“Oh, they actually do real work?!”

“Oh, they actually do real work?!”

Part two in the ‘Apprenticeship’ series. The first article about apprenticeships explained how we came to be at the Tavistock Institute. A new member..


8 June 2015

Part two in the ‘Apprenticeship’ series.

The first article in our series about apprenticeships, explained how we came to be at the Tavistock Institute. A new member of staff was shocked to find out that we ‘actually do real work’. For us, this was quite significant in what it said about the perception of apprenticeships and apprentices. We realised that our experience at the Tavistock Institute clearly wasn’t the norm or what is perceived as the norm. As much as we were slightly offended by our colleague, our initial presumptions about apprenticeships were quite similar to hers.


When I joined I was told my role would sit within the admin team and whilst I was very much looking forward to working at the Tavistock Institute, I envisioned that my role would be quite routine and composed of stereotypical admin tasks. Whilst some of the administrative tasks that are part of my role are a bit dull, most are engaging and I have gained an insight into how administration and research complement each other and the tensions that exist between them. Just like any other job the role encompasses navigating conflicting demands on our time, managing relationships with colleagues, the expectations placed on us individually and the role itself. This has been hugely character building and having a good relationship with our line manager has helped us explore and work through any difficulties around the role. Having these experiences has equipped us for future work places and I have learnt so much. Rather ironically I haven’t learnt very much from the formal training and qualification part of the apprenticeship other than how the difficulty of dealing with difficult or disappointing supplier relationship. At the Tavistock Institute, Nick and I have had the experience of what it feels like to be an equal part of a team rather than being dumped with boring and menial work because we are the most junior members of staff. The working environment at the Tavistock Institute is very autonomous. With regular supervision, our line manager trusts us to manage our own diaries, negotiate tasks with other staff, explore what we are interested in and get on with work rather than the micro-management I was expecting. I think this trust in our abilities led Nick and I to realise our abilities and grow beyond the perception of apprentices (both our own and others).


My expectation was that I wouldn’t get out of the experience what I’d put in and that the qualification itself would be the only thing that I’d benefit from. The qualification itself is actually the least interesting part of my time here; it doesn’t fit well with the work that I do.  However, when I joined the Tavistock Institute, one of the first things said to me by my line manager is that my time here will be what I make it. Managing my own time and balancing my responsibilities proves difficult at points, particularly because this is my first full time job, but I have the opportunity to mould my experience. I can get involved with work that interests me and gain valuable skills along the way. So far during my time at the Tavistock Institute, amongst other things, I have been involved in a European project that investigates the use of social media by the emergency services. I am also involved in a project, which is producing a game to help to boost entrepreneurial skills among the unemployed.

Final thoughts

Our experiences of being apprentices at the Tavistock Institute differed greatly from our original expectations. We believe this is because the apprenticeship here offers something different to the usual experience. We believe the potential of apprenticeships to transform both individuals and organisations hasn’t been fully realised. Many in society share our colleague’s preconceptions with regard to the quality and range of work apprentices can do, regarding them as means of gaining cheap labour. We feel that they are not held in the same esteem as traditional academic qualifications and that this is tarnishing both the experience of apprentices and the recognition of their work. However, being apprentices at the Tavistock Institute has been an unexpected and rewarding experience for us.

Our next article will look at the findings internal evaluation of our apprenticeship programme.

Pauline Meyer
Nick Preston

Read part 1 here.

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