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“During lockdown I had a milestone birthday and with this ‘number’ brought quite a lot of reflection on what I wanted from my life and career for the next decade! I recognised that to enable me to do this I needed some help to get behind the feelings I was having and thoughts that were holding me back. I invested in my personal development and worked with a coach. This experience was fantastic and helped me understand my purpose, values, beliefs and what I wanted from all aspects of my life. It also made me reflect on opportunities within my role and work with the DVSA.
In my role at the DVSA I lead teams with responsibility for employee relations, reward, talent management, wellbeing, learning and development. We provide a coaching and mentoring offering to colleagues alongside coaching opportunities available through the government campus. My experience with coaching had been such a positive one that I wanted to help others unlock their potential and so I embarked on a level 5 coaching apprenticeship at the fabulous age of 51!
The apprenticeship felt like the right learning and development offer as I was able to study alongside my role and I would also get to experience first-hand how it felt to be an apprentice both within my organisation and the civil service. This would help me in my DVSA role when promoting the benefits of personal development and resourcing options.
I was very excited to get back into learning and studies that were going to take place over 18 months and not just a one off event. My sons, 16 and 14 were somewhat fascinated with their Mum studying an apprenticeship and sometimes hiding myself away in our bedroom/office to complete modules and revise.
I was confident at the beginning of the apprenticeship in my planning and organising of my diary, joining modules, contributing to discussions and practising coaching in triad groups. Then about six months into the apprenticeship my workload went a bit crazy. I was also experiencing some health problems with the menopause (a topic for another time!) My diary management became out of control and I fell behind on modules. I then started to worry about falling behind and not being on top of things as modules continued to take place. I’d attend them but then not schedule time to do further reading, complete assignments and practise coaching.
It also became difficult to organise our triad groupings as some people started to drop out of the apprenticeship due to change in role, lack of time and postponing to complete at a later stage. I found myself moving between groups which felt a bit unsettling. However, everyone that was in my apprenticeship cohort were great at sharing openly with our provider what we were experiencing and asking for help.
I was also allocated another apprenticeship learning supervisor as the person I was working with went off unwell. The communications around this change was a bit bumpy but I have to say my new supervisor got me back on track. She both coached and directed me, giving me the opportunity to amend module dates and completion of tasks and assignments. I knew I didn’t want to give up or postpone, even with everything going on, when I was studying I enjoyed it. I listened to the advice given to me and also sought out a coach to work with as I knew this would be beneficial having done something previously on goals I wanted to achieve.
This made me focus on what I wanted to achieve and to get a work life balance with my studies. It also led to me having an honest discussion with my manager and direct reports on how I was feeling and that I needed to be more protective of my 20% apprenticeship time in the workplace.
I gave myself permission to block out diary time and to try as much as possible to stick to it. In my role there was always going to be an ad hoc meeting that would crop up which I needed to attend. However, I became more disciplined in making sure I used my time wisely and built in time to reflect on modules I attended, podcasts I had listened to, things I had read. A big part of the coaching apprenticeship was to show reflective practice, what I had learnt, what I was going to do with that learning and what difference it would make. This in itself took up time, reflections in the moment are ok but to truly reflect and learn takes some thinking and writing! I invested in a journal to help me gather my thoughts. I guess I’m a tad old fashioned that way, I like to have paper and pen. I would eventually type up my reflections in the online log that I had to do for my apprenticeship but I find typing doesn’t always allow me to get creative. Yes, I know there are online tools that will enable me to get creative and this is probably some further learning I need to do so that I get more comfortable with using tech, but back to the apprenticeship. A journal helped me and it was great to look back on when completing my portfolio.
During my apprenticeship I offered to coach colleagues so that I could practice and try out different coaching models and various types of questions. This was very helpful and I learnt a lot. I’m also happy that I was able to help colleagues achieve their goals through these coaching sessions. I am still working with a couple of coaches on new goals which is great.
I learnt from my 6 month blip to make sure I was on top of things and had time to prepare for my end point assessment. My advice to anyone embarking on an apprenticeship is to plan, prepare and take stock and review what you need to do. There was a lot of work involved in preparing all the documentation for end point assessment, this was before sitting a knowledge test, being interviewed and observed doing two coaching sessions. I had cleared my diary to make sure I could go through all the requirements for end point assessment and also kept my diary free either side of my test, interview and observations so I could do final preparations and give myself some downtime afterwards. This was so helpful to do because if I had rushed straight back on to work meetings I would have been exhausted. My brain needed time to refocus on something different because the last part of the apprenticeship felt mentally tiring.
So after all that, what happened upon completing my apprenticeship….well, I passed! I remember the joy I felt hearing I had passed my apprenticeship. My manager, direct reports and colleagues were really happy for me. When my certificate arrived at home my husband framed it and we celebrated with a family meal out in a lovely restaurant. I felt proud and allowed myself to be ok with that and glow in achieving a qualification and a skill I could use to contribute to a learning offering both to DVSA colleagues and wider civil service.
Since qualifying as a coach I continue to coach colleagues who approach me to work with them. I also promote our coaching and mentoring services in the DVSA and share learning and best practise in a cross government network. I’m also on the civil service coaching directory so I’m available as a free development resource for civil servants, which I just think is a fantastic learning offer. If you were not aware this service is available to you, take a look at the coaching offering on government campus.
I’m also a member of the Association of Coaching and this supports my continuing professional development. I’m also thinking of getting accreditation, so my learning journey will continue.
If after reading this blog, I’ve made you even just a little bit intrigued and curious about looking at doing an apprenticeship, my advice is, don’t hold yourself back. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. What will you gain apart from a qualification? It’s about the learning experience, making new contacts in your cohort, getting to know more about yourself, how you learn, what you are capable of, skills you can use in your role and getting to exercise your brain muscle, a great thing to do.
Enjoy every moment of your apprenticeship and don’t underestimate the work involved. Be ready for it, be smart about planning your time, don’t hold back from saying if you need help, agree what support you need from your manager and colleagues and most of all, be ready for any setback so you can bounce back and continue on your studies. You will thank yourself for doing it. Best of luck!”
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Hear from other current and former Civil Service apprentices who have written blogs for National Apprenticeship Week 2024.