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We are delighted to announce that we won two awards this year for the PQ Magazine Awards 2024.

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It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

Sarah Varley

We recently caught up with Sarah Varley, who received a Distinction grade on the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship, where she also studied towards her ICA International Diploma in Governance, Risk and Compliance.

After working in the industry for over 20 years, Sarah decided to upskill and set herself a new challenge in her job role. Here’s how her experience went…

Can you tell us about your career so far and how you got into the apprenticeship?

So I’ve worked for Lloyds Banking Group for around 26 years, and I’ve moved around quite a lot in that time, but I’ve primarily been in the Risk Division. In the last five years, I’ve been working in an IT role, but I realised that I hadn’t gotten any qualifications that would demonstrate that knowledge and experience.

I wanted to gain a formal qualification but I was also looking for a challenge while proving that I do have that knowledge and understanding of this level, so that led me to do an apprenticeship.

Did you always know that this is the industry you wanted to work in?

Before joining Lloyds Banking Group, I didn’t. It was totally by accident really, I started with a temporary job in the Collections Department but I just loved the whole atmosphere of the bank and the team, so I went down the path into line management, and operational management, and then I moved into more of a project role.

 

I think it’s just that I like the values that the company has, the way it runs, and the people and teams there, but I also like the opportunities that they give you to move around. I’ve had quite a different career, and I’ve not stuck to one thing which has kept my interest and helped me upskill a lot in different areas.

We heard that you always worked ahead of your target during your apprenticeship. Is this something that you usually strive to do?

I spoke to people who had done an apprenticeship before I decided to do it, and they said it was a lot of work. You obviously have your daytime job, and I’m a mum to four children, so it was important to make sure I could balance my job and personal commitments while doing the apprenticeship. So, I was really conscious of this and if you fall behind in your apprenticeship then you can struggle to get back on track again because you’ll keep getting more and more things to do.

At first, I had my ICA work to do, which included the assignments, going to all of the lessons, and doing all of the reading and research, and then I also had my knowledge statements for the apprenticeship to write. I was told that I could wait until later on to do the knowledge statements, but I tried to do both in parallel, and I think doing that kept me ahead and also meant that my workload was easier to manage throughout the whole apprenticeship.

I’m also quite an organised person so I did thoroughly plan it to make sure that I knew exactly what I was doing for each week and where I would be doing the 20% off-the-job training. There were times at the weekends or on an evening when if I needed to do some extra research, I’d do that. But I just made sure that I was strict with my plan and I didn’t deviate.

Were there any challenges while you were studying?

I’ve not written essays since school so I think I struggled getting into the mindset of how to do it, and with what level to pitch it. I didn’t know what ‘good’ looked like, so I found it difficult to figure that out, to begin with.

I found it very difficult to get within the word count, I was awful at that initially. I’d write an essay and then be around 3000 words over the word count, and then I’d have to cut it back. I think that depends on you as an individual though while you are studying.

And then sometimes, I struggled with the amount of work I needed to get through. Again, I think it’s really important to keep that discipline - even if you’ve had a bad day at work or something’s happening with the kids, I needed to remind myself of what I needed to do or it would just have put me in a worse position. So, like I said, I was very strict with myself.

How did you find the support from Kaplan?

Brilliant, I absolutely loved my Talent Coach, Laurie Andrews, she was fantastic. She was probably perfect for me for an apprenticeship. At some times, I would panic and Laurie would be the person to calm me down and reassure me that I was fine and I was at the right place in my studies.

When I received my first grade from my ICA, I had passed it but received a lower mark than I wanted. So it was good to have someone who knew exactly what ‘good’ looked like and could give me guidance on that.

We also went through the apprenticeship’s learning outcomes together so that I could pick the ones that were aligned with my project and responsibilities at work, and I had to pick 16 outcomes to get a distinction. So, once I knew that a distinction was possible, I really wanted it. I think I would have been a bit upset if I didn’t get a distinction, although passing the apprenticeship at this level is still really good. I’ve not studied at this level before, but once you’ve put so much work into your project and aimed towards a set goal, I would have been a bit disheartened if I didn’t get it. But there are challenges with it.

How was your support from your employer?

Really good again. I had two different managers during the apprenticeship because I moved to a different job role in the middle of it, and I was worried that it would be difficult. But they were both really, really good and there were a few occasions where I would run things by them to get their thoughts. There were many other people as well, not my direct managers, but people who I’d work with, and they were all really supportive. A few of them even provided witness testimonials too to support that they’ve seen me deliver the learning outcomes. So, they were exactly what I needed.

There was never a time when I felt like I was on my own, I’d either go to Laurie or my line manager.

Do you have any tips for other people on how to stay on track?

I’d say as soon as you start the apprenticeship, start to do the work so that you can stay on track with the assignments and readings and you can get ahead from there. Also, be as strict as you can be with your time. You have 20% dedicated study time during the apprenticeship, so make sure that you plan that in your diary. I used to aim to do it first thing in the morning when it was quieter so that I wouldn’t be interrupted. Also, make sure that your line manager knows when you’re taking that time so that they can know when to reduce your workload.

And also, just ask for help. As I said, I had a really good relationship with Laurie, and I was really lucky that she was so good but I think it helps to be open and honest if you feel like you’re falling behind or you need some help with something.

We understand that employers may be uncertain about losing their apprentices during the 20% off-the-job training. How would you say your newfound skills have shown that it’s worth the temporary time lost?

I think doing the projects I chose to do for the apprenticeship has given the company a lot back. I basically set up and ran a Women’s Academy to teach other women technical skills, as well as how to support each other and develop their communication skills. So, I’m sure that the bank will benefit hugely from that - and I’ve had around 30 people go through the academy now and that would have been unlikely to happen without me doing the apprenticeship.

From a knowledge perspective, I’ve been working in the Risk Division for over 20 years but there was so much that I didn’t know about the regulations, for example. I knew the knowledge a bit, but certainly not in the detail that I do now so I’ve definitely got the knowledge that I didn’t previously have.

And then there are the softer skills, such as stakeholder management, communication, and especially my writing as I had to go through the pain of getting my word count down during assignments, so now I’m much more concise at work.

What do you have planned for the future?

I’ve started another apprenticeship. I’ve moved into a different role within engineering now so I’m studying the Level 4 DevOps Engineering apprenticeship. But I benefited hugely from my previous apprenticeship and I think it’s a really good and structured way to learn new things.

If you were studying independently, you probably wouldn’t do it without the apprenticeship structure, the lessons and those opportunities to put what you learn into practice and demonstrate that you understand it. I think apprenticeships make you get out of your comfort zone and do things that you wouldn’t usually do. So that’s my next challenge.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I just can’t speak highly enough about Kaplan. I’ve spoken about Laurie and she was fantastic, but really the whole journey was very clear and there was never a point where I didn’t know what to do. The plan was clear for me from early on, so I could work around all the requirements of the apprenticeship. The support was just brilliant.

I’d also add that if you’ve not been in education for years, you might think you can’t do it but I only studied up to my A Levels in school and then went straight into the workplace. This apprenticeship was at a degree level - level six, and I’m really glad that I went for it as I proved to myself that I could. But I’d say for people who haven’t studied in a while to not let it put them off, and that they can do more than you think, so you just need to go for it and power through.

Ready to transform your career?

If you’re looking to develop new knowledge and gain skills for life in your existing or a new career, you can browse our apprenticeship programmes, apply for our current apprenticeship vacancies, or read more about how to speak to your current employer about starting an apprenticeship.

TOP RATED PROVIDER

Advance your career in Financial Services

Explore apprenticeships

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It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

After working in the banking and finance industry for over 20 years, Sarah Varley decided to upskill and received a distinction in the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship.

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It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

Sarah Varley

We recently caught up with Sarah Varley, who received a Distinction grade on the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship, where she also studied towards her ICA International Diploma in Governance, Risk and Compliance.

After working in the industry for over 20 years, Sarah decided to upskill and set herself a new challenge in her job role. Here’s how her experience went…

Can you tell us about your career so far and how you got into the apprenticeship?

So I’ve worked for Lloyds Banking Group for around 26 years, and I’ve moved around quite a lot in that time, but I’ve primarily been in the Risk Division. In the last five years, I’ve been working in an IT role, but I realised that I hadn’t gotten any qualifications that would demonstrate that knowledge and experience.

I wanted to gain a formal qualification but I was also looking for a challenge while proving that I do have that knowledge and understanding of this level, so that led me to do an apprenticeship.

Did you always know that this is the industry you wanted to work in?

Before joining Lloyds Banking Group, I didn’t. It was totally by accident really, I started with a temporary job in the Collections Department but I just loved the whole atmosphere of the bank and the team, so I went down the path into line management, and operational management, and then I moved into more of a project role.

 

I think it’s just that I like the values that the company has, the way it runs, and the people and teams there, but I also like the opportunities that they give you to move around. I’ve had quite a different career, and I’ve not stuck to one thing which has kept my interest and helped me upskill a lot in different areas.

We heard that you always worked ahead of your target during your apprenticeship. Is this something that you usually strive to do?

I spoke to people who had done an apprenticeship before I decided to do it, and they said it was a lot of work. You obviously have your daytime job, and I’m a mum to four children, so it was important to make sure I could balance my job and personal commitments while doing the apprenticeship. So, I was really conscious of this and if you fall behind in your apprenticeship then you can struggle to get back on track again because you’ll keep getting more and more things to do.

At first, I had my ICA work to do, which included the assignments, going to all of the lessons, and doing all of the reading and research, and then I also had my knowledge statements for the apprenticeship to write. I was told that I could wait until later on to do the knowledge statements, but I tried to do both in parallel, and I think doing that kept me ahead and also meant that my workload was easier to manage throughout the whole apprenticeship.

I’m also quite an organised person so I did thoroughly plan it to make sure that I knew exactly what I was doing for each week and where I would be doing the 20% off-the-job training. There were times at the weekends or on an evening when if I needed to do some extra research, I’d do that. But I just made sure that I was strict with my plan and I didn’t deviate.

Were there any challenges while you were studying?

I’ve not written essays since school so I think I struggled getting into the mindset of how to do it, and with what level to pitch it. I didn’t know what ‘good’ looked like, so I found it difficult to figure that out, to begin with.

I found it very difficult to get within the word count, I was awful at that initially. I’d write an essay and then be around 3000 words over the word count, and then I’d have to cut it back. I think that depends on you as an individual though while you are studying.

And then sometimes, I struggled with the amount of work I needed to get through. Again, I think it’s really important to keep that discipline - even if you’ve had a bad day at work or something’s happening with the kids, I needed to remind myself of what I needed to do or it would just have put me in a worse position. So, like I said, I was very strict with myself.

How did you find the support from Kaplan?

Brilliant, I absolutely loved my Talent Coach, Laurie Andrews, she was fantastic. She was probably perfect for me for an apprenticeship. At some times, I would panic and Laurie would be the person to calm me down and reassure me that I was fine and I was at the right place in my studies.

When I received my first grade from my ICA, I had passed it but received a lower mark than I wanted. So it was good to have someone who knew exactly what ‘good’ looked like and could give me guidance on that.

We also went through the apprenticeship’s learning outcomes together so that I could pick the ones that were aligned with my project and responsibilities at work, and I had to pick 16 outcomes to get a distinction. So, once I knew that a distinction was possible, I really wanted it. I think I would have been a bit upset if I didn’t get a distinction, although passing the apprenticeship at this level is still really good. I’ve not studied at this level before, but once you’ve put so much work into your project and aimed towards a set goal, I would have been a bit disheartened if I didn’t get it. But there are challenges with it.

How was your support from your employer?

Really good again. I had two different managers during the apprenticeship because I moved to a different job role in the middle of it, and I was worried that it would be difficult. But they were both really, really good and there were a few occasions where I would run things by them to get their thoughts. There were many other people as well, not my direct managers, but people who I’d work with, and they were all really supportive. A few of them even provided witness testimonials too to support that they’ve seen me deliver the learning outcomes. So, they were exactly what I needed.

There was never a time when I felt like I was on my own, I’d either go to Laurie or my line manager.

Do you have any tips for other people on how to stay on track?

I’d say as soon as you start the apprenticeship, start to do the work so that you can stay on track with the assignments and readings and you can get ahead from there. Also, be as strict as you can be with your time. You have 20% dedicated study time during the apprenticeship, so make sure that you plan that in your diary. I used to aim to do it first thing in the morning when it was quieter so that I wouldn’t be interrupted. Also, make sure that your line manager knows when you’re taking that time so that they can know when to reduce your workload.

And also, just ask for help. As I said, I had a really good relationship with Laurie, and I was really lucky that she was so good but I think it helps to be open and honest if you feel like you’re falling behind or you need some help with something.

We understand that employers may be uncertain about losing their apprentices during the 20% off-the-job training. How would you say your newfound skills have shown that it’s worth the temporary time lost?

I think doing the projects I chose to do for the apprenticeship has given the company a lot back. I basically set up and ran a Women’s Academy to teach other women technical skills, as well as how to support each other and develop their communication skills. So, I’m sure that the bank will benefit hugely from that - and I’ve had around 30 people go through the academy now and that would have been unlikely to happen without me doing the apprenticeship.

From a knowledge perspective, I’ve been working in the Risk Division for over 20 years but there was so much that I didn’t know about the regulations, for example. I knew the knowledge a bit, but certainly not in the detail that I do now so I’ve definitely got the knowledge that I didn’t previously have.

And then there are the softer skills, such as stakeholder management, communication, and especially my writing as I had to go through the pain of getting my word count down during assignments, so now I’m much more concise at work.

What do you have planned for the future?

I’ve started another apprenticeship. I’ve moved into a different role within engineering now so I’m studying the Level 4 DevOps Engineering apprenticeship. But I benefited hugely from my previous apprenticeship and I think it’s a really good and structured way to learn new things.

If you were studying independently, you probably wouldn’t do it without the apprenticeship structure, the lessons and those opportunities to put what you learn into practice and demonstrate that you understand it. I think apprenticeships make you get out of your comfort zone and do things that you wouldn’t usually do. So that’s my next challenge.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I just can’t speak highly enough about Kaplan. I’ve spoken about Laurie and she was fantastic, but really the whole journey was very clear and there was never a point where I didn’t know what to do. The plan was clear for me from early on, so I could work around all the requirements of the apprenticeship. The support was just brilliant.

I’d also add that if you’ve not been in education for years, you might think you can’t do it but I only studied up to my A Levels in school and then went straight into the workplace. This apprenticeship was at a degree level - level six, and I’m really glad that I went for it as I proved to myself that I could. But I’d say for people who haven’t studied in a while to not let it put them off, and that they can do more than you think, so you just need to go for it and power through.

Ready to transform your career?

If you’re looking to develop new knowledge and gain skills for life in your existing or a new career, you can browse our apprenticeship programmes, apply for our current apprenticeship vacancies, or read more about how to speak to your current employer about starting an apprenticeship.

TOP RATED PROVIDER

Advance your career in Financial Services

Explore apprenticeships

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Kaplan

It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

After working in the banking and finance industry for over 20 years, Sarah Varley decided to upskill and received a distinction in the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship.

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First in the world for ACA BPI: Hannah Ferrett shares all

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It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

Sarah Varley

We recently caught up with Sarah Varley, who received a Distinction grade on the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship, where she also studied towards her ICA International Diploma in Governance, Risk and Compliance.

After working in the industry for over 20 years, Sarah decided to upskill and set herself a new challenge in her job role. Here’s how her experience went…

Can you tell us about your career so far and how you got into the apprenticeship?

So I’ve worked for Lloyds Banking Group for around 26 years, and I’ve moved around quite a lot in that time, but I’ve primarily been in the Risk Division. In the last five years, I’ve been working in an IT role, but I realised that I hadn’t gotten any qualifications that would demonstrate that knowledge and experience.

I wanted to gain a formal qualification but I was also looking for a challenge while proving that I do have that knowledge and understanding of this level, so that led me to do an apprenticeship.

Did you always know that this is the industry you wanted to work in?

Before joining Lloyds Banking Group, I didn’t. It was totally by accident really, I started with a temporary job in the Collections Department but I just loved the whole atmosphere of the bank and the team, so I went down the path into line management, and operational management, and then I moved into more of a project role.

 

I think it’s just that I like the values that the company has, the way it runs, and the people and teams there, but I also like the opportunities that they give you to move around. I’ve had quite a different career, and I’ve not stuck to one thing which has kept my interest and helped me upskill a lot in different areas.

We heard that you always worked ahead of your target during your apprenticeship. Is this something that you usually strive to do?

I spoke to people who had done an apprenticeship before I decided to do it, and they said it was a lot of work. You obviously have your daytime job, and I’m a mum to four children, so it was important to make sure I could balance my job and personal commitments while doing the apprenticeship. So, I was really conscious of this and if you fall behind in your apprenticeship then you can struggle to get back on track again because you’ll keep getting more and more things to do.

At first, I had my ICA work to do, which included the assignments, going to all of the lessons, and doing all of the reading and research, and then I also had my knowledge statements for the apprenticeship to write. I was told that I could wait until later on to do the knowledge statements, but I tried to do both in parallel, and I think doing that kept me ahead and also meant that my workload was easier to manage throughout the whole apprenticeship.

I’m also quite an organised person so I did thoroughly plan it to make sure that I knew exactly what I was doing for each week and where I would be doing the 20% off-the-job training. There were times at the weekends or on an evening when if I needed to do some extra research, I’d do that. But I just made sure that I was strict with my plan and I didn’t deviate.

Were there any challenges while you were studying?

I’ve not written essays since school so I think I struggled getting into the mindset of how to do it, and with what level to pitch it. I didn’t know what ‘good’ looked like, so I found it difficult to figure that out, to begin with.

I found it very difficult to get within the word count, I was awful at that initially. I’d write an essay and then be around 3000 words over the word count, and then I’d have to cut it back. I think that depends on you as an individual though while you are studying.

And then sometimes, I struggled with the amount of work I needed to get through. Again, I think it’s really important to keep that discipline - even if you’ve had a bad day at work or something’s happening with the kids, I needed to remind myself of what I needed to do or it would just have put me in a worse position. So, like I said, I was very strict with myself.

How did you find the support from Kaplan?

Brilliant, I absolutely loved my Talent Coach, Laurie Andrews, she was fantastic. She was probably perfect for me for an apprenticeship. At some times, I would panic and Laurie would be the person to calm me down and reassure me that I was fine and I was at the right place in my studies.

When I received my first grade from my ICA, I had passed it but received a lower mark than I wanted. So it was good to have someone who knew exactly what ‘good’ looked like and could give me guidance on that.

We also went through the apprenticeship’s learning outcomes together so that I could pick the ones that were aligned with my project and responsibilities at work, and I had to pick 16 outcomes to get a distinction. So, once I knew that a distinction was possible, I really wanted it. I think I would have been a bit upset if I didn’t get a distinction, although passing the apprenticeship at this level is still really good. I’ve not studied at this level before, but once you’ve put so much work into your project and aimed towards a set goal, I would have been a bit disheartened if I didn’t get it. But there are challenges with it.

How was your support from your employer?

Really good again. I had two different managers during the apprenticeship because I moved to a different job role in the middle of it, and I was worried that it would be difficult. But they were both really, really good and there were a few occasions where I would run things by them to get their thoughts. There were many other people as well, not my direct managers, but people who I’d work with, and they were all really supportive. A few of them even provided witness testimonials too to support that they’ve seen me deliver the learning outcomes. So, they were exactly what I needed.

There was never a time when I felt like I was on my own, I’d either go to Laurie or my line manager.

Do you have any tips for other people on how to stay on track?

I’d say as soon as you start the apprenticeship, start to do the work so that you can stay on track with the assignments and readings and you can get ahead from there. Also, be as strict as you can be with your time. You have 20% dedicated study time during the apprenticeship, so make sure that you plan that in your diary. I used to aim to do it first thing in the morning when it was quieter so that I wouldn’t be interrupted. Also, make sure that your line manager knows when you’re taking that time so that they can know when to reduce your workload.

And also, just ask for help. As I said, I had a really good relationship with Laurie, and I was really lucky that she was so good but I think it helps to be open and honest if you feel like you’re falling behind or you need some help with something.

We understand that employers may be uncertain about losing their apprentices during the 20% off-the-job training. How would you say your newfound skills have shown that it’s worth the temporary time lost?

I think doing the projects I chose to do for the apprenticeship has given the company a lot back. I basically set up and ran a Women’s Academy to teach other women technical skills, as well as how to support each other and develop their communication skills. So, I’m sure that the bank will benefit hugely from that - and I’ve had around 30 people go through the academy now and that would have been unlikely to happen without me doing the apprenticeship.

From a knowledge perspective, I’ve been working in the Risk Division for over 20 years but there was so much that I didn’t know about the regulations, for example. I knew the knowledge a bit, but certainly not in the detail that I do now so I’ve definitely got the knowledge that I didn’t previously have.

And then there are the softer skills, such as stakeholder management, communication, and especially my writing as I had to go through the pain of getting my word count down during assignments, so now I’m much more concise at work.

What do you have planned for the future?

I’ve started another apprenticeship. I’ve moved into a different role within engineering now so I’m studying the Level 4 DevOps Engineering apprenticeship. But I benefited hugely from my previous apprenticeship and I think it’s a really good and structured way to learn new things.

If you were studying independently, you probably wouldn’t do it without the apprenticeship structure, the lessons and those opportunities to put what you learn into practice and demonstrate that you understand it. I think apprenticeships make you get out of your comfort zone and do things that you wouldn’t usually do. So that’s my next challenge.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I just can’t speak highly enough about Kaplan. I’ve spoken about Laurie and she was fantastic, but really the whole journey was very clear and there was never a point where I didn’t know what to do. The plan was clear for me from early on, so I could work around all the requirements of the apprenticeship. The support was just brilliant.

I’d also add that if you’ve not been in education for years, you might think you can’t do it but I only studied up to my A Levels in school and then went straight into the workplace. This apprenticeship was at a degree level - level six, and I’m really glad that I went for it as I proved to myself that I could. But I’d say for people who haven’t studied in a while to not let it put them off, and that they can do more than you think, so you just need to go for it and power through.

Ready to transform your career?

If you’re looking to develop new knowledge and gain skills for life in your existing or a new career, you can browse our apprenticeship programmes, apply for our current apprenticeship vacancies, or read more about how to speak to your current employer about starting an apprenticeship.

TOP RATED PROVIDER

Advance your career in Financial Services

Explore apprenticeships

Related articles

In the top 10: Ben Springall provides his advice

In the top 10: Ben Springall provides his advice

We recently caught up with Ben Springall, a high achiever after completing his CGMA studies and discovering he received a commendation as the tenth in the world for his SCS paper.

Kaplan

It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

After working in the banking and finance industry for over 20 years, Sarah Varley decided to upskill and received a distinction in the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship.

Kaplan

First in the world for ACA BPI: Hannah Ferrett shares all

First in the world for ACA BPI: Hannah Ferrett shares all

We caught up with Hannah Ferrett, a Kaplan apprentice and accountant at Deloitte, who received the first prize for her ACA BPI exam paper in the September 2023 sitting.

Kaplan

View all articles

Transformations

View all

It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

Sarah Varley

We recently caught up with Sarah Varley, who received a Distinction grade on the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship, where she also studied towards her ICA International Diploma in Governance, Risk and Compliance.

After working in the industry for over 20 years, Sarah decided to upskill and set herself a new challenge in her job role. Here’s how her experience went…

Can you tell us about your career so far and how you got into the apprenticeship?

So I’ve worked for Lloyds Banking Group for around 26 years, and I’ve moved around quite a lot in that time, but I’ve primarily been in the Risk Division. In the last five years, I’ve been working in an IT role, but I realised that I hadn’t gotten any qualifications that would demonstrate that knowledge and experience.

I wanted to gain a formal qualification but I was also looking for a challenge while proving that I do have that knowledge and understanding of this level, so that led me to do an apprenticeship.

Did you always know that this is the industry you wanted to work in?

Before joining Lloyds Banking Group, I didn’t. It was totally by accident really, I started with a temporary job in the Collections Department but I just loved the whole atmosphere of the bank and the team, so I went down the path into line management, and operational management, and then I moved into more of a project role.

 

I think it’s just that I like the values that the company has, the way it runs, and the people and teams there, but I also like the opportunities that they give you to move around. I’ve had quite a different career, and I’ve not stuck to one thing which has kept my interest and helped me upskill a lot in different areas.

We heard that you always worked ahead of your target during your apprenticeship. Is this something that you usually strive to do?

I spoke to people who had done an apprenticeship before I decided to do it, and they said it was a lot of work. You obviously have your daytime job, and I’m a mum to four children, so it was important to make sure I could balance my job and personal commitments while doing the apprenticeship. So, I was really conscious of this and if you fall behind in your apprenticeship then you can struggle to get back on track again because you’ll keep getting more and more things to do.

At first, I had my ICA work to do, which included the assignments, going to all of the lessons, and doing all of the reading and research, and then I also had my knowledge statements for the apprenticeship to write. I was told that I could wait until later on to do the knowledge statements, but I tried to do both in parallel, and I think doing that kept me ahead and also meant that my workload was easier to manage throughout the whole apprenticeship.

I’m also quite an organised person so I did thoroughly plan it to make sure that I knew exactly what I was doing for each week and where I would be doing the 20% off-the-job training. There were times at the weekends or on an evening when if I needed to do some extra research, I’d do that. But I just made sure that I was strict with my plan and I didn’t deviate.

Were there any challenges while you were studying?

I’ve not written essays since school so I think I struggled getting into the mindset of how to do it, and with what level to pitch it. I didn’t know what ‘good’ looked like, so I found it difficult to figure that out, to begin with.

I found it very difficult to get within the word count, I was awful at that initially. I’d write an essay and then be around 3000 words over the word count, and then I’d have to cut it back. I think that depends on you as an individual though while you are studying.

And then sometimes, I struggled with the amount of work I needed to get through. Again, I think it’s really important to keep that discipline - even if you’ve had a bad day at work or something’s happening with the kids, I needed to remind myself of what I needed to do or it would just have put me in a worse position. So, like I said, I was very strict with myself.

How did you find the support from Kaplan?

Brilliant, I absolutely loved my Talent Coach, Laurie Andrews, she was fantastic. She was probably perfect for me for an apprenticeship. At some times, I would panic and Laurie would be the person to calm me down and reassure me that I was fine and I was at the right place in my studies.

When I received my first grade from my ICA, I had passed it but received a lower mark than I wanted. So it was good to have someone who knew exactly what ‘good’ looked like and could give me guidance on that.

We also went through the apprenticeship’s learning outcomes together so that I could pick the ones that were aligned with my project and responsibilities at work, and I had to pick 16 outcomes to get a distinction. So, once I knew that a distinction was possible, I really wanted it. I think I would have been a bit upset if I didn’t get a distinction, although passing the apprenticeship at this level is still really good. I’ve not studied at this level before, but once you’ve put so much work into your project and aimed towards a set goal, I would have been a bit disheartened if I didn’t get it. But there are challenges with it.

How was your support from your employer?

Really good again. I had two different managers during the apprenticeship because I moved to a different job role in the middle of it, and I was worried that it would be difficult. But they were both really, really good and there were a few occasions where I would run things by them to get their thoughts. There were many other people as well, not my direct managers, but people who I’d work with, and they were all really supportive. A few of them even provided witness testimonials too to support that they’ve seen me deliver the learning outcomes. So, they were exactly what I needed.

There was never a time when I felt like I was on my own, I’d either go to Laurie or my line manager.

Do you have any tips for other people on how to stay on track?

I’d say as soon as you start the apprenticeship, start to do the work so that you can stay on track with the assignments and readings and you can get ahead from there. Also, be as strict as you can be with your time. You have 20% dedicated study time during the apprenticeship, so make sure that you plan that in your diary. I used to aim to do it first thing in the morning when it was quieter so that I wouldn’t be interrupted. Also, make sure that your line manager knows when you’re taking that time so that they can know when to reduce your workload.

And also, just ask for help. As I said, I had a really good relationship with Laurie, and I was really lucky that she was so good but I think it helps to be open and honest if you feel like you’re falling behind or you need some help with something.

We understand that employers may be uncertain about losing their apprentices during the 20% off-the-job training. How would you say your newfound skills have shown that it’s worth the temporary time lost?

I think doing the projects I chose to do for the apprenticeship has given the company a lot back. I basically set up and ran a Women’s Academy to teach other women technical skills, as well as how to support each other and develop their communication skills. So, I’m sure that the bank will benefit hugely from that - and I’ve had around 30 people go through the academy now and that would have been unlikely to happen without me doing the apprenticeship.

From a knowledge perspective, I’ve been working in the Risk Division for over 20 years but there was so much that I didn’t know about the regulations, for example. I knew the knowledge a bit, but certainly not in the detail that I do now so I’ve definitely got the knowledge that I didn’t previously have.

And then there are the softer skills, such as stakeholder management, communication, and especially my writing as I had to go through the pain of getting my word count down during assignments, so now I’m much more concise at work.

What do you have planned for the future?

I’ve started another apprenticeship. I’ve moved into a different role within engineering now so I’m studying the Level 4 DevOps Engineering apprenticeship. But I benefited hugely from my previous apprenticeship and I think it’s a really good and structured way to learn new things.

If you were studying independently, you probably wouldn’t do it without the apprenticeship structure, the lessons and those opportunities to put what you learn into practice and demonstrate that you understand it. I think apprenticeships make you get out of your comfort zone and do things that you wouldn’t usually do. So that’s my next challenge.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I just can’t speak highly enough about Kaplan. I’ve spoken about Laurie and she was fantastic, but really the whole journey was very clear and there was never a point where I didn’t know what to do. The plan was clear for me from early on, so I could work around all the requirements of the apprenticeship. The support was just brilliant.

I’d also add that if you’ve not been in education for years, you might think you can’t do it but I only studied up to my A Levels in school and then went straight into the workplace. This apprenticeship was at a degree level - level six, and I’m really glad that I went for it as I proved to myself that I could. But I’d say for people who haven’t studied in a while to not let it put them off, and that they can do more than you think, so you just need to go for it and power through.

Ready to transform your career?

If you’re looking to develop new knowledge and gain skills for life in your existing or a new career, you can browse our apprenticeship programmes, apply for our current apprenticeship vacancies, or read more about how to speak to your current employer about starting an apprenticeship.

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Explore apprenticeships

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It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

Sarah Varley

We recently caught up with Sarah Varley, who received a Distinction grade on the Level 6 Senior Compliance and Risk Specialist apprenticeship, where she also studied towards her ICA International Diploma in Governance, Risk and Compliance.

After working in the industry for over 20 years, Sarah decided to upskill and set herself a new challenge in her job role. Here’s how her experience went…

Can you tell us about your career so far and how you got into the apprenticeship?

So I’ve worked for Lloyds Banking Group for around 26 years, and I’ve moved around quite a lot in that time, but I’ve primarily been in the Risk Division. In the last five years, I’ve been working in an IT role, but I realised that I hadn’t gotten any qualifications that would demonstrate that knowledge and experience.

I wanted to gain a formal qualification but I was also looking for a challenge while proving that I do have that knowledge and understanding of this level, so that led me to do an apprenticeship.

Did you always know that this is the industry you wanted to work in?

Before joining Lloyds Banking Group, I didn’t. It was totally by accident really, I started with a temporary job in the Collections Department but I just loved the whole atmosphere of the bank and the team, so I went down the path into line management, and operational management, and then I moved into more of a project role.

 

I think it’s just that I like the values that the company has, the way it runs, and the people and teams there, but I also like the opportunities that they give you to move around. I’ve had quite a different career, and I’ve not stuck to one thing which has kept my interest and helped me upskill a lot in different areas.

We heard that you always worked ahead of your target during your apprenticeship. Is this something that you usually strive to do?

I spoke to people who had done an apprenticeship before I decided to do it, and they said it was a lot of work. You obviously have your daytime job, and I’m a mum to four children, so it was important to make sure I could balance my job and personal commitments while doing the apprenticeship. So, I was really conscious of this and if you fall behind in your apprenticeship then you can struggle to get back on track again because you’ll keep getting more and more things to do.

At first, I had my ICA work to do, which included the assignments, going to all of the lessons, and doing all of the reading and research, and then I also had my knowledge statements for the apprenticeship to write. I was told that I could wait until later on to do the knowledge statements, but I tried to do both in parallel, and I think doing that kept me ahead and also meant that my workload was easier to manage throughout the whole apprenticeship.

I’m also quite an organised person so I did thoroughly plan it to make sure that I knew exactly what I was doing for each week and where I would be doing the 20% off-the-job training. There were times at the weekends or on an evening when if I needed to do some extra research, I’d do that. But I just made sure that I was strict with my plan and I didn’t deviate.

Were there any challenges while you were studying?

I’ve not written essays since school so I think I struggled getting into the mindset of how to do it, and with what level to pitch it. I didn’t know what ‘good’ looked like, so I found it difficult to figure that out, to begin with.

I found it very difficult to get within the word count, I was awful at that initially. I’d write an essay and then be around 3000 words over the word count, and then I’d have to cut it back. I think that depends on you as an individual though while you are studying.

And then sometimes, I struggled with the amount of work I needed to get through. Again, I think it’s really important to keep that discipline - even if you’ve had a bad day at work or something’s happening with the kids, I needed to remind myself of what I needed to do or it would just have put me in a worse position. So, like I said, I was very strict with myself.

How did you find the support from Kaplan?

Brilliant, I absolutely loved my Talent Coach, Laurie Andrews, she was fantastic. She was probably perfect for me for an apprenticeship. At some times, I would panic and Laurie would be the person to calm me down and reassure me that I was fine and I was at the right place in my studies.

When I received my first grade from my ICA, I had passed it but received a lower mark than I wanted. So it was good to have someone who knew exactly what ‘good’ looked like and could give me guidance on that.

We also went through the apprenticeship’s learning outcomes together so that I could pick the ones that were aligned with my project and responsibilities at work, and I had to pick 16 outcomes to get a distinction. So, once I knew that a distinction was possible, I really wanted it. I think I would have been a bit upset if I didn’t get a distinction, although passing the apprenticeship at this level is still really good. I’ve not studied at this level before, but once you’ve put so much work into your project and aimed towards a set goal, I would have been a bit disheartened if I didn’t get it. But there are challenges with it.

How was your support from your employer?

Really good again. I had two different managers during the apprenticeship because I moved to a different job role in the middle of it, and I was worried that it would be difficult. But they were both really, really good and there were a few occasions where I would run things by them to get their thoughts. There were many other people as well, not my direct managers, but people who I’d work with, and they were all really supportive. A few of them even provided witness testimonials too to support that they’ve seen me deliver the learning outcomes. So, they were exactly what I needed.

There was never a time when I felt like I was on my own, I’d either go to Laurie or my line manager.

Do you have any tips for other people on how to stay on track?

I’d say as soon as you start the apprenticeship, start to do the work so that you can stay on track with the assignments and readings and you can get ahead from there. Also, be as strict as you can be with your time. You have 20% dedicated study time during the apprenticeship, so make sure that you plan that in your diary. I used to aim to do it first thing in the morning when it was quieter so that I wouldn’t be interrupted. Also, make sure that your line manager knows when you’re taking that time so that they can know when to reduce your workload.

And also, just ask for help. As I said, I had a really good relationship with Laurie, and I was really lucky that she was so good but I think it helps to be open and honest if you feel like you’re falling behind or you need some help with something.

We understand that employers may be uncertain about losing their apprentices during the 20% off-the-job training. How would you say your newfound skills have shown that it’s worth the temporary time lost?

I think doing the projects I chose to do for the apprenticeship has given the company a lot back. I basically set up and ran a Women’s Academy to teach other women technical skills, as well as how to support each other and develop their communication skills. So, I’m sure that the bank will benefit hugely from that - and I’ve had around 30 people go through the academy now and that would have been unlikely to happen without me doing the apprenticeship.

From a knowledge perspective, I’ve been working in the Risk Division for over 20 years but there was so much that I didn’t know about the regulations, for example. I knew the knowledge a bit, but certainly not in the detail that I do now so I’ve definitely got the knowledge that I didn’t previously have.

And then there are the softer skills, such as stakeholder management, communication, and especially my writing as I had to go through the pain of getting my word count down during assignments, so now I’m much more concise at work.

What do you have planned for the future?

I’ve started another apprenticeship. I’ve moved into a different role within engineering now so I’m studying the Level 4 DevOps Engineering apprenticeship. But I benefited hugely from my previous apprenticeship and I think it’s a really good and structured way to learn new things.

If you were studying independently, you probably wouldn’t do it without the apprenticeship structure, the lessons and those opportunities to put what you learn into practice and demonstrate that you understand it. I think apprenticeships make you get out of your comfort zone and do things that you wouldn’t usually do. So that’s my next challenge.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I just can’t speak highly enough about Kaplan. I’ve spoken about Laurie and she was fantastic, but really the whole journey was very clear and there was never a point where I didn’t know what to do. The plan was clear for me from early on, so I could work around all the requirements of the apprenticeship. The support was just brilliant.

I’d also add that if you’ve not been in education for years, you might think you can’t do it but I only studied up to my A Levels in school and then went straight into the workplace. This apprenticeship was at a degree level - level six, and I’m really glad that I went for it as I proved to myself that I could. But I’d say for people who haven’t studied in a while to not let it put them off, and that they can do more than you think, so you just need to go for it and power through.

Ready to transform your career?

If you’re looking to develop new knowledge and gain skills for life in your existing or a new career, you can browse our apprenticeship programmes, apply for our current apprenticeship vacancies, or read more about how to speak to your current employer about starting an apprenticeship.

TOP RATED PROVIDER

Advance your career in Financial Services

Explore apprenticeships

Related articles

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It’s never too late to upskill: Sarah Varley’s story

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