As Lysette comes to the end of her time as an apprentice with DHL, she shares her highs, lows, and gives insight into her 4-year apprenticeship journey. "Apprentices learn so much, in such a small window of opportunity, which is why we develop at the rate we do!"

Reflecting on my time as an apprentice

As I come to the end of my apprenticeship, I thought it would be insightful to reflect on my experience in the apprenticeship programme, considering the highs and lows, the benefits, and downsides, in the hope of helping others in making a similar decision as I did four years ago.

How it all started

During my time in sixth form, there was a constant pressure to have your mind set on your next steps, whether this be further education via the traditional university route, taking on an apprenticeship or perhaps going straight into full-time work. Every individual had a different idea of where their path would take them, however, my ‘idea’ was foggy, to say the least. My sixth form in particular encouraged students to take the university route, so I went through the process of travelling around the country to university open days. Each time, as much as I enjoyed visiting the various campuses and cities, something was telling me that the university experience wasn’t the one for me.


This led me to investigating degree apprenticeships, when, at the time, there wasn’t as much information available, so I attended a few career fairs to gain a greater understanding. Now, there’s a lot of information available - certainly something I wish I had at the time - and something I would encourage others to use. I gradually started to see myself ‘fitting in’ to the apprenticeship approach: learning whilst earning, applying the skills and knowledge gained through my qualification directly to my work practice, and little/no debt at the end of the process. I really started to build a picture of what I hoped my next steps would look like and the fast-track approach into real-life work.


I went through the application process for four employers in total, and although I was unsuccessful with two of these, they all provided me with additional experience and areas for development which contributed to my eventual success in securing a role with DHL Supply Chain as a Chartered Management Degree Level Apprentice (CMDA). Although the application process is now slightly different to when I applied for the programme, I would encourage applicants for any programme to prepare for the likes of assessment days, interviews, competency testing etc. All of these now factor into the application process, and preparation will be key to securing your dream role. This doesn't mean they are 'scary' or 'difficult'; they are enjoyable, insightful, and positive experiences which support your personal development just as much as they support employers in choosing suitable candidates.

The highs and lows

I have had two placements in total during the programme, one in a specific Business Unit/segment related to the Automotive sector, and one for the UK region supporting all operations, whereby I have now secured a full-time role in Business Performance Management (BPM) Support Manager with two direct reports as I off-board the scheme. DHL Supply Chain is the global leader in supply chain management and third-party logistics, with around 40,000 employees in the UK alone, so I originally felt like a very small fish in an extremely big pond. I was in the first cohort of degree-level apprentices who started straight out of sixth form/college, so there were very few peers that I could talk to and understand their experiences. Now, the apprenticeship community in DHL, like other businesses, has grown significantly, and there are fantastic networks of likeminded apprentices and alumni who can share their knowledge and experience with others, as well as a greater understanding from the wider business of how well apprentices can contribute to the future of an organisation.


There were times when I found the workload significant and assignments challenging. You must not forget the hard work and dedication required from an apprentice, where long days turn into long evenings, and brain freeze becomes something not just associated with eating too much ice cream. Apprentices learn so much, in such a small window of opportunity, which is why we develop at the rate we do! In addition to the hard work and dedication that was essential, imposter syndrome, as the cherry on top, was also difficult to manage. Remember, that you are an apprentice learning key skills and competencies within your field, and although you may not have the same level of experience as your peers, you are continuing to become increasingly capable of delivering your role effectively.


Although there were some lows, there were certainly more highs, and as I reflect, I start to see how and why all that hard work was worth it in the end. Now, I am more confident and capable, whereby my studies have supported me in investigating all areas of the business. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone, networking and collaborating with colleagues at all levels of the organisation, and I am now comfortable in my abilities as a colleague and a manager. I have had the opportunity to coach new apprentices, take part in work events such as experience days, visit sites around the country, meet various colleagues and see where DHL Supply Chain shine. The opportunities have been endless.

My top tips for apprentices 

1.     Self-doubt will happen, and there will be times that you will feel like you are not achieving what you would like or doing as well as others. 

      Remember, if you’re comparing yourself to someone else, you have lost focus on your own path. Remain clear on your goals and create a journey to achieve them.


2.     Your colleagues are there to support you but don’t be overwhelmed by their abilities

This may be one of your first professional roles and you will not (or be expected to) know everything. These colleagues will have experience in their role, and you are an investment to the company to also be at the same level as them in the coming months/years.


3.     Be inquisitive and ask questions.

No question is a ‘silly’ question, as learning the basics is often where people get stuck but being willing to ask the basics helps you build a foundation for the advanced parts of a skill. Curiosity supports relationship building and general career development. I was often the one to ask the question that everyone else was thinking, and as long as it contributes to a constructive conversation and decision-making process, I would encourage others to do so too.


4.     Observe, absorb, and reflect. 

Watch senior members of staff; how they interact with stakeholders, make decisions, and manage tasks, people, and processes. Consider and reflect on their approach - how might you integrate certain elements of their behaviour into your own practice going forward? 


5.     Effective time management leads to maximised success. 

Undergoing an apprenticeship requires an effective time balance of work, study, and personal life. There will be some sacrifices required at times to complete an assignment for a specific deadline or to deliver a project at work, for example. But I would encourage apprentices to plan their time and allocate this in advance to successfully achieve goals for the day/week/month. 


6.     Be enthusiastic about your experience. 

A positive approach to every task, no matter the scale, will create a fantastic foundation for motivation. You are required to understand all elements of your role, even those that may not be as exciting or interesting. Becoming a specialist in your role will support career progression and solidify adaptability skills. 


7.     Remember you’re a valuable contribution to the team, not ‘just an apprentice’. 

The company has invested in you to be part of its future, so don’t always settle for tasks that don’t challenge your abilities – especially always making the tea! Put yourself forward for tasks that could broaden your skills, you can always ask your colleagues or manager for support if you feel overwhelmed or cannot move the task forward with your current abilities.


8.     Be prepared to organise your own future. 

     Throughout your education, it’s likely that you will have received significant support and direction from your education provider to manage your time and learning, setting specific tasks to ensure you have secured the relevant knowledge. This is slightly different in an apprenticeship. Although you will have dedicated Learning and Development/Emerging Talent Teams as well as your qualification provider who will help you with the process, you are the master of your own destiny. You will be primarily responsible for your development, seizing opportunities to advance your learning/career. Don’t sit back and expect others to do this for you.


All in all

All in all, I am so happy that I made the decision I did and would encourage anyone to research whether there are apprenticeships available in the field they look to progress into. The opportunities you receive, and the fast-track development you will undergo is astounding – you will not look back. I am proud of the professional Chartered Manager that my apprenticeship has made me, and hope that my advice will support you in your potential apprenticeship journey.  


Feeling inspired and ready to take the next steps in your career? Check out our available opportunities here!

Sending a big 'thank you' to Lysette for sharing her experiences and writing this blog!

Apprenticeships guest blog Apprentice Lifestyle