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Apprenticeships: The personal and professional impact | Rachel Leyland

By David Deegan
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"It will boost your confidence, and you will get to meet and work with amazing people."


Rachel Leyland, a Senior HR Business Partner within Sir Robert McAlpine (SRM), a leading UK construction and civil engineering company that was established in 1869. Rachel has recently embarked on the Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship and shared her initial reactions to this unique programme with David Deegan – Cranfield’s Director of Practice Development.


“Although it is early days it has already been a great experience. I haven’t done anything like this before and it is such refreshing approach. Learning for me has often been reactive; getting myself up to speed in order to deal with an emergent issue. This feels so much more proactive. I am studying things that may yet emerge, thinking about issues long before they turn into problems, taking time to reflect on things and work out lots of options.”

Rachel talked about how the mix of academic learning and real-life practice was another positive difference to what she had previously experienced. “We learn about topics from a theoretical perspective, but then in the same session we are immediately learning how to apply them in practice. That mix is helping us to improve as business leaders. It is brilliant that we have both the time and space to work out those improvements. Reactive learning is still valid – it has its place, but this kind of proactive learning is upskilling me, and my colleagues, for the future.”

For Rachel, her colleagues were an important part of the learning process. “Cranfield faculty are very knowledgeable, but I am also learning from my SRM colleagues on the programme. A big advantage of this programme is that I am surrounded by like-minded people, and we are all helping each other. By ‘like[1]minded’ I mean that we are all at similar stages in our career, we all want to develop professionally, we all want similar things for our future, we all want to support SRM.”

Rachel talked about how this aspect of learning from other participants had both surprised and delighted her. “I didn’t realise how much we would all get from each other. Because we all work for SRM I am talking to people who face very similar situations to me, but they are bringing me different perspectives which really help me think about things differently.” The Cranfield Senior Leader Apprenticeship includes peer coaching and facilitates group learning.


“These approaches really bring the learning to life.”


Apprenticeships feature sets of industry-developed Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours (KSB’s) which drive a more rounded development but are often a new concept for learners. Rachel described these as “A bit of a shock but a great framework. Because I have to articulate what I am learning and doing in terms of these KSB’s it really makes me reflect on the impact of them, on what I am putting into practice. They make you bring the everyday into sharp focus. It is like when you prepare for an appraisal – you go back and look over what you have done in the past year and realise how much you have achieved. Focusing on the KSB’s is making me look at what I am doing right now, noticing the impact I am having. Which is great for confidence-boosting.”

In terms of the impact the programme is having, Rachel was very candid about how it was building her confidence. “It makes me realise the knowledge and experience I already have, and at the same time it is giving me new perspectives on a much broader business context beyond the experience I had. It has come at a perfect time for me."


"I am seeing the bigger picture in SRM and the industry. I feel much more able to contribute.”


“As an example, I have taken the learning from the ‘Impact and Identity’ module and shared it with my team, and with other teams, so that they can realise and utilise the power of understanding self and others to build better relations.” “I am using coaching questions more often, with my team and with colleagues who are dealing with tricky situations. I am helping them to view things differently, and to come up with their own solutions rather than me telling them what to do. It is empowering.”

Rachel is very much looking forward to the ‘Organisational Strategy’ module. “It fits with my role, with the projects I get involved in. It will definitely add value to the contribution I want to make to those projects, to the business.” She also added, “I am not looking forward to the ‘Finance’ module, but I know it will be super-useful for me!”

Her advice for anyone thinking of starting on the Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader apprenticeship was very straightforward. “It is well worth your time. You have to put effort in, but what you get back will really enhance your leadership in SRM. It covers all areas of business."


"It will boost your confidence, and you will get to meet and work with amazing people.”




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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