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It was never my intention to get into banking, or do an apprenticeship. The path I had carved out changed drastically for me: my dad died suddenly when I was 15 and I left full-time education to work. My plan had been to go to university with my friends.

Because I left school so early, I didn’t have the entry qualifications for a graduate placement and so I had to attend night school three nights a week for two years.  I was very fortunate that my employer – Bank of Scotland – then gave me day release, and funding, onto a graduate apprenticeship programme.

Find your own way and carve out time to suit

By the age of 22, I completed my Chartered Institute of Banking qualification through the graduate apprenticeship route. I believe I was the youngest person at the time to be fully qualified. I was living in my own home, with no student debt.

To anyone starting on this path with lots of different responsibilities to juggle – such as caring commitments - I’d say plan ahead, be organised, set time aside and break things into manageable chunks so you’ve not got a mountain to climb. I felt more motivated in the morning, so I would work weekend mornings and then have time off. Working with my own body clock helped me be more productive.

If I was to compare my pathway with going to University, I would say that I may have achieved my qualification a bit sooner, but I wouldn’t have built my level of resilience, social skills and the understanding of what it means to be part of a team. It’s these skills that have become invaluable in my career.

I’ve never forgotten the power of apprenticeships to the success of an organisation and in the leadership roles I’ve had, I’ve always pushed for work based learning.

Alison McGregor

Large or small, apprenticeships will add value to your company

As an apprentice, I had the chance to work in a range of departments and was adding value from an early stage. Starting off in junior posts and having exposure to different teams meant I got exposure to lots of areas and knew where I wanted to specialise longer term. I knew so many people across the business, and learned how to communicate and collaborate with them.

I’ve never forgotten the power of apprenticeships to the success of an organisation and in the leadership roles I’ve had, I’ve always pushed for work based learning. In certain parts of the business, it makes absolute sense to bring people in as school leavers and let them grow – because they grow along with the business and there’s a certain loyalty that this instils.

I hear a lot of discussion around small to medium sized companies and how they can overlook apprenticeships – I would say this: there is a plethora of disciplines available and opportunities for apprenticeships in every type of firm. An apprentice will offer you a different, fresh view point and if you take the time to train them, you’ll realise that role will quickly reverse and they will also teach you. You will be investing in your future.

If you offer flexibility for everyone - men and women – you will attract talent…as an employer, it’s important that we nurture an environment where men encourage women.

Alison McGregor

Nurture men to support women in business

For me, when I was training, the landscape for women in business was slightly different. As a working mum who was initially doing part-time hours, I had to return to work on a full-time basis to get promotion. I’m encouraged to see so many businesses now offering a flexible approach to working. If you offer flexibility for everyone - men and women – you will attract talent. And I always say, as an employer, it’s important that we nurture an environment where men encourage women.

As a woman in business for over 30 years now, I’ve noticed that we can be good at talking ourselves down. One key thing I’ve learned is to listen to your supporters – I affectionately call them the ‘interfering mentors’. These are the people who see the great things in us women, we just don’t see in ourselves.

I was very fortunate to work with men who were amazing mentors, not only that could I learn from, but who recognised that I had skills they didn’t have. They actively supported my development.

I’m a great believer in women driving their own development agenda. No matter how junior the role, having a personal development plan and talking this through with a mentor or line manager will keep you focused.

My advice to other women starting out on their apprenticeship or career generally is simple: do a good job and you’ll get another good job. And then you can ask for an even better job.

More information

Scottish businesswoman, former apprentice and champion of apprenticeships, Alison McGregor is the latest Apprentice Greats inductee. Find out what makes Alison an Apprentice Great.

Employers can find out more about Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships by visiting apprenticeships.scot.

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