Deciding whether to study a professional qualification through an apprenticeship or to go to university can be a difficult choice. While many students head straight to university after their A Levels, for Niamh Dicks it was never an option as the urge to jump headlong into her dream career was too strong.
“I always knew uni wasn’t for me,” the 19-year-old said. “I was more than ready for work and I wanted to get straight into the workplace and I was keen to work in finance.”
So finding an apprenticeship within the accounts department of Heathcotes Group shortly after getting her A Level results was perfect timing for her. Niamh is now progressing quickly through her 13-month apprenticeship, while studying a Level 2 qualification in accounting.
“I did my A Levels but never intended on going onto university afterwards. For me, I find it much easier to learn skills by ‘doing’ rather than studying in a classroom and so I thought an apprenticeship was a better fit for me,” she said. “There are so many people who go to university these days that finding a job afterwards is really competitive. I knew that to succeed after university, I’d have to really stand out above the rest but I think by going straight into work after school has given me a head start. My apprenticeship has allowed me to learn and work towards industry recognised, professional qualifications, whilst also getting really valuable work experience.”
Niamh is based at the Chesterfield head office of Heathcotes which is one of the UK’s most experienced providers of specialist residential care for adults with learning disabilities, mental health needs and associated challenging behaviours. As it’s a large company operating nationally, she feels it has given her the opportunity to begin looking at her longer-term career options and which areas of accounting she might be interested in pursuing. As a Learning Unlimited apprentice, she attends Chesterfield College one day a week and studies towards a Level 2 in Accounting and then is able to return straight back to the office and put everything she’s learned into practice.
“Everyone made me feel welcome at Heathcotes from the very start,” she added. “I’ve learned so much in a short time and I hope that I’ll be able to continue working here long after completing my 13-month apprenticeship. I really enjoy my work and would like to stay here and progress. I’d really like to eventually work towards getting my full accounting qualifications.”
She feels that apprenticeships have many benefits and would urge others to consider an apprenticeship. “I wasn’t really encouraged by school to look at other options. There was always plenty of information available about university but not about anything else. I had to do my own research and had I not been so driven to follow the apprenticeship route I might not have found my place here at Heathcotes. I’ve learned so much in a short time and I don’t think I’d have had the opportunities and experience I’ve had, had I gone to university.”
Heathcotes Group has made a major contribution to local employment through its apprenticeship programme developed in partnership with Learning Unlimited at Chesterfield College. Niamh’s apprenticeship is one of over 600 apprenticeship starts which the company has facilitated in the past five years and Heathcotes recently won Large Employer of the Year at the Learning Unlimited National Apprenticeship Awards 2018.
Heathcotes’ Training Manager, Nilly Blagg, praised Niamh’s enthusiasm and dedication: “Niamh is a fine example of the mutual benefits of apprenticeships for employer and employee alike – she is always willing to learn and take on new challenges, and has shown 100% commitment to her apprenticeship. We are delighted to see Niamh progress so well with Heathcotes. We believe she has a very bright future ahead of her!”
For Niamh the apprenticeship route was the best decision she ever made.