Having first enrolled into an apprenticeship at 25, Russell Dowers took the opportunity to complete a qualification while in full-time work. 13 years later Russell is still an apprentice, but is now learning a completely new set of skills as he has advanced through the levels with several promotions. With four apprenticeships already under his belt, he is due to complete his Level 7 Senior Leader apprenticeship this month.

Why did you choose to pursue an apprenticeship over other educational paths?

I left school not really knowing what I wanted to do. It was going to university or getting a job and, after completing my A-Levels, my part-time job became full-time for a while. It wasn’t until a little later in life (about 7 years after leaving school) that I first learned about apprenticeships. Up until that point I had very little knowledge of them and like many thought an apprenticeship was to learn a trade and not available in an office environment.

Reflecting on your apprenticeship, what were the key skills and knowledge you gained that set the foundation for your career progression?

I gained valuable experience in communication styles. Working as a senior leader, I must interact with external stakeholders, directors, line managers, colleagues, and clients which taught me the significance of clear and concise communication in the workplace.

I honed my decision-making skills. I gained experience in making quick and informed decisions by analysing situations and weighing the pros and cons using risk management techniques, always keeping the company’s best interest in mind.

Regular feedback from my tutors and line manager helped me to identify my strengths and weaknesses, and I learned to reflect on my performance to improve my work. I have found this skill invaluable in my career progression, and there are various self-reflection models that I have used to enhance my development, such as the Gibbs Reflective Cycle.

How did your apprenticeship experience contribute to your passion for the apprenticeship sector?

It instilled in me the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and networking. Collaborating with colleagues from different departments and backgrounds taught me the value of working together towards a common goal. This helped me develop confidence in my abilities and build a strong professional network.

I was able to seek out new opportunities to learn skills and take on new responsibilities. I have been promoted several times throughout my career, which gave me the chance to see the positive impact of apprenticeships on individuals and businesses from a new viewpoint.

I have benefited both personally and professionally from each apprenticeship starting with a Level 2 and working my way through to a Level 7, I believe it is only right to keep passing opportunities on to other people.

Above all, remember that progress takes time and dedication. Don’t be too hard on yourself and stay focused on your goals. With hard work and determination, you can achieve your aspirations and reach leadership positions within the apprenticeship sector.

Were there mentors or role models during your apprenticeship who played a significant role in your development? How did they inspire or guide you?

During my apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to work with an external mentor who played a significant role in my development. They provided guidance and support in navigating my career steps, and their experience and insights were invaluable to me.

Everyone in my apprenticeship cohort inspired me through their contributions to creating learning opportunities. They were all passionate about their work and made a significant impact in their respective fields. Their dedication and commitment to their work and the apprenticeship inspired me to continue pushing myself and striving for excellence.

Having a mentor and being part of a cohort of passionate individuals helped me grow and develop during my apprenticeship. Their guidance and inspiration continue to influence my work and career to this day.

In what ways do you actively support and advocate for apprenticeships within your current role as a senior leader?

As a senior leader, I am a strong supporter and advocate for apprenticeships. I actively promote apprenticeships through various channels, such as posting regular content on Linkedin, being an Apprenticeship Ambassador, and sharing my story in interviews like this.

I believe that apprenticeships are an excellent way for individuals to gain valuable skills and experience, while also helping businesses to develop a skilled workforce. In my current role, I am always looking for new opportunities to help educate people about the power of an apprenticeship. I have seen firsthand the positive impact that apprenticeships can have on individuals and businesses, and I am passionate about spreading the word.

I am dedicated to supporting and advocating for apprenticeships in my current role as a senior leader. I will continue to use my platform to promote apprenticeships and help others understand the benefits they can bring.

What advice would you give to current apprentices who aspire to reach leadership positions within the apprenticeship sector?

As someone who has progressed from level 2 through to a level 7 apprentice, my advice to current apprentices who aspire to do the same would be to take their time and focus on developing their skills. It’s important to find a good peer or mentor who can champion and support you, and to seek out projects to get involved with to gain experience.

Networking is crucial, as it allows you to meet new people, learn from their experiences, and build relationships that can open doors to new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek feedback, as this can help you identify areas for improvement and work towards achieving your goals.

Above all, remember that progress takes time and dedication. Don’t be too hard on yourself and stay focused on your goals. With hard work and determination, you can achieve your aspirations and reach leadership positions within the apprenticeship sector.

Share a proud moment or achievement in your career that you attribute, in part, to the foundation laid during your apprenticeship.

I am proud to say that my apprenticeship experience has paved the way for some of the most exciting opportunities in my career. Recently, I was invited to speak at a conference, and I was interviewed by BBC Radio 5 live. The communication skills, networking opportunities, and self-reflection abilities I honed during my apprenticeship have helped me to achieve these milestones in my career.

Being invited to speak at an apprenticeship conference was an incredible moment for me. It will allow me to share my expertise and knowledge with my peers in the sector and will open doors for new opportunities. Similarly, the interview with BBC Radio 5 live was a great achievement for me, it again highlighted the importance of the skills I gained, and the confidence people were putting in me to deliver to such a wide audience.

I am grateful for the foundation provided by all the apprenticeships; they have enabled me to achieve great things by believing in myself. These opportunities have motivated me to continue working hard and developing my skills, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Katy Lennon is our Principal Consultant of Training and Apprenticeship Appointments and a big advocate for apprenticeships across the country.

If you’re looking to recruit leaders into your apprenticeship organisation, get in touch via Linkedin or send her an email.