If you’re leaving school or college soon and not sure what to do next, an apprenticeship could be the perfect next step. They let you jump straight into work, free of student debt and rich in hands on experience from day one.

But apprenticeships are about so much more than just getting a job. When we spoke to 21-year-old Uzma Chaudhry, a Partner Trading Support Analyst from O2 who began her career as an O2 apprentice, she said that her experience helped her become a more well-rounded person.

“When I finished college I had every intention of going to uni, but I had a year out, explored a lot of other options and realised that uni just wasn’t for me in that moment in time,” she said. “I’ve not ruled it out completely, but I think you should go to university if you have a genuine interest in a specific subject, or you need it for a job. It’s not always relevant and it’s such a large amount of money. Honestly, at college everyone was considering it, it was the only option!”

After her gap year, and time spent volunteering, Uzma decided to apply for an apprenticeship instead.

“I would say that apprenticeships are a good way to be able to find out your own strengths without having a heavy weight of a debt on the end of it,” she told us. “It’s not easy, but the reward at the end of it is a lot more fruitful than if you were to go to university because you know you’ve got a job, you’ve got a year and a half’s worth of experience behind you, and you’ve had a really broad and in-depth experience.”

“There was a big emphasis on development and that gave me that chance to really develop myself as a person,” she added.

Here’s 5 ways Uzma’s O2 apprenticeship was more than just an ordinary job…

Extra Opportunities

“I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had access to loads of opportunities whilst on my apprenticeship,” Uzma told us. “I was sent to Madrid last year and Bangkok as well for corporate conferences. Bangkok was a massive opportunity. It was a conference of world leaders and they were all campaigning – I met Kofi Annan and Bob Geldof!”

“I’m 99% sure I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I’d just got a regular full-time job. A lot of my colleagues were very jealous that I’d got that opportunity to go and it was all paid for, and the conferences were amazing! I couldn’t have funded that myself and probably wouldn’t have even heard about it without being at O2.”

Uzma’s status as an apprentice also led to her being asked to share her story in the national press: “I was approached as an apprentice by the Telegraph to write student blogs, I still do a couple here or there,” she told us.

The chance to try out other areas of business

“My manager used to give us one day off a month. They’re called Development Days and you’re able to take one day offline, away from the office and go and explore any area of the business that you want to. That could be spending a day with marketing, or you can go out on a partner visit. I went out to the Apple offices with the marketing team on my Development Day.”

Getting a qualification

“If you are gonna go for an apprenticeship, make sure you take full advantage of the fact that you are supposed to be learning at the same time as working,” Uzma suggested. “There are no other opportunities where you can do that. At university you are purely learning, and in a full-time role you are purely working, so an apprenticeship is a really good, healthy mixture of having the opportunity to learn the different theory behind things, as well as the full time experience as well. It’s quite a unique sort of blend in that sense.”

“I got an NVQ in Business Sales,” Uzma told us. “I was really lucky that my manager actually used to give us two hours every Friday afternoon to work on our apprenticeship stuff”.

New skills

I would say that my confidence has definitely gone up,” Uzma told us. “In the role that I work in I have to speak to business partners on a regular basis. Initially that was quite a daunting thing to have to consider, but now my confidence has gone up with speaking to them, so it’s not so much of a thing now.”

Growing a big network

“O2 can really see the value of apprenticeships. I’ve been into senior board meetings before and talked about my journey as an apprentice,” Uzma explained.

“I’ve had shout outs before on business-wide calls and I was even told at one point that they were talking about me on calls that I wasn’t even on! You would just never get that kind of exposure if you came in as an average employee, but because they really wanna show us that we are valued as apprentices, interns and grads, they have given us that access all the way to the top, and that’s just not something that you would get anywhere else!”

“My mentor was Ben Dowd (Business Director at O2). I questioned him throughout my apprenticeship; he’s definitely given me a lot of support and a lot of opportunities to go pretty much wherever I wanted to.”

Thinking of applying? We asked Uzma for her tips on how to make an impression…

“In terms of standing out I think employers want to see that you have a life beyond full time work,” she said. “I think it is really important that you do have your own interests. Make sure that you build yourself into a well-rounded person, not just for an application, but because that’s the way that you get most out of your life and that’s the way that you can experience as many things as you can!”

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