From education to employment

The SDN Apprentice Perspective

SDN supports hundreds of apprenticeship providers each year to launch, develop and improve their apprenticeship training. We work directly with employers too, to help them support apprentices in the workplace.

But did you know we also employ our own apprentices?

In the last three years, 20% of our staff have completed apprenticeships. For example, in 2023, two of our Directors completed their Level 7 Senior Leader degree apprenticeships. Chloe Bjarkan, our Marketing Executive, has just received a Distinction in her Level 3 Marketing apprenticeship with The JGA Group.

In this blog, Chloe shares her experience as an apprentice, what it was like to work with The JGA Group and how balancing work, and study affected her role at SDN.

“When looking for a Marketing apprenticeship, we needed a course that fitted our business needs, and my personal skills development goals. The JGA Group stood out because they offered a variety of marketing-related apprenticeships. We were able to share our needs and aims with them and they provided a clear breakdown of the benefits of several courses and helped us decide on the best route to take and ways it could be adapted.”

“SDN is a remote working company, so we needed an apprenticeship that was remote as well. Through necessity, many apprenticeships are now completely remote, but I was nervous about missing that ‘classroom’ experience. My last experience in education, almost a decade prior, was in face-to-face classrooms, so this was wholly new to me.

The JGA Group really delivered on remote learning. My tutor, Scott, made every session engaging and informative and made sure to address the cohort as if we were in the room with him. We were given practical tasks, worked as a group and as individuals, and were always encouraged to raise questions and have conversations instead of simply sitting and listening.”

“Managing my OTJT was the most challenging aspect of my apprenticeship. Going from having my whole week dedicated to my role, to also having to make room for seminars, workshops and OTJT was a bit of a shock to the system. It took a good few months to settle into a rhythm, and new work always popped up that required a change to the schedule or training that had to take priority. Based on my experience, here are my top tips for helping apprentices manage OTJT:

  1. Frequent Skills Coach meetings: My skills coach, Anthony, worked with me and my Line Manager to make sure my OTJT not only covered essential KSBs but provided immediate value to SDN. With his help, I was able to stay on track with my OTJT while balancing busy periods at work.
  2. Check-ins with the employer: I had weekly meetings with my Line Manager to review upcoming work and training. This was essential in managing the balance of study and work and finding suitable work tasks that could build on the course KSBs.
  3. Involve the wider team: My colleagues were an essential support system in the last 18 months. They were quick to step in when I had a lot on my plate and we even task-swapped when they had work in their diary that would give me the chance to implement new skills!
  4. Schedule OTJT but stay flexible: I personally found that booking two half days off in my diary was the most effective way of hitting my OTJT hours benchmarks, but this won’t work for everyone. I recommend trialling a few different methods to find what works best for the apprentice and employer. But always bear in mind that things pop up unexpectedly, and you may need to shift priorities at the drop of the hat!”

“What carried me through to a Distinction grade, was the support I received through EPA, from both my employer and provider.

Planning a project report as an apprentice can be quite daunting, especially because it will have real-time effects in the workplace. My skills coach, Anthony, asked us to write up a draft project in the first few months of the apprenticeship. At first, I thought it was a bit soon to leap ahead to EPA prep, but it really shaped how I absorbed the knowledge from our seminars. After doing a practice project and getting feedback, I immediately knew which KSBs I might need to work harder on, I was thinking about the practical implications of different marketing theories and it became easier to narrow down topics for OTJT. I’d recommend early practice projects to any provider as a way of focusing and embedding the learning for the apprentice.

Nerves tend to get the better of me in exams and interviews, despite 20+ years of practice! Thankfully, my professional discussion was incredibly well managed and I felt supported and encouraged throughout. Practice sessions with my skills coach helped me know what to expect, but the time management from the assessor is what tipped me into a distinction grade. With each question, I was given a minute to sit and think, without having to immediately launch into an answer. This made my answers much more concise and valuable, as well as reducing the nerves! My assessor was quick to prompt me for additional info when needed or to finish a question early if I’d covered the needed KSBs. Overall, it was far less stressful than I anticipated.”

“I’ll admit, that working at SDN was certainly useful when it came to knowing what I was going into with an apprenticeship! After working at SDN for 2 years I already knew enough about EPA, professional discussions, OTJT and more. But seeing it from the inside certainly change my perspective. I now have more intimate knowledge of the apprentice journey, where the provider may need to give the apprentice additional support, how the employer benefits from new skills throughout the apprenticeship and many other behind-the-scenes insights.

I’ll be using this perspective going forward, to help SDN deliver valuable support for apprenticeship providers. I essentially got two courses for the price of one, the first in Marketing and the second on the Apprentice Journey!”

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