Adapting to Change
The year 2020 is testing the limits of the word ‘unprecedented.’ Since the initial lockdown in March my conversations with apprentices have been dominated by this thirteen letter word. We’ve learned to adapt our lives over recent months to accommodate social distancing measures; from wearing masks to bumping elbows with our nearest and dearest. If you are starting an apprenticeship scheme in autumn 2020, chances are you have experienced an unprecedented journey over the summer to get to this point.
So what can you do over the coming weeks to make a success of your first three months as an apprentice?
Your First Few Weeks as an Apprentice
Making the transition onto an apprenticeship programme can be daunting initially, as there’s quite a lot to get your head around. This has been exacerbated by the impact of working and studying remotely due to COVID19. The good news is that there are some simple actions you can take in your first few weeks to hit the ground running.
If you haven’t already, take a moment to reflect on your recent exam results. There has been a lot of media attention on this year’s exam results; but amongst the noise of twitter trends, opinion pieces in the papers and government u-turns, there’s been little room to enjoy and feel grateful for the results of all your hard work. So take pride in your results and appreciate the access they have given you to your new role as an apprentice.
In the first week of your apprenticeship I recommend you download a copy of your apprenticeship standard and assessment plan, and READ THEM! If you’re feeling super keen, why not laminate them and pin them to your wall at home. While this might not sound like the most exciting activity for your first week in a new role; trust me it will pay dividends in the long run. Becoming an apprentice means signing up to achieve a series of challenging requirements and you are much better off knowing what you’ve signed up to at the start of the journey rather than half way through.
Undertaking an apprenticeship gives you a unique opportunity to reflect on your experiences and performance during your programme; becoming more self aware and self confident in the process. Getting to grips with your e-portfolio and then tracking your knowledge and skills development weekly should become a top priority. The one constant in your professional career is YOU! So make spending time on your personal development a weekly habit. Like putting away money for a rainy day, you won’t necessarily see the value in it now but in ten year’s time you’ll be grateful you did.
Apprentices are often bombarded by information during the first few weeks of their programme and the human brain is just not wired to hold onto all that information in one go. So pay particular attention to any information that will help you succeed during the first three months of your programme. There’s plenty of time to get to grips with everything else, later on. Don’t be afraid to ask your employer or training provider any questions you have that will help you to understand what is expected of you during the initial period of your apprenticeship. Once you have completed the first three months successfully, you will have a strong foundation upon which to build your success for the remainder of your programme.
If you will be working from home initially, ensure that you take the time to create a working environment that reflects the needs of your role. For me that means a reliable internet connection, peace and quiet, and access to a steady stream of extra strong lattes. Creating a ‘work routine’ at home is essential for your well being to ensure that you have effective boundaries between your work and personal life. Find out from your employer what their expectations are regarding your working hours at home and how to be ‘visible’ to your team. Make sure you take regular breaks from your desk throughout the day. Finally establish a routine for ending your work day. This will help you to switch off from work and relax. My end of workday routine includes going for a short walk. When I return home from my walk, my brain is now in relaxation mode and I can let go of any thoughts about my work until the following morning.
Your First Study Course as an Apprentice
Many apprenticeship programmes involve studying for a professional qualification alongside gaining practical work experience. Thanks to COVID19, the world of professional study and exams has also needed to adapt; leading to a huge growth in online learning and in some cases sitting exams from home.
Professional exams are often very different to any previous exams you might have taken. They also require a different study approach. Professional exams are very practical in focus and course materials are often very dense in content. When I first picked up my printed study manuals for Accounting and Assurance, I was advised to bring a trolley with me to help me cart them home! Quickly recognising and adapting to the differing demands of a professional exam course is the secret to getting off to a great start with your studies. This becomes even more important in light of the impact of COVID 19 on course and exam arrangements. So here are my tips for adapting to the demands of your first professional exam course.
- It’s a marathon not a sprint. Professional exam courses often contain A LOT of information to learn and apply. If your study strategy in the past has been to cram everything at the last minute, it’s time to let it go. Instead, strap on a pair of ‘grown up’ pants and take responsible ownership for your learning. My advice is to start early and study steadily.
- It’s all about effort. Apprentices are sometimes intimidated by professional exams and doubt they have the ability to pass them. The good news is, the research suggests that the best strategy for success is effort; above all else. Effort has three ingredients all of which are within your control. The first is energy, the second is action and the third is discipline. If you consistently direct all your energy to actions that improve your performance on exam standard questions, you will succeed.
- Practice. Practice. PRACTICE! For many apprentices starting out in a professional career, they haven’t experienced exam failure in their past. They are accustomed to success, followed by success, followed by success. So it can come as quite a shock to learn that getting things wrong on a professional exam course, can be an important part of the learning process. Because professional exams are, by their nature, practical you will be encouraged to test your knowledge and understanding regularly via question practice. Pinpointing what you don’t know is as important as learning what you do know. Don’t be put off from tackling difficult questions on your course, before you feel prepared to answer them. Accept that failing questions on the course is an important part of your learning journey and will help you on your eventual journey to exam success.
- Doing well means feeling well. We rarely take time to consider the relationship between our body and our mind. The two are intimately connected and it’s vital that we look after both, if we want to achieve our goals and fulfil our potential. Completing an apprenticeship programme can really test your body and mind as you study for professional exams, experience pressure to perform in the workplace and learn new skills. Taking proactive steps to maintain your physical and mental well being on your programme, is more important than any exam result, any promotion opportunity, any salary increase. Trust me, I know from personal experience. As well as a study plan and a career plan you should develop a well-being plan. This well-being plan should include healthy habits that contribute to positive physical and mental health (eg. 30 mins of physical activity daily, a minimum of 7 hours sleep daily, drinking two litres of water daily, 15 mins of mindfulness meditation daily). Your body is often the first to send you signals that all is not well with your physical AND mental health; so learn to pay attention to what you body is telling you (eg. fatigue during the day, butterflies in the stomach) and take action without delay. At First Intuition we encourage apprentices to talk openly about their well-being with their tutors and coaches. We are there to listen without judgement and to provide confidential support when needed.*
An Apprenticeship at First Intuition
The first three months of your apprenticeship will become one of those ‘fixed points in time’ that you will remember for the rest of your life. It’s a time to make new friends, to develop new knowledge, skills and behaviours, to be valued for the contribution you make. Congratulations on taking the courageous steps to grow beyond your current abilities and to risk failure in pursuit of your goals. I wish you every success on your journey and First Intuition is grateful to be there by your side, every step of the way.
For further information on what it is like to be an apprentice with First Intuition read Dawn’s story about her experience as a Level 7 apprentice.
Go here to find out more about our apprenticeship programmes.
To search for apprenticeship vacancies, please go to the UK Government Apprenticeship page.
*For further guidance and support during your programme, please contact your Skills and Development Coach and / or Safeguarding officer, as needed.