Fatima is a Policy Officer apprentice with Ofcom and tells us how her apprenticeship has given her a competitive edge in her future career.
Why did you choose a higher apprenticeship over a university degree?
I chose a higher apprenticeship over the typical university route despite performing well academically at school because it is my opinion that the value of a degree as a tool to differentiate yourself in the job market has greatly diminished. Of course, there is still value in pursuing a traditional degree if the intention is just to expand your knowledge but it is no secret that having a degree no longer guarantees you a job like it once did. Therefore, I chose a higher apprenticeship because it provides the one thing that employers will always find valuable – experience. Once I finish my apprenticeship, I will have a qualification and two years of experience under my belt while my age mates will likely have little to no relevant sector experience. It is this competitive advantage that encouraged me to seek out apprenticeships.
Could you describe a typical day in your current role?
As a policy officer with Ofcom your day-to day depends entirely on the nature of the project and stage at which the project is at. For example, the initial stage of an Ofcom project typically involves a lot of desk research as well as project management (creating workstreams, producing Gantt charts etc.) whereas once we have a concrete policy position, a lot of time might be spent on drafting consultation documents. Stakeholder engagement is very important to the policy process so a lot of time can be spent organising meetings and taking meeting minutes. On a more exciting front, I’ve also had the opportunity to organise and run workshops, focus groups and 1-1 interviews for an in-house research project I was assigned to. Other things I’ve had the opportunity to do involve: synthesising and analysing data, mind mapping solutions to problem statements and managing project plans. Of course, there are also endless emails to respond to!
Can you tell us about your experience of combining paid work with academic studies? Have there been any challenges?
I actually haven’t found balancing working and studying as difficult as I anticipated. I think that is mostly to do with the fact that colleagues are very respectful of my study day (which I typically take on a Friday) and the University of Kent is great at providing work that is challenging enough to get the brain juices flowing but manageable enough so that I can easily balance learning with work. It does get a little more challenging when there is an assignment due, however, it all comes down to effective time management and clearly communicating your availability with colleagues – which are both key skills needed to being a policy officer! My colleagues at Ofcom are incredibly accommodating and my University lecturers are very generous with the amount of time they give us to complete assignments so I haven’t had any notable issues with balancing working on two projects in two different teams and studying.
How do you find the split of on the job and off the job training?
I greatly enjoy the split between on-the-job and off-the-job training because it helps me cement what I’ve learnt. I’ve been quite fortunate that my rotations around the different groups in Ofcom have aligned perfectly with my learning at the University. For example, I began the “Who runs the UK? Power, politics and policy” module right when I rotated to the Public Policy Team who are responsible for liaising with Government and Parliament, so the module acted as a great ‘politics 101’ course for me which was immeasurably helpful. Similarly, I was working through the ‘Project Management’ module while I was given the responsibility of project managing Ofcom’s annual plan. The ability to apply your learning is one of the biggest benefits of doing an apprenticeship so it is something I try to do as often as I can.
Is there anything you have learned in class that helps you now in your day-to-day working life?
Considering that I knew nothing about policy when I began the course, in some ways everything I learnt has been very helpful. Saying this, the most helpful skill I’ve learnt which I use in my day-to-day is project management because I spend quite a lot of time assigning tasks to people and ensuring they stay on top of deadlines. Apart from that, the very first module – “Readiness for Policy Officer Apprenticeship” – has proven to be very helpful as it provided me with a variety of tools for managing my time as well as teaching me how I can decipher if a source is credible.
Is your apprenticeship living up to your expectations? What have been some of the highlights of the higher apprenticeship for you?
I actually believe it exceeded my expectations! One of the things that made me hesitant to apply for the role was my worry that the learning and studying elements of the apprenticeship will be side-lined by that has not been my experience at all. My other worry was that a qualification in policy was too broad and vague to hold much value but seeing how former apprentices are thriving in their career – both in Ofcom and in other organisations – I’m confident that I have secured myself a good career that I truly enjoy.
In what ways has this higher apprenticeship made a difference to you and your career?
Well prior to this higher apprenticeship, I had no career to speak of ( I applied to the apprenticeship straight out of A-Levels) so in many ways the higher apprenticeship is the foundation for the very beginning of my career. Throughout my year and a half, I have learned hard marketable skills such as project management and data analysis as well as soft ‘people’ skills that should hopefully make me an attractive, well-rounded candidate to many jobs both within and outside of policy (many people who work in policy are also often interested in Consultancy, PR, Market Research…etc.)
What are your future plans/aspirations? How do you see your career progressing?
I haven’t quite ironed out my long-term plan but in the immediate future I wish to secure a permanent position as a policy advisor in Ofcom. Beyond that only time will tell whether I decided to stay at Ofcom and focus on progressing upwards or if I decide to move laterally to a different organisation (perhaps in the Civil Service or for a think tank). In any event, I think I am interested in a long term career in policy – whatever shape that takes. As for other future aspirations, I do wish to live abroad at some point in my early to mid twenties. I haven’t quite decided whether this will be an indefinite move or a temporary one but I guess we will see!
What advice would you give to people considering a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship?
My advise is to critically ask yourself why do you want to go university. If you want to go university because you think it is a means of securing your dream career then I would say you should consider looking for a higher/degree apprenticeship as it might give you a strategic advantage to get a foot in the door in competitive industries. If you want to go university purely for academic reasons or you are very unsure of what you want to do in the future, then I would recommend you get a traditional degree because focusing you energy on studying and searching for your passion might yield the best results for you. If you do not want to go to university but you feel a great pressure to, I would advise that you take a gap year and strive to pursue what really makes you happy. Life is short and no one should feel pressured to spend time (and money!) doing something they don’t want to do.