You’re never too old to do an apprenticeship, I did one in my 40s - Will Burchell

There's no feeling quite like the fulfilment of doing a job that you love. Six months ago, I took on my dream role, becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the country’s leading charity dedicated to fighting primary bone cancer, the Bone Cancer Research Trust (BCRT), based in West Yorkshire. Horsforth, North Leeds, to be precise.

Our team is small, but mighty, and in the last five years, BCRT has invested £5.7m in 73 outstanding research projects, all aimed at improving the lives of patients with primary bone cancer. The charity was started back in 2004 when a group of families across Yorkshire who had lost children and young people to primary bone cancer came together after finding no information and no funding for this terrible disease. Their bravery and determination are one of the biggest inspirations for me and my team in our jobs every day.

I’ve spent over 20 years in the charity sector, having started my career as a support worker for adults with learning difficulties. Any leadership role is challenging, but the responsibility of a charity CEO is unique.

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Juggling fundraising and finances while navigating complex challenges and trying to ensure our incredible team, and the thousands of people we support, have everything they need to succeed is both humbling and, at times, daunting.

Will Burchell is the CEO of Bone Cancer Research Trust and Chartered Management Institute Apprentice of the Year.Will Burchell is the CEO of Bone Cancer Research Trust and Chartered Management Institute Apprentice of the Year.
Will Burchell is the CEO of Bone Cancer Research Trust and Chartered Management Institute Apprentice of the Year.

You get a lot of advice when you start a new job, but the biggest myth I’ve heard throughout this leadership journey is that good management and leadership are skills you can just learn on the job, something you can ‘just wing’ and hope for the best.

Meeting objectives, creating a positive work environment, fostering a culture of innovation and improvement, upskilling staff, and promoting the best people aren’t just things that happen by chance, it takes great managers and leaders who have the competency and confidence to make it happen. Like anything, effective management is a skill that constantly needs to be honed and matured.

The challenge today is that many managers and leaders come by their responsibilities via indirect routes.

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Recent research from the Chartered Management Institute finds that 82 per cent of managers who enter management positions have not had any formal management and leadership training - they are ‘accidental managers’, promoted for their technical competence rather than their ability to lead. This has an impact, with the same research finding bad management has now prompted one in three UK workers to quit their roles.

That’s why I didn’t want to take a leap of faith into this job and decided that, in my early 40s, I would do something I never expected I would - I became a management apprentice.

When I told my friends I was going to become an apprentice, many of them joked that I just may be on the wrong side of 16. Yet, the beauty of management apprenticeships, in fact, any apprenticeship, is that they aren’t just for young people and can be done alongside your day-to-day job. I’m one of the more than 300,000 people who take apprenticeships every year, and crucially, these qualifications are not just aimed at those young people who opt to not go to university. In fact, under-19s only account for 23 per cent of apprentices. The vast majority, around three-quarters of people, are older and have advanced or higher qualifications.

I completed my Level 7 Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship with the Chartered Management Institute at Nottingham Trent University, a programme aimed at people like me, looking to develop strategic leadership skills.

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While I did my apprenticeship by going back to university, anyone interested in a course can look around local education providers, and we’re lucky to have brilliant providers here in Yorkshire. In fact, Yorkshire boasts the second-highest rate of apprenticeship achievements per 100,000 population.

The truth is if it weren't for this apprenticeship, I doubt I'd be in my current role. I switched employers while completing the qualification, and I'm convinced that the knowledge and skills gained from the apprenticeship made me a more qualified candidate for the position.

I have a much clearer idea about what ‘good’ looks like in my work, and yes, while I learned a lot about soft skills and culture, I spent a significant amount of time looking into strategy, implementing change, leadership, lifelong learning and much more. My module on governance, for example, has been invaluable in my interactions with our dedicated board of volunteer trustees.

Yet, the myth that apprenticeships are for young people all too often means that someone later on in their life simply won’t even consider this life-changing opportunity.

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My journey has taught me invaluable lessons about the power of lifelong learning and the transformative potential of apprenticeships.

Education doesn't stop when you leave the classroom.

Will Burchell is the CEO of Bone Cancer Research Trust.

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