, start thinking about what needs to change to help you achieve your goal – you should think about what you need to do for yourself, what support you need from others in your organisation and if you need any further training or development outside of your day-to-day role.


Improving interpersonal skills

In the working world, interpersonal skills are absolutely critical for every stage of a career – whether you have a customer-facing role, you manage others or you’re a fresh graduate starting your first role.

Most people think they have strong interpersonal skills, however, often the strength of someone’s interpersonal skills can only be judged by other people, after all, they’re the ones receiving the communication. Without understanding your audience and how to adapt interpersonal styles, it can have a negative effect when leading & managing people, building relationships or during day-to-day communication.

To help you begin to see how others may perceive your interpersonal skills, start reflecting upon your style and the suitability for the intended audience. Try to recall conversations you’ve had – could your tone, body language or word choice have had an inadvertent result? If you’re struggling to recall conversations, review emails you’ve sent. Based on your audience, could one worded emails be perceived negatively? Equally, are long paragraphs of information right for your audience?

Once you start to think about your style and the intended audience, you can think how best to adapt it in the future.


Understanding behavioural impact

Every person can demonstrate a range of ‘behaviours’, but how they impact on others is particularly important in working environments. Unlike interpersonal skills, they could impact on people or things that you’ve never had any contact with – it’s like a ripple effect. These can be large scale and smaller scale – a small scale example is someone using the last drop of milk at the office and not getting more or telling anyone. A colleague’s clients come in, and when offered a drink, they either have to wait for an extended period of time or can’t have milk in their hot drinks. A small behavioural act has then had an impact on a client’s view of your company and brand, and on your colleague.

This is a small scale example that shows the person hasn’t taken responsibility or thought about the consequences of their actions. On a larger scale, this can have a huge impact, particularly given how important agility is in most organisations. Before taking action, it’s important to start asking yourself “What could the impact be of me doing or not doing this?”


As experts in behavioural change, the Discovery team know that making changes for individual development isn’t an easy journey, but the result will be huge for individuals and organisations alike. We hope these tips help, and if you’re looking for further support in implementing individual or team development, please 
visit our website or call us on 0121 665 4060.

Could you hire a 21-year-old to be your next ‘Head of’, MD or CEO?

Author: Jonathan Evans, CEO, Discovery

Initially, this may seem like a ridiculous statement, and I’m sure that most people’s instant response would be to answer ‘no’ to this question: a 21-year-old is unlikely to have the skills, commercial acumen, life experience or just general experience and knowledge to undertake one of these roles. But instead of just answering no, consider how you could say ‘yes’, and more importantly, ‘how do we create the roadmap to success so they can?’.

Today’s talent is very different from 20 years ago. Not only are Universities producing more graduates, but in many cases, they have different skillsets that we need to harness to drive our businesses forward for the next 20 years.

When I review the careers of graduates that we’ve placed over the last 18 years, it’s impressive to see how far many of them have gone on to have incredibly successful careers. A significant number of them are in executive level roles for some of the finest brands in the world, and some have started their own equally successful businesses. Yet, when these people first walked through our doors all those years ago to actively compete for their first jobs, all they had at this point was the education and potential. Over the years, I’ve also noticed that the time it takes for graduates to progress within a company is becoming shorter – in 2017 it was reported that 39% of graduates became managers after five years [AGR Development Survey 2017 Key Points].

Hiring graduates has many benefits. The right graduates for your business will bring fresh ideas, and with them, a desire to achieve. Harnessing this relatively undeveloped talent can reap dividends for businesses by capitalising on their education, their analytical mind-sets and the basic knowledge of the role/industry. Industrial placements, work experience and internships are common practice for students, with many Universities offering a ‘year in industry’ as part of their course. As such, students aren’t necessarily starting from scratch, but they are still malleable to your company’s way of doing things, without having to undo too many ‘bad habits’.

Although University provides the basic preparation for a graduate role, you should consider – ‘what skills does this graduate need to progress in the company in the next three, five or seven years?’ As a graduate learns new skills, they become a much more valuable asset – not only for your company, but to your competitors too. So how do you retain and grow this talent to make them your next ‘Head of’, MD or CEO?

There are a number of contributing factors towards this:

1. Company ethos and values are becoming more and more important to graduates and early talent when they are choosing which companies to join.

During an interview with some of our recently placed graduates, many of them highlighted that one of the most important things about the company they had joined was how the company made them feel valued. One graduate commented that: “You’re not just another cog in the machine that can be replaced tomorrow, everyone is remembered and you’re appreciated for who you are, rather than just your skill set”.

Discovery take a diagnostic approach to truly understand the company we are partnering with, and get a clear understanding of ‘what good looks like’ for a role – what are you comparing your potential hires to? We see many companies that recruit graduates extremely well, and the returns are well deserved. Unfortunately, we see a bigger proportion of companies who don’t do it well – they hire for the immediate requirement with little consideration for the long term.

It isn’t uncommon for some organisations to invest more time and resources in hiring their executives and senior hires, they can be considered to be more ‘business critical’ and harder to get right. I find this to be counterintuitive; the hiring process should be consistent and balanced across every role in a company with all routes leading to the heart of your business values and culture. After all, if you recruit your graduate hires well, they will become your senior talent of the future. As a business leader making critical decisions on a daily basis, why put your business at risk by creating a ticking time bomb further down in your matrix?

To remove this risk, we always recommend building benchmarks that link the role to your overall business strategy, which in turn are measured and evidenced through an assessment centre process. We’re not just talking about competencies – the values, behaviours and relative organisational pace all have to be considered when building an effective benchmark. Equally, to ensure that you can attract talent with the ‘stretch’ you need, your benchmark needs to look beyond the requirements of your business now. What will you need in 5-10 years’ time?

2. You need to have a proper plan for your graduate(s) – what are they going to be doing or learning in the first six months, one year or two years? What progression routes are there for them in the company? If you don’t outline a plan for them, they can (and will) take the skills you‘ve taught them to a company that does have this plan. Apart from being good practice for growing your own talent, this will succession-proof your organisation and allow you to plan future hires in advance to reduce reactive hiring and your overall total cost of ownership.

3. One of the most important, but often overlooked, things that you need to consider is providing graduates with the support they require. Helping them with day-to-day work and acquiring the skills to complete tasks isn’t enough; going from University to work is a big jump – only 52% of UK employers think University prepares graduates for the world of work [The TEFL Academy].We recognised this many years ago, and introduced The Discovery Graduate OPEN Programme (which has now expanded into two programmes for Aspiring and Emerging Leaders) to bridge the gap between academic life and the workplace. Investing this time in a graduate enables them to become self-aware, better motivated, more productive and fully equipped to become a genuine asset to your organisation. This is a crucial time for graduate hires; the foundations that are built during this time will affect their future career and their ultimate success with you. It’s important to teach them skills outside of those required for their current job – teaching them about the wider business and helping them become more self-aware will facilitate their learning and growth as a professional.

When I’m hiring people, I try to remember the advice one of my managers gave me – always hire someone better than yourself. This doesn’t mean that they could do your job now, but it does mean that they have the potential to. What’s the difference between a graduate and someone who’s been in the role for a year? Experience and knowledge. What’s the difference between a graduate and a ‘Head of’, MD or CEO? Experience and knowledge. We were all 21 once, after all.

So, I’ll ask you again, could you hire a 21-year-old to be your next ‘Head of’, MD or CEO?

Placement Student to Graduate: An Interview

Name

Carla Askwith

Which company do you work for?

Saladworks/Kettleby (Samworth Brothers)

What is your job?

Management Trainee

Tell us about your experience of working with Discovery.

I applied for the Saladworks industrial placement scheme in December 2012. The application process involved an application, telephone interview and two assessment centres. Everyone at Discovery was really friendly and reassuring, which made the process more enjoyable. I was provided with lots of useful information prior to each stage of the assessment centre which was really helpful.

How easy/challenging did you find searching for a graduate job?

I kept in touch with the people I had worked with at Saladworks whilst I completed my final year at university which made finding a graduate job much easier, as this led to being contacted when potential opportunities arose. I applied and was offered a place on the Graduate Management Trainee Scheme!

Is your job the kind of job you anticipated doing when you left university?

My aim was to secure a place on a graduate scheme when I left university. I am on a rotational scheme, which gives me a really great insight into the company, building on what I learnt during my placement; I have completed 9 months in Personnel and I’m currently on my second rotation in Commercial.

Does the job differ from what you expected?  If so, how?

My graduate scheme experience has been similar to what I expected, as I had worked for Samworth Brothers previously on my placement year. However, so far, I have been able to have a good input into my rotations which has been great. I specialised in HR & Marketing at University, so completing rotations in both Personnel and Commercial/Marketing has been very interesting and beneficial to my future career.

What have you learnt in your first 6/12 months?

I have been able to put the theory that I learnt at University into practice during the first year of my graduate scheme. I have learnt a lot of management skills and gained great experience in HR through dealing with case work, collective consultation and performance development & management projects. I am currently enjoying developing my skills within commercial and marketing at a new site, which is a great opportunity to meet new people and gain further skills and insight. 

 What was the steepest learning curve for you?

The steepest learning curve is making decisions that really do affect people’s lives throughout case work, such as absence reviews and flexible working. I was given a lot of responsibility during my personnel rotation, so I ensured I was fully informed by reading and understanding policies & procedures, and learning from my colleague to ensure I made the right decisions.

What support have you had along the way in terms of training/development/mentoring etc?

I have received varied training which is really great to build up my skills. Training has included ‘Train the Trainer’ which equips you to train other people, sensory training, coaching training, 5S, Root Cause Analysis, and an Excel Intermediate course. The aforementioned training I have received over the past year gives an indication of the vast training on offer.

What do you enjoy most about work?

I enjoy most the opportunity to move around different sites, as this allows me to meet new people and really experience different sites, people, processes and norms. Although it varies from site to site, and department to department, you are generally given real responsibility.

What do you enjoy the least or find the hardest?

One thing that I do find challenging is the uncertainty of where your next placement will be and in which department, however you are able to have an input regarding your preferences and future goals which can shape your graduate scheme rotations.

Do you feel that school/university prepared you for work?

My particular university course involved a placement year which really prepared me for work, especially as it was split into two 6 month placements, thus I gained varied skills and experience. University itself also helped to prepare me for work, as I specialised in HR & Marketing, and therefore learnt subject specific skills as well as completing presentations and role play activities.

Take us through a typical day in your role as Graduate Management Trainee…

Depending on which department you are working in at which site, a typical day can be very different. During my rotation in Personnel, a typical day would involve working towards my longer term objective of creating, delivering and embedding a brand new Performance Development Review system for the business. This could involve branding and creating toolkits for all employees, delivering training courses for the new system and giving updates on completion rates to engage everybody. A typical day may also involve case work, such as absence reviews or flexible working requests, and the preparation and outcome work that comes with it. Employee engagement is a priority, hence creating a weekly team brief, and working towards plans such as family fun days and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities were common tasks to be involved with.

What would your advice be to students or recent graduates who are looking for a job?

My advice would be to try and get as involved as possible in extra-curricular activities at University to really build your CV. This will not only help in your job search but also give you extra skills which will enable you in the world of work. Also, network and keep in touch with people you meet along the way. This can be really beneficial for future opportunities.

How would you describe the culture at Samworth Brothers?

Every site is very different. That’s what makes Samworth Brothers a really interesting company to work for. Generally, Samworth Brothers is very traditional and values its people & quality of products. I have found the 3 different sites I have worked at to be very friendly and welcoming.

How do you keep your graduate employees from leaving your business?

So you’ve invested a fortune in your graduate recruitment programme. You’ve used a graduate sourcing company to recruit those grads that are really interested in your industry and are raring to go. But how do you counteract the 1 in 4 graduates that will leave a graduate programme before it’s complete? How do you ensure that they stay engaged for the entirety?

We asked a recent graduate scheme employee for some top tips on how to keep graduates engaged and in it for the long run.

What is the best part of your graduate scheme?

Rotations – going around all of the branches and departments of the organisation. I have also enjoyed doing presentations in front of board of directors. It’s nerve wracking but a useful skill to have in the future. I’ve been exposed to project management and have been encouraged by my colleagues to take on larger tasks. Within the company, there are a number of great options for training courses, from personal development to business courses. One thing I have experienced a lot of is the option of travel, its great graduates have all these opportunities.

What part of your graduate scheme would you say needed improvement?

I would say wage structure firstly. There wasn’t any clear increase throughout the scheme and the wages were lower than what other company schemes.

I would also say to provide structure to give future insights – there was no clear after plan for graduates, and with some uncertainty in industry, a clear plan would help envision a career within the company and the objectives to reach that goal. I would have also like to be involved in more real projects on the scheme.

One other thing I found unclear was levels of seniority at the end of graduate scheme that were agreed to graduates. There were  minimal senior roles in the areas of the businesses in which we preferred. To counteract this I would say to match degree and flexibility to explore preferred areas of the business.

What would you encourage employees to do more of in the schemes?

I would expose people on the schemes to more management experience – perhaps on a part time basis. I would also try to tailor the graduate schemes around skill sets and then decide on rotation around the business on this basis, and encourage more exposure to customers and pressured situations to equip us with relationship development and crisis management skills for future careers.

What part of the scheme switched you off?

For me, it was having to do some of the aspects of head office placement. Whilst good to know, my placements were too long in parts of the business that were outside of my interest and skill sets.

There was also an element of making graduates do projects and jobs that normal staff didn’t want to do. There was a sense of using graduates on placements in varying departments to pick up on some of the undesirable activities. There is always an expectation of this going into a business at entry level, however, the departments didn’t seem well prepped for a graduates arrival.

What did you feel about your future in the company whilst going through the grad scheme?

I was worried about job security – what was going to happen when the scheme ended? Uncertain industries and business changes did make you feel nervous at times. I would say, on the whole, the company did look after grads.

If I was to do my own grad scheme

I’d start them for 3 months in the heart of the business then 3 months in office manager/admin roles. I would then encourage graduates to spend a month in their chosen area whilst continuously reviewing them to scope what they really wanted to do.

I would tailor the final year of the grad scheme around what your graduates want to do post the graduate scheme whilst continuing the full business experience.

Why Saturday jobs are so valuable

According to the Association of Graduate Recruiter’s (AGR) survey of UK employers, half of them believe that graduates lack basic workplace skills.

In this morning’s interview with BBC Radio 4, Stephen Isherwood of the AGR stated that the most employable and workplace ready graduates are those that complete placement years in industry. Likewise, those that have had Saturday jobs are likely to be closer to meeting employer’s expectations too. Working in a supermarket whilst in Sixth Form or college for example can provide students with vital workplace skills.

This interview reminded us of a blog post we wrote a while back around the importance of Saturday jobs. It’s a bit of fun, but the underpinning message remains: young people must not ‘play down’ their work experiences and must reflect upon them toidentify the skills and things they learnt whilst doing them…

Having a part time job is not just about having something to stick on a CV; it’s about gaining independence, having responsibility, improving time management and  getting insight into what the world of work looks like. It shows employers that the candidate has experience of adapting to situations and has some extracurricular proof that they can demonstrate the skills listed on their applications.

We often interview graduates who play down their waitressing or bartending experience at the local village pub in favour of talking about their first class assignments. But in fact, waiting on tables is an excellent example of customer service, dealing with problems (surely there was at least one customer complaint!), working in a high pressure environment, working in a team and having to think on your feet.

We did a bit of digging to find out what kind of Saturday jobs Discovery employees had when they were teens. Some of the findings were a little unusual to say the least!

The most popular roles included waiting on tables and having a paper round – some even getting up before school to deliver papers hot off the press.

Some of the more unusual roles included:

-Working in a Christmas pudding factory (where Sarah was in charge of brandy measurements!)
-Working in the designer jeans department at Harrods (Jane measured up Anthea Turner for some new denim)
-Bra fitting
-Granny sitting
-Dog walking
-Sugar beet collecting
-Lab assistant (cleaning up explosions!)
-And finally, bouncy castle inflator and supervisor

One employee described his early career title as ‘Lifestyle & Fitness Coach’ – what this lavish job title actually translates as is that he collected money for the sunbeds on Southsea beach!

Whatever the job may be, there will always be something to take from it. Whether that’s a new skill, a new friend, a new way of dealing with challenging situations or simply the realisation that you never want to do said job ever again!

Apprenticeship with an SME: What’s it like? #NAW2017

Following on from yesterday’s ‘Interview with an Apprentice’, today we have our Administrator Apprentice, Molly, in the spotlight!

Molly joined Discovery Graduates in 2016 and has been an invaluable part of the team since. Unedited and unabridged, here’s what Molly had to say about her post-school experiences…

I chose to do an apprenticeship because A-Levels weren’t working out for me. The workload was too much and the environment wasn’t for me, I therefore chose to do an apprenticeship because I enjoy learning on the job and building my skills as I go along. I’m a practical person and so learning theory in a classroom didn’t excite me. The skills I learn tend to stick with me better if I do them practically and have the chance to make a mistake! Then I can look back and learn from it when it comes to doing the task again.

I have learnt that I can fit into a fast paced and professional work environment quite easily even though it is a massive step away from college/school surroundings. I have learnt to be a lot more confident, especially when talking to the general public and my fellow colleagues. I have progressed massively from when I first started in terms of my social ability and I definitely feel more comfortable now when talking in front of groups of people and over the phone (which used to be a massive fear of mine). Another crucial skill I have learnt is how to manage my time appropriately and effectively, especially with having apprenticeship work to complete alongside my many daily tasks. This has enabled me to prioritise a lot better and meet deadlines at ease.

My advice would be to consider the type of learner that you are and what you want out of the next step personally. Not everyone can handle the workload and high intensity of A-levels and many underestimate the jump that there is from GCSE’s to A-levels. I think if you have one goal that you are certain on fulfilling then University might be an option, but to the people out there who are unsure of what they want to do in their future, then an apprenticeship is a great way to gain experience whilst gaining a recognised qualification and showing commitment to future employers.

Having come into this apprenticeship with knocked confidence due to my A-levels not working out the list of skills that I have developed seem to be endless and I’m building on them, learning new things about myself and my job, every day. Compared to other jobs I have had in the past my apprenticeship is definitely more of a team-oriented job. I feel I am valued here more than I have ever been and I think my skills and work are rewarded and praised when they deserve it. I have been given great responsibility here, especially when my manager is away. Due to increased work load we are increasing the admin team which has given me the opportunity to shape my job role a little bit more and increase the aspects that benefit me most and that I enjoy.

Interview with an Apprentice #NAW2017

Discovery Graduates are all about Discovering Talent, not just for the great employers we work with, but for our own business as well.

Since 2015, we have recruited two apprentices here in Birmingham and have had our third start just this week!

In light of National Apprenticeship Week, we were keen to understand what our apprentices’ experiences of choosing this route had been. So, we interviewed them!

(Sarah on her first Work Birthday in 2016)

This first interview is with our excellent Marketing Administrator, Sarah, who, having stormed through her Level 2 programme is now progressing onto her Level 3 Marketing-specific apprenticeship. Here’s what Sarah had to say about her post-school experiences… (We didn’t bribe her, I promise!)

Why did you choose to do an apprenticeship?

I chose the apprenticeship route because I was never really sure what I wanted to do for a career. When I was at high school, I wanted to become a Game Designer. After failing my college course, this dream quickly vanished when I realised I could not progress onto this career path without the relevant grades. Once my original plan failed, I had no idea what I wanted to do next! My school and my family had drilled it into my head that the only way to success was through University and I found myself constantly comparing myself to others (who had achieved top grades in their GCSEs and A-Levels). I didn’t think outside the box. After a few years of slow realisation that the educational path wasn’t for me and that I didn’t actually want to spend thousands of pounds on University fees, I decided that the Apprenticeship route would be best for me by:

 What are the most important things you have learnt since beginning your apprenticeship?

The most important thing I have gained from my apprenticeship is the invaluable experience. This is something that I never would have gained in a college/university environment and I think it is essential to have an understanding of the working world and of business as a whole. I have gained skills that I never thought I would have and I have completed tasks that, two years ago, I never would have believed I could achieve. It has strengthened my confidence so much and I definitely feel that my apprenticeship has benefitted me in a number of ways; financially, educationally, professionally and also on a personal level.

Another thing that I have learnt during my apprenticeship is that I can achieve anything I want to; there is nothing that you can’t achieve or learn. Even if it means spending hours practicing, researching or enduring a couple of embarrassing moments…My self-confidence was honestly so low before I started working at Discovery and all of the knowledge, experience and skills gained has only made me a better person (and a million times more confident). I used to think that because I wasn’t a top student, academically, and because I didn’t get the best grades, that I was a failure and that I wouldn’t do well in the workplace. But, just because I didn’t do well in an educational environment and didn’t progress down the University route did not mean that I wouldn’t achieve great things. The point is that you should never restrict yourself with a negative way of thinking and remember; you can do anything and be anything you want to – it just takes time and hard work!

What would your advice be to school leavers who are currently deciding which direction to take next?

My advice to anybody who is unsure about what to do next is to remember that formal education is not for everybody – not everybody has the exact same skillset or methods of learning. And that’s absolutely fine! Not everybody is wired to think in an academic way. Whichever learning style suits you best, you should stick with. I think apprenticeships are a fantastic way of developing yourself and achieving career success.

If you didn’t do fantastically in your GCSE’s/A Levels/College, then don’t think that it’s the end of what could have been a successful career – it’s not true. There are so many different types of intelligence, ways of learning and different skills to learn. You just need to find your own strengths and weaknesses and this can only be found through testing the waters and seeing what you’re most comfortable with. Everybody has potential to do great things – it’s about finding the route to get there that is the hard part!

What has your experience of doing an apprenticeship at an SME been like?

I think SMEs are perfect for apprenticeships. I feel very much part of the team and pretty much have done since I started; everybody was so welcoming right from the beginning. I think that SME’s offer a wider range of work, allowing you to easily switch between departments if you feel that a certain career path isn’t for you. The amount of opportunities that I have had has blown me away. I’ve gained so much experience across several departments; whether it be attending an event with the Sales Team or even picking up the phone for the first time and making a call – all of it has helped me to develop in so many ways.

I think doing an apprenticeship with an SME is definitely a good idea, because, I don’t think that apprentices in larger companies would get as much recognition and praise as I have. I really do feel valued at Discovery and I know that my efforts are appreciated; I’m always receiving thank-you’s for the work I’ve done and I’ve never felt underappreciated during my time here. I’d love for other apprentices to feel appreciated and to grow as much as I have because I really do believe that it helps to develop you as a person, and not just in your career.