'I expected apprenticeships not to pay very well'

#InspiringApprentice Lucy Cooper went from a degree to a level 3 apprenticeship – and has already learned new skills

Apprentice Lucy Cooper shares her experience

My name is Lucy Cooper. I am 22 years old and I live in Southampton, Hampshire.

I am five months into my level 3 business administration apprenticeship at Southampton City Council.

During school, I assumed that I could do an apprenticeship only if I was planning to go into an occupation such as construction management or engineering.


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However, I found out more about the possibility of apprenticeships when I was in my second year of college and received advice about possible routes after I finished my A levels. For me, university seemed like the ideal path as I was still unsure what career I wanted to do but had a good understanding of which subjects I enjoyed. I  went on to study photography at Manchester Metropolitan University, graduating with a 2:1 in June 2018.

Since doing an apprenticeship, I now understand that it is a good way to develop the skills I learned at university and apply them in a working environment. While taking a level 3 business administration course in the workplace, I can also experience different job routes I could explore in the future. I get to work in a friendly environment, develop my skills and get paid while doing it.

I expected apprenticeships not to pay very well and to be suitable only for a handful of people who knew exactly what job they wanted to do.

On a day-to-day basis, I support and coordinate the council's key strategic partnerships ensuring they deliver their objectives. I can be involved in the organisation and running of meetings, workshops and events, as well as taking part in research that will help partners and stakeholders.

Welcomed and respected

Working for Southampton City Council enables me to understand and learn more about local authorities and the politics within them. I am enjoying building working relationships with senior managers and council officers as well as external partners from other organisations such as Hampshire Constabulary, Hampshire Chamber of Commerce and the NHS.

Since working for the council, I have met a wide range of people all of whom have treated me with respect. The members of my small team have been extremely welcoming and I have had the chance to be mentored by and learn from many people already. My line manager offers me the right balance between support and responsibility, and enables me to take part in events and activities that will benefit my course and develop my skills further. I have had the opportunity to do projects and network with officers outside my team, and I am constantly learning more about the council and the surrounding teams.

My favourite part about working here is the room for development and the amount of support given by many different departments.

Many of my friends are also taking part in some kind of qualification at their workplace. I'm glad I got to experience university but I feel that I'm in the best place now for the development of my career.

A handful of my friends decided to take the apprenticeship route after college, so they understood the benefit it would have for me in terms of my career and completing another qualification that would appeal to employers. Others thought it seemed strange to go from a level 6 qualification to a level 3 one, particularly in a job role that didn’t relate to my degree. However, I see this move from university to an apprenticeship as a development. I feel both have taught me different skills that I can transfer to the workplace.  

I will finish my apprenticeship in 2021, and I already feel confident that in the past five months I have learned skills that I will be able to transfer to other job roles. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and finishing my course to a high standard. 

In 10 years’ time, I see myself remaining in a local authority, being part of a friendly team and doing a role that helps and influences others.  

My advice to anyone who is deciding what to do after leaving school would be to do something that you enjoy. I feel it is vital to explore the choices of university and apprenticeships equally in order to understand what is best for you. In my experience, university taught me to be independent, to develop my life skills and to work hard. Meanwhile, my apprenticeship has taught me how to use my skills in the workplace, as well as what different opportunities are out there for me.

Lucy Cooper is a business administration apprentice (level 3) with Southampton City Council. She is telling her story as part of the Tes #InspiringApprentices campaign

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