After years of studying a variety of subjects at school, it can be hard for young people to pinpoint where their strengths lie.
That was certainly the case for Hollie Evans, a self-described “all rounder” whose ability in a number of areas left her wondering what route to pursue next. She attended sixth form for a few months but it was discovering apprenticeships that finally gave her the direction she needed.
For Evans, the problem with college was the slow pace. “It wasn’t moving as quickly as I wanted it to,” she says, “I was really keen to get out and work. I was taking maths at A level so I started looking for jobs that could include that.” The right role arrived in the shape of a finance apprenticeship with Selwood Housing in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, a not-for-profit which offers affordable homes across southwest England.
Evans has no regrets about pursuing an apprenticeship. “I knew I wanted to progress faster and get into a job rather than go to sixth form, then university and finally start work,” she says. The open environment of the office, where she has been able to learn from colleagues, has been particularly welcome compared to college which she found “a bit enclosed.”
Selwood Housing has also helped Evans to further her academic interest in maths, supporting her in pursuing an AAT qualification. She has just completed her Advanced Diploma assessments and intends to tackle the Professional Diploma before moving on to study for CIMA status. Combining study with workplace experience has been rewarding for her. “You get to put what you learn into practice,” she says, “It also helps with studying because you think, what would I do at work in this situation?”
Already award winning
At just 18, Evans added to her success with her first professional prize. Nominated by her employer as ‘best newcomer’ at the Housing Association National Accounting (HANA) awards, she was up against stiff competition – the other nominee was a management accountant. To her surprise, she returned from the ceremony with the award in her hands. “I wouldn’t have had these opportunities if I hadn’t done an apprenticeship,” she says, “It’s really nice to be supported by work and for them to put me forward.”
That nomination was a reflection of how pleased Selwood Housing is with Evans’ performance. “The business has really benefited from having an apprentice. Hollie is eager to learn and picks things up very quickly,” says finance team manager Maggie Heard. “As she progresses and develops, her knowledge has helped us make improvements and her success has boosted the team’s morale.”
The variety of work Evans encounters on a daily basis is a big part of what keeps her engaged with the role. “Although it sounds like an office job would be the same every day, it’s never like that,” she explains. “It pushes you out of your comfort zone. There’s so much to learn in finance and I like that pressure that comes at month end. I think it makes me perform a lot better.” Her advice on handling an increased workload is simple. “You need to be very proactive to get ahead and stay ahead,” she says.
While Evans describes herself as “academic”, it’s the difference between theory and the reality of the workplace that has struck her most. “I really can’t express how helpful that has been to me,” she says. “When you learn how to do it by the book, you’re told what it’s like when it’s going right but in real life you see when things go wrong and how to fix it.” She’s confident that these experiences will make her more knowledgeable down the line.
Another advantage of being in a workplace is the opportunity to tap into your colleagues’ know-how. “I can think: In 10 years time I want to be where they are,” says Evans. “And I can ask them for advice on how to get there.” She believes her apprenticeship will serve her well in the future. “I think when I do move up through the stages I will appreciate the work that goes into it beforehand,” she says.
Hollie’s story is a great example of how apprenticeships can help young people harness their enthusiasm and give it direction. She replaced trudging through an unfulfilling sixth form curriculum with challenging professional exams and a role in the workplace that has already made her award winning. The next big prize for her is a fulfilling career in accounting.
Jesse Onslow Norton is a writer, editor and communications consultant at Flibl. A former coder, his editorial work focuses on fintech, digital transformation, policy and regulation. His clients include corporations, governments, startups and SMEs from across the world. Follow him on Twitter @JesseOnslow.