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From apprentice to assistant professor - how apprenticeships can transform careers

Durham inspires      
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Modern apprenticeship training is helping to transform the careers of colleagues working across Durham.

Apprenticeships provide a range of opportunities to meet the needs of people at all stages of their careers. They not only offer the chance to create new roles at the University, but they also help existing colleagues to develop in their current jobs.

One member of staff whose successful career started out with an Advanced Apprenticeship Programme at Durham is Dr Aarron Atkinson-Toal.

Aarron is now Assistant Professor in Marketing and International Business at the Business School. Dialogue magazine caught up with him, alongside 2023’s Apprentice of the Year, Reece Spurdens, to find out how they have benefited from two very different apprenticeship routes.

Aarron said: “Fifteen years ago, I dropped out of college half-way through my studies - I didn’t settle into college life at all.

“However, during my last few days there I met Claire Hunter (now Senior Organisation Development Manager in HR-OD) who spoke about the Advanced Apprenticeship programme at Durham. The possibility of continuing my education but gaining valuable work experience was appealing, so I applied.”

I was recruited as an apprentice within the Business School, starting work at just 16-years-old. I enjoyed every minute of it and over the next two years I completed my NVQs and was retained within Professional Services.

“Inspired by some truly amazing colleagues to continue my education, I studied an undergraduate degree in business, before completing a masters at the very School I was working at. It was during this time I rediscovered a love for academia and teaching which pushed me in the direction of a PhD within the Department of Management and Marketing. A few years later, I became a Teaching Fellow and most recently, Assistant Professor in Marketing and International Business, all while completing my PhD.

“Although a somewhat unconventional journey, the apprenticeship programme not only instilled a renewed passion for lifelong learning, but it also provided the foundations to a career that continues to be extremely rewarding. It is a constant reminder that many different routes into learning and academia exist. 

“I’m now enjoying my role as a teaching professor immensely, and intend to return the generosity afforded to me by supporting the next generation of apprentices, scholars and colleagues at Durham.”

Reece receiving his Apprentice of the Year award
Reece receiving his Apprentice of the Year award

Apprentice of the Year

Another successful apprentice at Durham is Reece Spurdens who was named Apprentice of the Year at the 2023 Professional Services Awards.

Reece is a Trainee Electrician in Estates and Facilities and began his electrical apprenticeship in January 2020.

Reece explained: “I chose to follow an apprenticeship as I knew it would be the best way to learn and earn at the same time. It also gave me the most hands-on experience of the industry which allowed me to gain much-needed knowledge, not just in electrics but in construction as a whole.

“My apprenticeship meant that I could go to college one day a week to learn theory for the first year, as well as gaining essential skills and knowledge. I spent the following years on design and practical skills, learning how buildings are wired, the science behind the trade and building up a portfolio, documenting my skills and knowledge to prove my understanding of the trade.

“With the support I’ve been given I hope to go onto electrical engineering through the staff development programme. My apprenticeship has opened up a lot of doors, allowing me to network with engineers, contractors and the entire Estates directorate.

“My advice to anyone looking at doing an apprenticeship is that it offers unrivalled industry knowledge and allows for an in-depth understanding of the profession. The apprenticeship is only the starting point but it can take you anywhere - I know that a majority of engineers and estates staff started off as apprentices. If you are thinking about starting one, I couldn't recommend it enough.”

More information

If you're in a role where you could benefit from gaining a qualification to develop your knowledge and enhance your career prospects, you may be eligible for training funded by the apprenticeship levy.

Many professional qualifications are now available and apprenticeships are offered in a range of areas and levels, from level two (GCSE level) through to level seven (Master's level).

Colleagues from across Durham can get involved in apprenticeships, so find out more on the apprenticeships intranet pages.



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