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The importance of advocating for apprenticeships with award-winner, Holly-Mae Darling

Holly Mae Darling at awards

Towards the end of 2023, we saw several of our apprentices celebrate success at the first-ever СƵ Apprenticeship Awards.

Holly-Mae Darling won the Apprenticeship Advocacy award at the СƵ Apprenticeship Awards 2023. Her nominee, Lisa Todd-White, spoke about why she was deserving of this award within her nomination:

“Holly-Mae has been exceptional in all three of her placements in the business to the extent that her last place wanted to keep her.

In addition to all that she has done for her studies, in-house training and work, Holly-Mae has shown great enthusiasm for everything she does, and never says no to an opportunity to speak about her experience on her apprenticeship.”

Not only did Holly-Mae excel in her apprenticeship, she also became part of СƵ’s Apprenticeship Advisory Panel (KAAP), which represents СƵ’s ‘learner voice’ and is, in essence, our shadow board that explores ways to refine and improve our apprenticeship programmes.

After her impressive award, we caught up with Holly-Mae to get a deeper look into her experience as an apprentice. Here’s what she says…

Can you tell us about your career and what made you decide to do an apprenticeship?

I was originally in sixth form and I looked at both the apprenticeship route and university. I was able to compare the two and went through the university process with UCAS and applied to a couple of apprenticeships. I felt like the apprenticeship process interested me a lot more than just writing a personal statement for university, as it felt a bit more authentic to me.

I chose to go onto an apprenticeship as I felt like it would be more challenging for me as it was more ‘new.’ For example, I felt like university may be more maths or physics-based, or act as an extension to something I knew that I was already good at. Whereas, with an apprenticeship, finance is different to what I had learnt before. So it was completely new, and I felt like working at the same time as studying would be more of a challenge.

I went for the apprenticeship at Siemens and that has been my career so far. It was just under three years and it ran on a rotational scheme. This means that I did three one-year placements, and alongside that, I studied CIMA’s CGMA Professional Qualification.

What made you consider apprenticeships in the first place?

All of my research about apprenticeships pretty much came from me. The main tool that I used was but I was quite proactive and knew what events were taking place, so I also went to career fairs and there would be people speaking about them.

My work experience also helped as I did one work experience in year 10 of secondary school, and then two more during sixth form. When you’re actually working with an employer in an office, they speak to you about things like apprenticeships, or they’d show me the schemes that they offer.

But mostly it was all off my own back. I also told my family that I was looking into both university and an apprenticeship, so they would help me research.

Did you have any preconceptions before starting the apprenticeship?

I did think it would be more of a challenge than university, but I quite liked that. I thought that studying and working would push me more, and I wanted to push myself - but that preconception was true.

My thoughts were quite positive before I started it. I didn’t see any drawbacks because I had put myself through extra work experience and other situations so that I was able to learn that an apprenticeship can be offered in a lot more areas than just practical subjects. You can do them in an office or different places, for example.

Reflecting on your journey from where you started to now, how would you describe your development?

It’s so incredible now when I look back and think about day one. It was the first day of September 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, and I knew absolutely nothing. Maybe I thought I did, but you start completely from scratch. Especially when you’ve just come out of school, it’s like your first job and everything is completely new.

Now, I look back over the three years and I can see how much knowledge I have about Siemens, finance, and the real world. So, from that sense, my development has been absolutely huge.

Speech marks

“You can aim quite high and it’s fine if you make mistakes or fail because you can learn from it.”

Firstly, I’m now a fully qualified Chartered Management Accountant, so that’s a big development in passing all of my exams and having the technical knowledge. But also the development in my skills is notable. I moved around with the company location-wise, but I’ve also worked in different industries and different job roles. This means that I’ve used different programmes and software. The apprenticeship contributes too because you also gain interpersonal skills, or writing skills, for example. So there’s a lot of scope in that where I’ve changed and developed.

My confidence and my attitude have also skyrocketed because I’ve had so much exposure to many different things. Being on an apprenticeship is almost like a safety net, so you can aim quite high and it’s fine if you make mistakes or fail because you can learn from it, and it’s such a safe environment to do that as it’s all part of it. So you just become very confident when you’ve gone through an apprenticeship.

Have you encountered any challenges?

Yes, the main one that springs to mind is when I failed the Advanced Financial Accounting (F2) exam. That was a personal challenge at the same time, as I put so much pressure on myself to get through the qualification as fast as I could as I wanted to push myself. It was a difficult exam, it’s very technical and a lot of people don’t pass it the first time, but I think I also failed because of burnout.

This was around 18 months into my apprenticeship and I had been going for so long without taking a break. I failed the exam twice and then had to reflect on why I was failing it. It was a combination of things such as the exam being difficult, but also my concentration and I wasn’t taking care of myself at the time.

My manager was instrumental in getting me over that hurdle as she was so supportive and made it clear that I could take a break if I needed to and that I didn’t have to rush myself. And I did pass it in the end, which was a good feeling, and it also felt like an important milestone. I had a lot of support going forward with planning my study patterns as well as looking after myself.

Failing that exam allowed me to appreciate how difficult the qualification can be. If I didn’t fail, then I would have always felt that it was easier than it is. So many people have done it before me or at the same time as me, and it’s a huge achievement. So, it made it more surreal when I passed.

Speech marks

“I needed to know when to pause and recognise the signs when I was getting burnt out. You don’t realise it sometimes until something forces you to stop and assess how to approach it in a more balanced way.”

More general challenges came with the apprenticeship being a rotational scheme. I moved across the UK, but my first year was all remote as it was during the pandemic. I had to learn the content and start a new job completely remote, so it was challenging. My second year allowed me to move out of home for the first time by myself at 19, so I learnt a lot about myself at a personal level and I’m very grateful that my apprenticeship allowed me to do that.

How have you found the support from СƵ?

The MyСƵ Virtual Learning Environment and all of the tutors were so helpful for my exams, and I really enjoyed going to the classes once the centres opened up again. Also, meeting the other students was a big part of it and hearing from people who work at different companies.

I had a lot of support from my employer as a lot of graduates, apprentices and interns are studying the same qualification, so I didn’t require too much support in the apprenticeship side of things from СƵ. But my Talent Coach was very helpful, she really got me through my EPA and helped me work out what to include.

Why do you think it's important to talk about apprenticeships?

I think it’s important to talk about the values of an apprenticeship because there is a lack of awareness. I think, for a lot of people, university is the only route that is considered, so I think that apprenticeships should be taken seriously.

I like to speak about it because I’ve had a really positive experience, and I want to encourage other people to go down this route. So, I think bringing more people into them and getting people to take apprenticeships seriously. Even if you don’t choose to do an apprenticeship, I think it’s important to make an informed choice on your career as I don’t think people get much visibility on both sides.

How did you feel when you won the award?

I didn’t expect it and I didn’t know too much about the awards as it was СƵ’s first Apprenticeship Awards, so I didn’t expect to win it but I was pleased that I did. But my main highlight was that my manager won one as well.

When I finished the apprenticeship, we had a Siemens graduation, so I felt like I’d already celebrated. But my manager has been running the scheme for around seven years, so I was so happy that she’d won it and we could celebrate it together. I was very proud of myself, but even more proud of her in a way.

Speech marks

“For a lot of people, university is the only route that is considered, so I think that apprenticeships should be taken seriously.”

I won the Advocacy Award and I felt quite grateful to win in that category because I’ve met a lot of really inspiring apprentices who are advocating a lot and going into schools to talk about apprenticeships. I think I advocate for apprenticeships anyway, without realising, because it’s not about an award, you just do it because you care and you want people to look into apprenticeships. So it was really nice to be recognised for that.

What does the future look like for you?

I don’t know because it’s so broad. There are a lot of transferable skills with CIMA’s CGMA Qualification as it focuses on business and finance, so there’s a lot of routes that I could go down. But then again, the apprenticeship skills that I’ve built up are very transferable and covers leadership and the behaviours that you need.

At the moment, I’m not working in finance, I’m working on a secondment with the CEO, so that’s something that I wasn’t expecting to do. I thought that I’d go straight into a finance role but I’ve gone into a rare opportunity to learn from the CEO, CFO and the rest of the team. Not only that, but the Siemens UK CEO, Carl Ennis, started as an apprentice himself.

After that, I can definitely go back into finance as I have my qualification and I really enjoyed that industry. But then this current role is teaching me a lot of new skills again, so I don’t know what’s next but I know that it’ll be something good. I like learning new skills and doing something new and different - so I’m very open-minded.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

Just to say thank you to my manager and my team, and to СƵ for running the awards because it was such a lovely event and I feel very privileged to be part of it, and I think part of the reason why is because I’ve had so much support from СƵ.

I’ve had a lot of sponsors as well. People like Jenny Pelling (Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity at СƵ UK) have been in meetings or rooms with people who talk about specific opportunities, and she’s mentioned my name and reached out to me to see if I’d like to be involved. So, I’ve had many opportunities to advocate for apprenticeships, and such things can expand your own network, and I’d encourage others to get involved in the KAAP.

Looking to gain skills for life?

Like Holly-Mae, you can transform your career with an apprenticeship. Find out more about our apprenticeship programmes, or browse our .

Alternatively, you can read more about how to talk to your employer about doing an apprenticeship.

For employers, if you are interested in apprenticeships for your workforce, find out more and contact the team.

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