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Apprenticeships: The personal and professional impact | Nicky Rance

By Dr Steph Russell
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"I am now able to lead and run my projects more efficiently."


Sir Robert McAlpine is a leading UK construction and civil engineering 
company that was established in 1869. Nicky Rance is one of their Project 
Directors, and currently a student on the Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader 
Apprenticeship. In a recent conversation with Dr Steph Russell, Cranfield’s Head of Apprenticeships Development, Nicky shared why this programme 
is an important part of her personal and professional development.


Nicky explained that there were several things which drew her to the Senior Leader Apprenticeship. “The range of learning is fantastic. There is learning that will help us to operate at boardroom level, in fact one of the modules is actually called ‘Finance for the Boardroom’. Then there are all sorts of other modules, from teaching us to how to do effective research, right through to developing organisational strategy. There are also modules which cover the personal side, such as our own identity, our values, that is great in helping me to explore myself more deeply.”

Nicky felt it was a very rich range of modules which would not only develop her, but also help her move forward with her career. “And on top of that it is a qualification at such a respected institute!”

The Level 7 Apprenticeship is 15 months long, and many students tell us that while the commitment is considerable, this means they have the chance to learn, to put the learning into practice in the workplace, reflect on what happens, and then take those reflections into their next module and go deeper. For Nicky, a longer programme is a positive aspect.


“It is something that I can really get stuck into, rather than just being a short one-month course.”


“We started off with ‘Impact and Identity’, looking at our own personal leadership. For me, starting with that kind of self-learning, how I operate, and how I interact with teams and peers was really valuable. Even though it’s really early in the programme, I’ve been able to take the learning back into my workplace.” Nicky shared how this had helped her to evaluate how she would naturally deal with conflict, her usual methods for influencing and negotiating with people, and how it had given her more choices.

There are several ways that a person can learn these subjects, so Steph asked Nicky what drew her to the Apprenticeship route. “It was particularly attractive because of the blend of the learning, and because it doesn’t have the same extent of long written assignments that an MBA would have. So, it makes it a bit more manageable with my very busy day job, but still offering that depth of learning.”

Apprenticeship students often wonder how they will manage to learn while also working, so Steph asked Nicky how she has approached this. “It’s been quite manageable by making sure I plan it right from the start rather than ending up with a backlog or getting behind. Everything is in my calendar; the taught modules; the assignment dates. Everything goes in there. The off-the-job learning slots are also in there, and then they become a non-negotiable, the same as any other meeting would. I have regular meetings with my line manager as well, not just about the day-job but also about the apprenticeship. I keep him up to date with what I’m doing, and what I need to be doing, so he’s also fully aware of the commitments, and that helps.”

Steph observed that it sounded as though that relationship with her line manager was important and useful. Nicky agreed that her line manager was an important point of reference.

“My line manager will be absolutely key going forward. I take the learning from the modules and talk it through with him, to identify how it best relates to the business, whether he has any other ideas, or if he sees where there might be a problem or a gap that I might not have spotted, so that helps me."


"We also look at the best way of applying the learning so that it not only generates value for me and my apprenticeship, but also generates value for the business as well.”


In talking further about the impact of the Apprenticeship for Sir Robert McAlpine, Nicky said “I imagine that it will also help succession planning, making sure that we’ve got the right people in line coming through with the right skills and knowledge.”

For anyone who is thinking of embarking on a Senior Leader Apprenticeship, Nicky summed up her experience of the Cranfield programme so far in three words:


“Professional, varied and inspiring.”


“I am now looking at things slightly differently. Just being able to see that bigger picture, and link various different areas together, areas that might have previously been acting in silos, I am now able to lead and run my projects more efficiently.”

“I’ve already considered where this apprenticeship might lead. It’s great to be learning about broader business strategy, so when I look at the different modules we’re covering, I am hopeful it could lead to a career that has a wider impact in the business.”



Discover more about the Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader Executive Programme:


This interview was conducted as part of Cranfield's celebration of National Apprenticeship Week 2023    


Tags: leadership, apprenticeship, article

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