Trial by fire: My life as an apprentice

Hey, my name is Kit Newens and I’m a Digital Communications Apprentice at STFC Hartree Centre. I decided to write this blog post for National Apprenticeship Week 2022 to share my experiences with anyone who might be considering an apprenticeship!

How I got started

I had never considered doing an apprenticeship before and had no idea what it would entail, but after studying Forensic Psychology for four years, I was looking for work that would interest me, and my careers coach found a listing for a Digital Communications Apprentice at the Hartree Centre. I had never worked with digital comms before but after reading the job spec it seemed not only like something I would be good at but something I would enjoy, as I already did a lot of content creation in my spare time. I sent in my CV and after an interview and some skill screenings I started the role in January 2021!

Now, after doing it for over a year and as I come to the end of my apprenticeship, I wanted to share what I learnt as an apprentice at the Hartree Centre.

What was rewarding about being an apprentice?

One of the main incentives of doing an apprenticeship for me, was the ability to earn while I learn. Not only do I get paid while studying but the fact that I didn’t have to pay for the education I was receiving was a huge benefit. Being able to balance both my workload and education and having the flexibility of being able to choose what that balance is, was also really helpful. I had to do 20% off the job learning which equates to one day a week, with options to take a full day, two half-days or even split the hours through the week.

My favourite part of being an apprentice was being able to immediately apply the skills and knowledge I was learning and getting to see the outcomes right away. For example, one week I would learn how to use Premiere Pro and the next week I’m working on filming an interview and editing the video for social media. There were other skills that I learned from being employed right away, like time management, planning and networking which I never would have had the chance to experience if I was at university.

After having a photography lesson, I practice my new skills by taking headshots of Hartree Centre staff.

After having a photography lesson, I practice my new skills by taking headshots of Hartree Centre staff.

As someone who did the conventional college to university route, I found that doing an apprenticeship was the best option for me. I often struggled with revision and exams but being able to immediately apply what I was learning meant that I didn’t forget it straight away. I was able to reinforce what I was learning, and instead of exams or essays I got to do practical tasks and explain my rationale in conversation.

Another cool thing was meeting people who do very different jobs and learning about all the technologies that exist at the Hartree Centre. Going from knowing nothing about supercomputers to seeing all the different uses and applications was fascinating. It was great meeting these new people because I was receiving support from colleagues and tutors who are industry professionals. They know all the neat tricks and quick cheats that come from that level of experience, and are able to impart really useful knowledge when you most need it. Learning how to do a role and being supported by people who do that role made it so much easier than just trying to work out everything on my own.

If you want to be an apprentice, you need to be willing to learn and not be afraid to experiment and try new things.

What challenges did I face?

There were some intimidating moments where I felt that “I’m not ready yet” or “I shouldn’t be here” and these were to be expected since I was doing things I had never done before or even knew about previously. But this is the main challenge of doing an apprenticeship and it’s easy to overcome when I realised that I wasn’t at the same level as my colleagues yet and that was ok. I was there to learn and this was the best way to do it.

I found it annoying sometimes when I had just started a project or was really in the flow of it to have to stop working on it to study or attend class. But this is something that comes with the qualification. I learnt how to plan and manage my time better, for example dividing up projects into smaller chunks and setting myself soft deadlines to finish those parts of a project.

One of the main struggles I found was coming into a whole new situation with very little knowledge can be quite a culture shock. I had never worked in an office setting before so I found myself sometimes having no idea what I was “supposed” to do. I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t only be learning the skills on how to do my job but also how me and my work fit in the organisation. This is something I would overcome with time and experience.

What work am I most proud of?

The work I did with the [Hartree Centre Commercial Beneficiary Outcomes Report]. This was the first project where I was involved in every step from start to finish. From the initial brief to the tracking of social media analytics, it was a large amount of effort I put into making this the best it could be. My favourite part of working on this was being able to apply my skills in lots of different areas. I got to design and edit different pieces of content from the [infographic] to a video and also got to use my social media skills to share it all. It was also the first time I had created a substantial piece of media with the infographic. It was such a big change from just doing social media work but I absolutely love the way it turned out. Not only was I proud of the outcome and the content I created but I felt confident and that I had the trust and support of my colleagues to do this on my own.

What advice would I give someone who wants to be an apprentice?

When you think of apprentices you may think of a 16 year old leaving college but as I’ve shown from my experience you can start an apprenticeship at any time. You don’t even need work experience in the field since you’re learning those skills through the role. All you need is interest and passion for the field you are going into, as long as you have that anyone can do an apprenticeship.

The main piece of advice I would give is don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are struggling with your work or training, there are lots of people who are there to support and guide you. It can be easy to bottle it up and try to do everything yourself but being able to ask for assistance will make your life so much easier. This also comes in the form of customising your experience and not being afraid to communicate what works best for you.

After volunteering to do a interview, I find myself on the other side of the camera for the first time.

If you want to be an apprentice you need to be willing to learn and not be afraid to experiment and try new things. You will be presented with a plethora of opportunities from both your work role and your apprenticeship studies. You should grab as many as possible and try to meet as many new people as you can. If an opportunity pops up for you to educate yourself in a different aspect of your organisation you should grab it with both hands.

If you would like to find out more about STFC apprenticeships and how to join, check out our careers page.

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