Gaining a Competitive Edge

Victoria Haigney was part of the first cohort of Professional Economist Degree Apprenticeship Scheme who gradauated with a first class honours in a celebration at Canterbury Cathedral in November 2023.

Haigney now working as a research analyst at Compass Lexecon was apprenticed at the Department for Education (DfE), but spent her first 2 years on the programme apprenticed at the Office for National Statistics. In her dissertation she tackles engagement in school, particualrly permanent exclusion, on individual future prospects of students. We ask her about this piece of work as well as her experience of the programme.

What skills did you gain that you’ll carry with you for life?

Undertaking a degree apprenticeship has allowed me to develop a range of skills. I gained important technical skills which are transferrable to a range of professions, such as problem solving and critical thinking. I also honed industry specific skills like how to design and implement economic analysis using a range of different software. As an apprentice, I also developed many useful professional skills. For example, regularly dealing with a high workload and competing deadlines from numerous projects has taught me great time management and prioritisation skills.

Working with others has greatly improved my interpersonal skills such as teamwork and communication.

Do you feel you missed any of the aspects of a more traditional degree?

Most of my friends opted for a conventional university degree, while I decided to pursue the less traditional route of degree apprenticeship. At first, I was worried I would miss out on the infamous ‘student experience’. However, I soon realised that I had plenty of opportunities to socialise and network with my peers on the scheme and other young professionals at work. We regularly arranged socials and out-of-work activities. So, although I was busier than a typical student, I was able to maintain a good work-life balance and social life throughout the scheme. Financially, I felt in a much better position than my friends at university as I was able to earn a salary straight away and had no student debt to worry about. Also, the breadth of skills you gain through working and studying simultaneously makes you significantly more employable.

This has allowed me to kickstart my career as an economist.

What is the most winning part of taking the Professional Economist Degree Apprenticeship Scheme?

The Degree Apprenticeship Scheme was a great decision for me financially. As soon as I finished school at 18, I started earning a competitive salary while studying for a degree. This gave me financial independence, and enabled me to start saving and paying into my pension! I also avoided the burden of student debt unlike many of my friends who went to university. Moreover, the apprenticeship has given me a competitive edge in the job market, as I have both a qualification and work experience in my field. This has allowed me to access higher salaried jobs upon completing the scheme. Therefore, I feel very satisfied about my financial prospects as a result of the apprenticeship.

Tell us about the process of writing your dissertation.

Writing the dissertation was daunting for me as I initially didn’t have a topic in mind which I wanted to explore. To help me with this, I started by identifying datasets produced by my department which were both interesting and of a high enough quality for econometric analysis. This streamlined my options and helped me form my final research question. My main piece of advice would be to start simple! Often, working on a simple but detailed piece of analysis to a high standard is an easier way to succeed in your dissertation, rather than attempting the most complex econometrics techniques in your wheelhouse. I would also recommend to anyone starting or planning their dissertation to utilise the expertise of your colleagues at work. They are often a great sounding board for ideas!

Would you recommend this type of study?

I would highly recommend a degree apprenticeship to others who are looking for a rewarding and challenging way to learn. Working alongside studying means you benefit from the support and guidance of both your employer and your university. This includes the unique opportunity to learn from experienced professionals and peers. This will equip you with a wide and transferrable skill set that sets you apart from other graduates. Another key advantage of this type of study is that it allows you to immediately apply what you’ve learned in your studies to real-world situations. This will help you consolidate your knowledge and foster a deeper understanding of your chosen subject. Overall, degree apprenticeships are an amazing way to develop yourself both personally and professionally

You can read Victoria Haigney’s work ‘Expelled: The Effects of Being Permanently Excluded From School on Early Career Earnings’ in full, along with the other ten pieces of selected work in the Kent Economics Degree Apprentice Journal: Issue 1, 2023.