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Apprenticeship success story: Helena O'Keefe, Parkwood Leisure

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What is your current role and what does it entail?

I am employed as a HR Assistant; whilst always very busy and at times, pressured with deadlines, my role  is very enjoyable! A large part of my role is focusing on recruitment within the business, I help our businesses to get adverts live and organise interviews with candidates. It has been a fantastic opportunity to increase my confidence on the phone but also to improve my organisational skills. Another element of my role is producing various reports for our managers - this has greatly increased my knowledge using programmes such as excel. 

What attracted you to taking up an apprenticeship?

I was keen to enrol on an apprenticeship because I wanted to gain new skills and experience in a different industry to one I had worked in before. It can be quite difficult for people to break into industries and start a career when candidates with previous experience may be more desirable to an employer. Completing an apprenticeship allowed me to take the first steps into the world of HR, regardless of having limited knowledge of the sector previously in my career history. It also allowed me to focus on certain skills not just required for HR, but for an office environment in general. My personal career history was all focused on retail and so an office environment was a big change from a bustling shop floor that I had been used to. My apprenticeship allowed me to explore different elements of Business and relate these to all of our companies at Parkwood Holdings. 

When you entered the apprenticeship, were you a school leaver, or had you completed any other education/course before taking up the apprenticeship?

I had progressed on to Sixth Form and taken my A Levels after High School. I studied English, Media and Psychology - like most young people, I had no idea what I wanted to be ‘when I was older’ and so I didn’t feel university was the right route for me. I worked full time for a while as an Assistant Manager in Training and then decided that I really enjoyed the HR side of that role and so explored options to develop my career.

How long did your apprenticeship take?

My apprenticeship was one year long. 

Was your plan always to try and secure a permanent job at the company?

Yes, definitely. I was eager to begin a career in HR and my apprenticeship offered the first stepping stones to make this happen. It was always the aim to prove myself within the company and continue to progress and learn new skills long after my apprenticeship was complete. 

Was the apprenticeship what you expected? Any surprises on the way?

My apprenticeship involved completing workbooks and answering questions about Business Administration. This usually involved a lot of research and self learning; however, I was very lucky that the team at Parkwood were incredibly supportive and offered lots of guidance throughout my apprenticeship. Parkwood Holdings was a great place for me to complete my apprenticeship because it is full of wonderful people with huge amounts of knowledge, I often went to different departments to ask for advice and guidance and everyone always offered time to discuss questions with me and improve my knowledge and learning experience. 

What was, for you, the most positive aspect of being an apprentice?

The most positive part of being an apprentice for me personally, was being an apprentice at Parkwood Holdings. Apprenticeships are not just for school leavers, I was 22 years old when I began my apprenticeship and I feel it was the most beneficial education I have ever received. My apprenticeship allowed me to take a piece of theoretical learning such as describing how to write meetings for minutes, and then physically put that learning into action and get involved in real life situations.

And the most negative?

Without sounding too cheesy, the only negative aspect of my apprenticeship was that it came to an end!

If you were given the job of promoting apprenticeships, and getting young people to consider them, what would your message be?

I would say that if you’re keen to develop new skills and begin to build a career, or if you’re not sure what career you want yet but would like to start building the foundations for a successful future, then an apprenticeship is a fun and engaging way to learn and progress. Apprenticeships do not just provide one benefit - for example, in my case, an NVQ in Business Administration; apprenticeships provide opportunities to learn and develop new skills outside of the NVQ you are studying for because you are actively engaging in different industries and markets and constantly meeting new and inspiring people, both inside and outside of the business. My apprenticeship has provided me with a full, all round learning experience and I have gained many new skills that will help me progress in my future careers!

Do you think there should be more of an emphasis on apprenticeships, when it comes to getting people trained up and into the workforce? Or is the balance right at the moment?

I don’t think there can ever be enough emphasis on encouraging apprenticeships within the workforce - they are a fantastic opportunity for everyone to develop and constantly improve their own skill set, as well as building knowledge within the business! 


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