The SFA has employed apprentices for the past 3-5 years. Apprentices have been especially important in digital, and the team now building the apprenticeship service includes a number of former apprentices. To mark National Apprenticeship Week, we’ve published this short film about two of them. Below, user researcher Laura Palfreyman talks about her apprenticeship journey.
I’m Laura Palfreyman and I’ve worked at the Skills Funding Agency for the past 2 years.
I started my career here as a Business Administration Apprentice. I’ve always been ambitious but university wasn’t the right route for me. I didn’t really enjoy being in a classroom and knew that I would benefit more from learning and gaining experience in the workplace. I researched and eventually applied for an apprenticeship on my own initiative.
School and college gave me no exposure to apprenticeships, or any information about them - university was considered the only option after completing education. Three years ago, I don’t think schools really saw apprenticeships as a serious route to a career. Things are beginning to change - apprenticeships are getting a lot more exposure now.
Achieving the best
As this was my first proper job, (apart from waitressing!) I started my apprenticeship with little expectation of what it would entail. It was exciting to be working full time.
I was based in the project support office to start with. My role involved supporting the team in the processing of invoices, purchase orders and travel, and ensuring that all documentation was correct. Throughout the scheme, I took on higher level tasks which supported my apprenticeship modules. The workload was always do-able but challenging. I was surprised how supportive and encouraging my team were. They constantly pushed me to achieve the best, while helping me learn and develop my skills.
For me, the best part of the apprenticeship was seeing former apprentices around me who had moved on to roles they enjoyed and were really developing their careers. Looking back now, I can see how much my apprenticeship helped me develop as an individual and how it gave me the clear career path I’d always wanted.
After completing my apprenticeship in April 2016, I spoke to Deepee Mann-Basra (also featured in the video) about what I wanted to do next - she and I used to work together on the project support team. Deepee talked to me about possible future career paths and it was through chatting to her that I realised that user research was a good option. User research requires good team-working and organisation - these were skills I picked up on my apprenticeship and could be easily transferred. Soon after our chat, I was offered a short-term development opportunity to work with the user research team on the new apprenticeship service.
I had no experience in user research but designing a service based on the needs of ‘actual’ users really interested me. During my three month contract, I shadowed and supported the user researcher team and gained knowledge and exposure to the project. I enjoyed talking to different employers - occasionally they’d prove our assumptions completely wrong! After the first month, I knew that I wanted to follow a career in user research.
Experience and knowledge
When a permanent role came up, I applied - and was successful. I’m now furthering my career working with a team that I love, and working in an agile way. Before I started in my new role, I wasn’t aware of agile development or how important user research was to the process.
I would recommend apprenticeships to anyone who is just leaving school. In my opinion, you are gaining the experience and knowledge from working with skilled and intelligent specialists. You’re working with people who really know how to do their job - they can develop you just as well as a teacher in a classroom.
You can apply for an apprenticeship here.