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“I’m Shari Powell. I have worked in HMRC for 33 years, working through all grades from Administrative Assistant to Grade 7; from filing paper P45’s – when Inland Revenue had such things as Con cards (yes, I’m that old! And I started when I was very young) to being a previous Business Unit Head (BUH) in HMRC Customer Compliance Group (CCG). Most recently I held a role within the Compliance Operations Directorate (COD) as the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) Lead for the current Civil Compliance Foundation Learning (CCFL). As part of this I was instrumental in developing a new Management Information System for CCFL, utilising the magic IT skills of a very clever lady to implement this for me. I have learned lots, seen lots of changes and have gained knowledge, skills and experience having had many varied job roles along the way. I am now fluent in the language of acronyms!
As you can see, spending my youth in HMRC I’ve also had most of my education in HMRC too. I completed my BTEC in Business, Finance and Economics when I was just 17 years old. Following this I achieved a promotion allowing me to undertake my ITSA taxes training to become a fully trained “old school” ‘Tax Inspector’ or in new terms ‘Enquiry or Compliance officer’. I have seen many changes along the way. Most recently, dipping my toes into Power BI training and mental health awareness.
I had been in a management position for approximately 8 years prior to taking the Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA). I had an incredible sponsor and mentor within HMRC who believed in my abilities, knew my story and gave me the confidence to look at new opportunities. He encouraged me to get the qualification to match my practical experiences, and an apprenticeship allowed me to gain knowledge through a degree platform and demonstrate my skills on the job. It is thanks to him I have gained a CMDA with HMRC and have been awarded Chartered manager status with the Chartered Management Institute. This has been the most challenging undertaking yet! I would advise anyone looking at an apprenticeship to have a mentor. Someone who can be honest with you and is not afraid to ask challenging questions to develop you, as although a manager is there to support you, their time is limited.
I started my apprenticeship as a naïve newly promoted Grade 7 BUH in the Taskforce and Special Compliance Directorate. This meant working full time managing nine Senior Office managers for operational teams. As an apprentice, the department supports your learning by allocating 20% of your work time to study. I utilised this study time fully throughout the 4 years of my part time degree. Nevertheless, don’t be misled, the work time allocated to the course was 8 hours per week (which is the 20%), I then spent another 16-20 hours a week studying, writing and re-writing assignments and preparing a portfolio of evidence to gain my Chartered Management status.
The degree gently introduced me to the academic side of leadership and management (in comparison to the practical, to which I was well versed) before moving on to the more complex strategic objectives, change and communications and then marrying the two to combine the academia with the practical real-life scenarios. I was nervous, excited, and inexperienced as to what I would be expected to do – I’d never considered academia before. The learning was a combination of self-study and face-to-face events (pre- pandemic), which later became online weekly half day events. The events were attended by like-minded individuals from a variety of backgrounds and commercial origins, both public and private (many are now close friends!). Having these events helped to cement my understanding.
The apprenticeship was tough. It forced me to confront challenging scenarios both academically and practically. I had to accept constructive criticism and be willing to accept, learn and implement the changes required personally and professionally. I needed to be knowledgeable enough to debate leadership theories befitting various situations and scenarios and additionally, be able to practically implement these at work. As part of the CMDA a really important learning point for me was to keep on track, be disciplined and make sure I kept examples of where my work and study crossed over.
The course was heaps of giggles, hearing management stories from private and public sector entities from Visa to Prison Service to Courts and Tribunals, these were mind boggling and in some cases what leadership really shouldn’t be. My cohort set up a WhatsApp group where we were able to help each other understand, provide context and explanations and points of view on subjects. This was a vital component and something I would encourage everyone to do whether it’s a degree apprenticeship or new trainees into a department. Hearing other people’s views was rewarding and eye opening – who knew we sell and market ourselves in HMRC???! but we do it every day.
Being on the apprenticeship allowed me to open doors I would otherwise not have access to, or been aware of their existence. In the last year of my CMDA I was able to move roles, becoming the CCFL assurance lead and assumed responsibility for the creation and design of the new assurance process for new trainees into HMRC CCG. This has provided me with the opportunity to work with and beside all grades up to Director level, including one-on-one discussions at senior levels and honed my skills in business case writing and widespread communications (once again; selling and marketing!). Doing so enabled me to gain an enhanced confidence and understanding of senior level considerations and the knowledge needed for oversight at a strategic level. I was able to add value to the department by changing views and resetting habits of how training was assessed. I was able to use my degree skills to adapt to situations, change my style to meet the needs of different audiences and keep learning from stakeholders and peers. The apprenticeship enabled me and continues to enable me to look at HMRC as a whole entity, not just through my role or my team’s role but in a wider strategic view also.
My fabulous manager and colleagues got involved too, providing their time to support me and write witness statements as to what I have completed and influenced – this reflection of what I’d achieved was a confidence boost and is an acknowledgment of what you can achieve. I am grateful to them all. During the time of my apprenticeship, I went through a personal tragedy, but this apprenticeship gave me focus and a study family that kept me going.
Following completion of my apprenticeship, I have now moved into a different BUH role. I am making use of my degree and Chartered status by sharing the insights and experience I have gained. I continue to support our operational teams through adaptation of existing processes and management roles and by introducing new leadership methods where improvements can be made, to foster the feeling of accountability, supportive management and pride in a job done well.
One question I get asked a lot: Was it worth it?
Hell, yes! It was tough, but I gained insights I never knew I needed and now feel I can make a change. I have gained the knowledge and skills to look at management AND leadership issues from a different perspective. Most importantly, I feel I can make a difference. I feel equipped to support others to thrive, to be brave enough to let things break knowing that I and others can learn from it.
I was sent the picture below, from a lecturer to not only help me have the resilience within my studies, but to understand how leadership can work.
I hope this article can provide that confidence that anyone can undertake study at any age, and it can make a difference.”
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Hear from other current and former Civil Service apprentices who have written blogs for National Apprenticeship Week 2024.