Anita Ibrahim leads on business development in our Business Consulting team that delivers our apprenticeship programmes. And now, she’s doing one herself. Here, she tells us why she’s so passionate about going beyond to support apprenticeships.

Our Business Consulting team is responsible for delivering professional apprenticeship programmes to our client network, partnering with some of the country’s leading training providers. Within the team I'm the consumer markets sector lead: consulting on the apprenticeships programmes offered by our partnerships, and also offering guidance on the apprenticeship levy. I've worked in apprenticeships for ten years now, but it's a very different area from where I started...

Doing things differently 

My parents are from Indonesia and worked for the BBC World Service: my dad was a broadcaster. After he retired, they opened a restaurant in London’s West End, now run by my brothers. I've also changed career a couple of times, but 'shedding these skins' just adds to my experience.  

I have always been quite creative, and during college, I received an unconditional offer to study philosophy at University College London. However, partway through my A-Levels, I was 'discovered' and ended up spending the next 10 years of my life as a songwriter and singer, much to the dismay of my parents, who wanted me to go to university and get a ‘proper job’.

I was working with an independent label on a body of music that could be described as soulful — live acoustic with hip-hop influences, and after a few years of hard work, I got a distribution deal from a major label. I worked on three albums worth of material, collaborating with well-known British and American hip-hop and pop artists. I supplementing my meagre working musician’s salary by doing ghost vocals and backing vocals for various singers.  

Unfortunately, for me the music industry was a bit of an unforgiving workplace. During my time in it, I experienced many highs, but also lots of lows, eventually losing out on a deal I had worked hard to achieve. The music industry seems so different now, with British urban artists having so much artistic and legal control over their careers. It's great to see, but my era was very different. So, a decade later, I was left with no job, no degree, and not much of a clue about what my future held.  

I spoke to a recruiter who suggested I try client-facing roles, such as sales, and it came quite naturally to me! It wasn’t too dissimilar to the music industry: making friends and making connections...but the starts were earlier, and there was no catchy soundtrack! 

I didn't realise I would get so much back from apprenticeships

Anyone can do an apprenticeship. It didn’t start out this way, but that’s how it is now. I'm living proof that apprenticeships are changing the country, maybe the world, one day, one person at a time. 

The name may give it a bad rap, because many people still think that apprenticeships are a ‘non-academic’ route for those who wanted to but couldn’t go to university, as if it was the only respectable option.

All it takes now is a bit of research to see that there are apprenticeship routes to careers in medicine, law, technology, even the music industry! Many of these programmes are degree apprenticeships, or include other professional qualifications. I’ve now worked in apprenticeships for over 10 years, promoting these opportunities and advocating for all of the opportunities that apprenticeships provide.  

We take on hundreds of trainees through our accounting apprenticeships every year, straight out of school, and support them to become fully qualified. This larger talent pool is a fantastic opportunity for us to bring in more diverse voices and different perspectives that help us lead the way. 

This year I started my own apprenticeship, the Level 7 Senior Leader programme, which includes the MSc Management and Leadership at Cranfield University. I feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity. Apprenticeships are changing the demographic of your typical master’s degree student, and I hope that this is translated into the workforce and the boardrooms of the future. On my programme, I am learning new things every day and bringing this fresh insight straight back into what I'm doing at the firm.

All I'm ever trying to do is get people to love apprenticeships

It used to be that colleges, academics and teachers designed apprenticeships, but now they're created by employers and academics. We became involved in apprenticeships by working with the government to lead the way on shaping the apprenticeship levy — changing the way apprenticeships were funded and putting this in employers' hands. 

Since then, we've pioneered partnerships that combine academic excellence with real-world business insight; as well as accounting apprenticeships, we also deliver programmes in leadership, data, and cyber skills.

We led the national group of employers who designed the Coaching Professional apprenticeship. We wrote the programme, considering the critical knowledge, behaviours and skills required to become a professional coach in the workplace — turning it into a curriculum. The course builds confidence in the workforce through effective coaching to help unlock potential and develop the capabilities of current or aspiring coaches through one-to-one mentoring and training that stretches and challenges core skills.

The average age of learners on our coaching programme is 43. It shows how much apprenticeships have changed in the last ten years.

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"All I'm ever trying to do is get people to love apprenticeships because I'm so passionate about them. I believe in a diverse and inclusive society and giving all people the opportunity to grow and reach their full potential. Apprenticeships are bridging the gap between the privileged and less privileged or represented."

Our firm's involvement with apprenticeships is so multifaceted. Our role is not just about offering apprenticeships but acting as a thought leader and facilitator, helping organisations and people understand the opportunities available. We believe firmly in social mobility and improving opportunities for everyone. Testament to that is the work we do with Breaking Barriers and mentoring young, underrepresented people. I think apprenticeships are a part of this movement.

Shouting about new opportunities 

I think everyone needs to know that every single employee at our firm could become an apprentice tomorrow. Our firm offers accountancy and finance apprenticeship programmes that enable our employees to upskill. We also partner with training providers to offer apprenticeships to our client network as well. We're one of the top 100 employers, and we’re also one of the top 100 specifically for apprenticeships.

I was nominated for the top 100 women in apprenticeships through my work promoting women and underrepresented groups. I support our work on the board of the Association of Apprentices. It's a membership body for apprentices across the country. It gives apprenticeships a voice and shows they are just as formidable as university graduates.

The right thing to do

We're living through an unprecedented time, and there has been a lot of time for reflection. The education system and universities have had the spotlight on them through coronavirus. More people are seeing that university isn’t always the ideal route to a happy, fulfilling life. Apprenticeships are bridging the divide and recognising people on the merits of passion and hard work. Since you can also go to university through an apprenticeship, it feels like that circle has closed, and it’s almost a no-brainer.  

I feel like the tide is turning. The narrative around 'not being academic, therefore you're going to do an apprenticeship' is finally beginning to sound old. That's what more people need to see, I don't think we're there yet, but I think it is in sight.

Contact our Apprenticeship Levy team to find out more:
Tel: +44 (0)20 7728 2826
Email: talentsolutions@uk.gt.com

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