29/11/2013 09:48 GMT | Updated 29/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Award-winning Apprenticeships Happen at Smaller Businesses Too

I have just completed the UK's first Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Public Relations; not at an international PR agency but at a multi-award winning, medium sized agency, local to me. This doesn't exactly fit with the conventional image of Apprenticeships does it?

I am excited to be one of the first people in the country to not only complete the UK's first Higher Apprenticeship in Public Relations but to have won the Unilever Higher Apprentice of the Year 2013 in the National Apprenticeship Awards for my achievements. I hope to use my win and publicity around it help to dispel the view held by some that today's Apprenticeships are only for larger companies.

When many people think of Apprenticeships, they think of global organisations with massive budgets that can afford to commit to nurturing the future talent pool in their industry. However, this is a myth that must be dispelled. In fact, 96% of employers that take on an apprentice report benefits to their business - regardless of the size of business.

I started my PR Apprenticeship just over a year ago now at Cirkle in Beaconsfield. I have been particularly lucky with my Apprenticeship that I have the combination of a great employer and a fantastic supportive team of colleagues. I was actually the first apprentice that Cirkle hired as they were one of the first PR agencies to sign up to the new PRCA Apprenticeship scheme. Taking on an apprentice was a big commitment for Cirkle and one that could have ultimately cost the business time. However, the beauty of the Apprenticeship is that I could do my everyday job and cover my study units from the office without taking lots of time out of the office at external training.

After completing my A-levels, I was certain that university wasn't the next step for me - it wasn't through lack of desire to learn or motivation, I just could not imagine myself there. Not only would I have accumulated thousands of pounds worth of debt but I would also have committed to a degree that I had no real interest in just for the sake of gaining a qualification. By completing an Apprenticeship, I have been able to find something that I am passionate about in a vocational sense in a real work environment not just the theoretical side. It has only taken a year of training for me to gain a full-time role with the company and get my first foot on the career ladder.

When I took up the Apprenticeship, I have to admit I was quite un-informed - I had come into the Apprenticeship entirely by chance as I met the Chairman of Cirkle when I was doing a part-time barmaid job I had and therefore had no knowledge of Apprenticeships. However, spending a year in the role at Cirkle has allowed me to develop an appreciation for Apprenticeships as an alternate further education path. My proudest moment came this month when I won Higher Apprentice of the Year at the National Apprenticeship Awards beating 1600 entrants from across the country to the title. I will be using this as a way to access students and businesses to help inform them of the genuine benefits of taking on an apprentice.

An Apprenticeship is no longer about filling recruitment gaps. I have managed to gain a year's worth of hands-on experience in a particularly competitive industry. Having spoken to other junior employees in PR, I am hearing a resounding opinion 'Had I known about Apprenticeships - I would definitely have tried that route before university' and yet still people are turning down these opportunities! I have had the opportunity to help organise events for international clients, secure coverage in national newspapers and help create a positive voice for brands that I have grown up with. I am now a Junior Account Executive working across consumer and business to business clients and my job role really does vary every day.

Having been an apprentice, I am now very aware that there are a considerable amount of people out there with a negative view of Apprenticeships - whether that is through a bad experience or through just hearing the ever-changing Chinese whispers that get thrown around regarding Apprenticeships. Trust me, the Apprenticeship experience is simply only a positive one.

Aside from gaining a nationally recognised qualification, the PR Apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to explore more about myself as a person. I have grown in confidence and I have been able to discover a new skills set that I can now take forward and develop throughout my career. To put my entire experience into context, here is a quote from Caroline Kinsey, Chairman of Cirkle, "Rarely have I seen such maturity and proactivity from someone Jess's age. We want to bottle her hunger as she's already making a significant impact on the agency in such a short time." I don't mean to blow my own trumpet, but it shows that one apprentice in a (small) business can make a giant leap for the business productivity.

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