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Meet the apprentices studying at MDX aiming for the skies in Sales and Environmental Health

05/02/2024
Degree apprenticeships are a "win-win" - "you learn so much when sitting in the classroom, but you also have the opportunity to learn out in the field for yourself," say student apprentices on current programmes

As National Apprenticeship Week begins, students on MDX Degree Apprenticeship programmes describe what the work and study route involves day to day and explain why they picked it.

A young white man with brown hair in a pale blue shirt stands against a turquoise backgroundAt VIth Form in Solihull, Lucas Laurie, 20, studied Psychology, Business and PE A Levels - subjects that might be useful if he pursued an ambition to become a pro golfer.

He decided against a sporting career; then came lockdown, when he set up a car valeting business, which grew quickly from family and friends to a wider customer base. Lucas realised it was fundamentally a sales business he had built, though with much else to it, and liked the idea of Sales for a subsequent career: “in the end, you’re paid on results and that determines your input. It’s a team game and also a big game of self-fulfilment”.

He never saw a traditional university degree as an option for himself personally. “I had exposure to creating my own income and felt more suited to the world of work".

A degree apprenticeship offered the values of “striving and grit” that motivate him. His parents saw it a great opportunity despite no one in the family doing one before. His school, which usually encouraged students to apply for university programmes was intrigued to learn more when he got an apprenticeship, and asked him to talk to current students about how to find roles and apply.

Lucas chose Siemens for an Apprenticeship as he wanted to work for a large multinational that could offer a high level of structure in an apprenticeship programme. He is now in the third year of four of the B2B Sales Apprenticeship, finishing in September 2025. “You learn so much when sitting in the classroom, but you also have the opportunity to learn out in the field for yourself,” he says. “It comes down to responsibility and accountability”.

Lucas couldn’t ask for anything more from those teaching the programme, with Sales Directors at BT and Vodafone among those leading sessions. He enjoyed a recent module taught by sales business school Consalia on the theory of ethics in sales. He praises how “for our modules, the requirements are laid out very clearly. For example, we always have a clear module handbook and a reading list which is always valued”.

The range of ages and backgrounds of fellow apprentices is intellectually stimulating and useful for different perspectives and challenging preconceptions, he says. In terms of practical logistics, he finds the commute from Solihull to Manchester for the office or to Middlesex for module teaching manageable. He works from home on Mondays and sometimes has taken the Manchester-London journey direct.

On the office work side, “the highlight so far is that I have been able to create my own sales opportunities and experience wins and losses,” Lucas says. “I have a sales plan and look after a number of accounts that I actively try to grow, great for my experience and to practice new academia from MDX and Consalia. We get enough time to manage our studies and work and Siemens are flexible about when we take our university time”.

Lucas rates the mix of learning and earning on a degree apprenticeship as the best of both worlds and thinks universities should offer more such programmes – “it’s a way to fast-track your experience whilst working towards a qualification. It gives people more exposure to industry, and insight into creating value for a business. I would however say that it is for an individual that possesses a strong sense of responsibility and willingness to achieve as the workload gets high, which requires strong commitment”.

In the next few years, he would like to have earned Siemens’s Salesperson of the Year award and worked in one of the company’s HQ global sales teams on large-scale high-value deals. “I plan to do this by focusing on inputs like the customer’s world, challenging them, and thinking differently about how their businesses can be scaled and how we can assist with this,” he says.

A young white woman with long hair tied back, in a black top and with a rainbow lanyard around her neck is smiling at the cameraOrla Davin, in the cohort below Lucas at Siemens, had a place at Liverpool University after studying Biology, Chemistry and Geography at college, but was unsure what path she wanted to take. One of her older sisters, now a manager at AstraZeneca, did an apprenticeship; the other went down the traditional degree route. After a year out working, Orla eventually decided on an apprenticeship – “because it gave me the same degree as the traditional route, along with four years’ work experience which will give me an edge on other students. Not to mention the wage while doing it, that allows me to have a good work-life balance”.

She has rotated through placements in different roles, as a product manager, account manager and in business development, the last of which she has enjoyed most of her placements to date.

“The balancing is much easier than I thought: I do a 4-day hybrid working week at Siemens and one day a week uni work,” she says. “During the working week, I do different things from week to week - visiting customers, industry research, presenting, workshops".

“The highlight so far would be that in my work life last November I went to Germany for a company event called SPS with some of our customers from the UK. It was really good to see on large scale what Siemens can do and the customers we have, while meeting new colleagues from HQ building my network”.

Like Lucas, she values Siemens’ flexibility around allowing her enough time to complete assignments, and the independence the programme as a whole has given her.

A group of young male and female students standing in a line, wearing casual clothes, in front of a large screenLast October, Orla took part in a roundtable discussion at Conservative Party Conference in Manchester with Skills Minister Robert Halfon, chaired by Middlesex University Interim Vice-Chancellor Professor Sean Wellington, which she describes as “really insightful”.

“It was good to hear from other student apprentices, some still on the scheme and some off it, about their experiences,” she says. “It was good to hear the Minister is a big advocate for degree apprenticeships and wants to increase them”.

Orla says she would “definitely recommend a degree apprenticeship,” as it “helps you develop academically as well as professionally. The skills and experiences gained over the 3-year scheme at Siemens can’t be taught”.

In five years’ time, she anticipates still being at Siemens, managing Early Career Professionals alongside her role to help them develop in the way she is right now.

A young South Asian man in dark clothing sits on a sofa in front of a bamboo plantAkmol Hussain is studying the BSc Environmental Health Practitioner Apprenticeship and works at Barking and Dagenham Council on the Private Sector Housing team.

In his council role, he conducts Housing Health and Safety Rating System inspections, assessing potential hazards and risks. He works closely with landlords, tenants, and other departments, and his overall responsibilities involve fieldwork, documentation, and collaboration to uphold housing standards, all supported by a collaborative and community-oriented environment.

Akmol recently along with other MDX students on public sector degree apprenticeship programmes gave a presentation to MDX Governors which was well-received, and he has recorded a video about his apprenticeship journey for National Apprenticeship Week.

He chose the apprenticeship route “to gain work experience while earning a degree and [position] myself well for employment. This choice, fully funded with a salary, eliminates the need for a student loan, creating a win-win situation”.

Akmol says that being an environmental health practitioner “deeply inspires me, fuelled by my genuine concern and active involvement in addressing environmental issues, especially those linked to housing in the private sector”. He has found the most rewarding parts of his apprenticeship to be acquisition of hands-on skills, and seeing how his efforts directly impact residents’ wellbeing. He appreciates the diverse range of responsibilities he is given and has embraced a strong sense of professionalism and ethical responsibility.

His choice of pursuing an apprenticeship has been supported by his family, teachers, and friends. In five years’ time as a fully qualified Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner, he hopes he might at the stage of taking on a more varied or leadership role and contributing to larger-scale environmental initiatives.

Find out more about apprenticeships at MDX

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