An apprenticeship might once have suggested someone starting their career, but an on-going revolution now sees some of our most senior business leaders tackling a qualification at degree level and above.
And, determined to help them develop the skills they need, the University of Gloucestershire is leading the way when it comes to delivering a range of higher apprenticeships – allowing businesses to invest in, retain and develop their staff and grow.
Its Business School is already synonymous with The Growth Hub and GFirst LEP, with both based at its Oxtsalls site, and now its growing catalogue of apprenticeships is proof it continues to listen, learn and deliver what business wants.
But, no matter how good the course or what level the apprenticeship, the hard work to get over the line with that precious qualification and experience is only going to come from one place – the apprentice who steps up and tests themselves.
About the apprentice - Michelle Fyrne, SoGlos
Now one of the most significant media figures in Gloucestershire, Michelle Fyrne is the co-founder and group editor of SoGlos – a brand born in the county, which has a combined audience of 260,000 across online, social media and email, as well as a growing events portfolio.
The former St Peter’s High School pupil, now publishing entrepreneur, famously drew-up the first ‘business plan’ for what would become one of the most influential digital media platforms in the region on the back of a napkin at the top of Dubai’s breath-taking Burj Al Arab hotel.
Since then, together with husband, co-founder and now group publisher, James Fyrne, she has established a digital media business at the forefront of a new generation of regional publishing companies – employing a growing team of experienced journalists, commercial staff and creatives, as well as this year staging a new, high profile business awards for the county.
What was your first ever job?
My first Saturday job was working in Boots in Gloucester when I was 16. My first journalism role was writing for The Citizen in Gloucester whilst at university, 20 years ago now. I then went on to work for national newspapers in London and Time Out in Dubai, before returning to the county to launch SoGlos.
I’m passionate about Gloucestershire as an incredible place to live, work and visit, so feel privileged to have been able to carve out a fulfilling career and successful business in my home county.
What do you do now?
I’m a journalist and entrepreneur and have been building SoGlos into Gloucestershire’s leading media brand with my co-founder for 14 years now.
The two of us started SoGlos from a cold garage filled with tools and the occasional mouse at my parent’s house in Hempsted, and I’m grateful we’ve been able to progress to beautiful Regency offices on Imperial Square in Cheltenham, with central heating and a brilliant team of 14 humans for company.
Can you tell us a bit about your working week and your responsibilities?
As well as leading the Editorial Hub – steering the editorial direction of SoGlos and managing a team of fantastic journalists, I also oversee marketing strategy and drive the company’s ambitious growth plans.
I also have three children under 10 – the youngest will be starting school in September. So, like a lot of working parents, my days can be a bit hectic. Juggling a job I love, alongside school and nursery drop-offs, kids’ ballet classes, drum lessons and homework. And remembering to feed them vegetables now and again!
I usually work more than 40-odd hours a week, with three or four days in the office and some evenings and weekends too. The flexibility of being able to squeeze in extra work after my kids are asleep is a bonus, but maintaining a work/life balance is something I’m still yet to master.
And, as well as that, I’m also undertaking the Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Gloucestershire, too!
Why, on top of your busy working week, add an apprenticeship?
I was impressed by the University of Gloucestershire’s Business School. And the SLMDA course just sounded so good, I knew it was the perfect course for this stage in my career – combining an MBA master’s degree, as well as an apprenticeship and professional recognition from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). It feels like a really productive use of time.
I enjoy learning and wanted to push myself academically, but could only warrant doing so in a way that would be directly beneficial to my business and team, as well as my own growth.
And while I understood the course would require time and commitment, the benefits have outweighed the late nights working on assignments!
How did you feel about a return to the classroom?
I finished formal education 17 years ago, so I couldn’t wait to return to the classroom. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, I’ve only actually been in one classroom since starting in September – with lectures and meetings all completed remotely through Teams.
How many hours a week do you dedicate to the course?
Attendance at university is only two days every three months. However, there is a good deal of self-studying and reading in preparation for each assignment.
The apprenticeship element requires me to commit to 20 per cent of my working week, so eight hours a week, as ‘off-the-job training’ – learning which is undertaken outside of day-to-day work duties.
Are apprentices able to use their own business as the case study? And what are the benefits of this?
It isn’t always relevant, but I do try and focus on my own business as much as possible – trying to apply the latest business theory to the practical realities of running a business.
The second year involves an in-depth practical project, which will go hand-in-hand with some innovative new developments at SoGlos, which I’m excited about.
Is being alongside other businesspeople a positive too and do you support one another?
In theory, yes. My cohort and I have only met once briefly, so each other’s faces have only become slightly familiar from Teams chats. But, it is great to hear the questions and suggestions that people from different industries contribute to group discussions. I’m looking forward to in-person classes, once restrictions allow.
When did you start the course and how soon were you able to start applying some of what you are learning to your day job?
I started in September 2020 and I’m approaching the end of the first of two years now. It has flown by. I definitely tried to put some of the ideas gleaned from the very first lecture into practice at SoGlos straight away.
What have been the benefits to you, so far?
Approaching business topics in an academic way has been a completely new challenge, that I hope I’ve risen to. I’m enjoying learning and soaking up as much knowledge as I can.
I’m a motivated individual anyway, but the academic stimulation from lecturers and peers, as well as lots of reading, has opened my eyes to innovations and improvements which I’ve been really inspired by.
Would you recommend the course to others, why and what advice would you give them?
Absolutely, the SLMDA has been thoroughly interesting so far, with the modules offering a broad overview of key business practices.
While there is some scope for the application of practical business experience, I would also say that this course is more suitable for those who like an academic challenge.
On a personal level – what do you think this will give you?
From a business perspective, I hope to become a better leader – and from that, that I will be able to lead the ambitious growth plans that we have for SoGlos with greater clarity.
On a personal level, I simply hope to learn, develop and improve as much as possible.