Case study: How an apprenticeship can lead to better leadership and management

During National Apprenticeship Week (6-12 February), which this year focuses on ‘Skills for Life’, we talk to Danielle Turner, head of fulfilment at the RSPB, about how her postgraduate-level senior apprenticeship has helped her become a better manager and leader, and how apprenticeships like hers can help the third sector bridge the skills gap and tackle the retention crisis.

Turner is currently on the Imperial College & Corndel Executive Development Programme, an executive leadership programme bringing together the academic excellence of Imperial College Business School with the expertise of Corndel.

Turner has been at the RSPB for seven years and in her current role for just over two. Heading up the fulfilment operation at the charity is a varied and complex role, which calls for strong leadership and communication skills, as well as management expertise across a number of areas.

She and her team support colleagues throughout the charity in areas such as warehouse and stock management, magazine mailings, data processing, as well as developing and trialling new technologies to improve efficiencies and make cost savings.

With such an important role within the charity, when the opportunity came to upskill her leadership and management capabilities she knew she didn’t want to miss out.

“I jumped at the chance to get onto the Executive Development Programme, as I felt it would really help me become a better and more confident leader. Almost a year into the apprenticeship, it’s already exceeded my expectations and taught me so much.”

In particular, she has found that the apprenticeship has helped her build on and hone her presentation skills - something that she hadn’t done much of before.

“It’s really made me think about how I get my ideas across and pitch more persuasively, so I get buy-in and the outcomes my team and I hope for. It all boils down to ‘what’s the ask’ and how do I get what I want out of the situation by challenging more and communicating better.”

Another benefit of the programme that Turner appreciates is having a coach who she can go to for support and accountability.

“My coach has been a real cheerleader; someone who I can talk to about issues at work and who will give me constructive yet kind criticism. For example, when a presentation didn’t go as well as I’d hoped she challenged me to see what I could have done better. She really motivates and encourages me to do the best I can.”

As part of the apprenticeship programme, students also take part in regular masterclasses at Imperial, where they get a chance to meet and network with others on the programme. These are managers and directors who work across a range of private businesses and public organisations; from Waitrose and Capita to the Science Museum.

As well as meeting others in similar roles to herself, she finds that the masterclasses have really opened her eyes to some of the bigger topics and innovations that are impacting all organisations at this time of great change.

“Working in a charity can sometimes be quite insular, and often we don’t get exposed to big ideas such as AI and how it will affect what we do. So it has been fascinating to learn about these things and talk through ideas with other people working across many different sectors.”

As many charity leaders and HR teams will know, attracting and retaining skilled leaders and directors is extremely tough in this economic climate. In fact, 79% of large third-sector organisations are experiencing recruitment and retention problems according to a recent Third Sector trends report.

Which is why apprenticeship programmes such as these, which can be accessed through the Apprenticeship Levy can be part of the solution to close the skills gap and empower those who already work in the third sector. Turner believes that this apprenticeship would really benefit other charity leaders and directors like herself and the charity sector as a whole.

“When you work for a charity it’s very easy to let the passion drive what you’re doing, and it can be hard to galvanise the skills you need for the workforce. I think it’s really important when you work in a charity to be an accountable leader. To run a charity well and achieve your goals you have to be a good leader and communicator, and I believe that this apprenticeship gives you all the skills and insights to do that.”

During National Apprenticeship Week, James Kelly, CEO of Corndel is keen to get the message across about how apprenticeships really can make an impact on those who work in and run charities and non-profit organisations. Corndel works with some of the biggest UK charities delivering a range of workplace apprenticeships to help upskill the third sector so it’s prepared for future opportunities and challenges.

“All charitable and not-profit organisations that contribute to the Apprenticeship Levy can access fully-funded apprenticeship programmes such as the one that Danielle is on. We design award-winning programmes for the third sector to help people upskill their leadership, fundraising and digital competencies across many different roles. We also have a dedicated charity team who support organisations to utilise and maximise the opportunities that apprenticeships can bring to the third sector.”

David Brown, director of executive education at Imperial College Business School added: “the need for skilled and trained managers and leaders has never been greater given new and emerging challenges and opportunities. The Executive Programme that Danielle is on gives her and others access to top quality learning to help them and their organisations to thrive during these changing times.”

Here’s Danielle’s story on video

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