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Breaking away from academic peer pressure: How Aiman Naseer became an award-winner

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We recently spoke to Aiman Naseer, who is currently working towards her Level 7 Internal Audit Professional Apprenticeship.

After attending a grammar school, and feeling the pressures of going to a Russell Group university, Aiman chose to focus on her career growth through an apprenticeship programme and went on to win Apprentice of the Year at the 2022 Multicultural Apprenticeship Awards.

We recently spoke to Aiman Naseer who told us about her thoughts and experience.

Would you be able to tell us a bit about your background, your career and education?

So, I completed my A-Levels in 2018 in maths, economics and computer science. I went to a grammar school which was very, very university focused. Everything was about trying to get yourself into a Russell Group university.

I was good academically, but when I was applying to universities, I wasn’t sure whether it was worth it. You’re deciding on a three or four-year programme, and paying so much towards a degree that you might not even enjoy.

I then came across apprenticeships through my own research. Apprenticeships weren’t promoted in the school that I went to. There was a lack of understanding and awareness about what apprenticeships were at the time. So I spoke to my parents, and after some convincing, they were on board with my decision. However, before I was able to successfully convince them, I gave the university route a go.

I went to Brunel University for a year to study for a foundation degree in economics and maths in September 2018, and while I was there I just knew that it wasn’t for me. I felt that I was attending twice a week, looking at PowerPoint slides and just not getting much out of the course. I realised that I was, personally, more of a practical learner. So, I just went with my gut and looked more into apprenticeships.

During that period, I had a look at a couple of schemes and came across an Internal Audit Apprenticeship, which Kaplan offered from Level 4. I never really knew exactly what audit was, so I thought that it would be a good starting point as, from my research, the apprenticeship could give me a large breadth of knowledge across different components of an organisation. So, I knew that I would get an understanding of what I like and don’t like.

The awareness around apprenticeships

I think that awareness today has improved, but there's still a lot more we can do. There are still schools that just don't understand the benefits. They want their students to go to the top universities. But they don't see the value of what an apprenticeship programme can offer, in terms of the experience you gain. I think there's a lot more we could do in terms of promoting that further.

Speech marks

“Apprenticeships can be seen as a pathway for people who aren’t smart or are less academic. I went to a grammar school, and I did well in my exams, but that doesn’t mean that I had to go to a Russell Group university.”

So, tell us about the apprenticeship that you’re currently on.

It’s the Level 7 Internal Audit Professional Apprenticeship now. It’s currently in partnership with Babington and Birmingham City University. So, we go to university to study and cover the modules which will prepare us to sit our professional exams.

We sit three professional qualification exams with the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), and there are three parts to qualify as a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) which are just part one, part two and part three. So, at the same time, you also get a degree-level qualification that is merged into other professional qualifications along the way.

How have you found studying with Kaplan during your apprenticeship?

I did my Level 4 with Kaplan and my experience was positive. I got a lot of support from my Talent Coach and other people in the business. The Talent Coach really helped to drive areas of focus to make sure that I was getting the right experience and exposure to support my studies, so I found it all very supportive.

Did your Level 4 lead you straight into doing your Level 7 as an apprenticeship?

Yeah, so the whole Internal Audit Apprenticeship scheme had two apprenticeship qualifications assigned. So, that’s Level 4, which lasted around 18 months. And then because I had that 18 months of experience and the IIA qualification, we were automatically allowed to go onto a Master's level. So, it’s a bit of a fast track where you can get a BA level but then go onto the MSc level programme with all of the experience that you’ve gained.

Can you tell us a bit about how you went on to win the Multicultural Apprenticeship Award?

My employer put me forward for the Multicultural Awards last year. The award focused on targeting social mobility and promoting diversity and inclusion while recognising people who have faced challenges during the apprenticeship programme to get to where they are.

I found out that I was a winner at the ceremony, which took place in November 2022. There were over 600 - 800 people in the room, and I believe 120 finalists across a number of public and private sectors. And in my category, I think there were a lot of people that were nominated, but there were 10 people that I was up against in terms of finalists, and that was all across different public and private sectors.

It was a huge surprise to have won, I definitely wasn’t expecting it. It was a huge shock and I’m really humbled and proud to have won the award.

You've been on your apprenticeship for a while now, what has this meant for your career progression and your goals?

So my apprenticeship programme has helped in my career progression and my goals in terms of the valuable experience that I gain, and I have the opportunity to work with senior people and those who have had interesting career journeys with years of experience behind them. Learning from them has been really valuable for me in terms of understanding how to come across in a workplace, have formal conversations and approach myself, for example.

It’s helped in terms of my confidence, which has certainly grown since the day I began. I also think that the value of learning the theoretical aspects of the apprenticeship at the university helps when applying it to the practical side of things. So it's been a lot more engaging, rather than going to a university and studying a long course and not knowing what career path to take after that.

Speech marks

“I have the opportunity to work with senior people and those who have had interesting career journeys with years of experience behind them.”

I think we know the answer to this already, but would you recommend an apprenticeship as a form of study?

Of course, I recommend it. I think there's so much value in it, and I guess you're getting a free degree if you look at it that way.

You’re getting so many years of experience, and if you benchmark yourself against a graduate who’s maybe 21-22 years old, they’re in thousands of pounds of debt and might not necessarily have the experience to show for it. There are a lot of benefits of an apprenticeship that just aren’t seen from this perspective.

If you could go back and speak to your former self when you were in school looking at your next steps, what advice would you give?

I'd definitely say to be open. As I said before, there are going to be people who don’t have that awareness. But don’t feel like because people have gone through a certain pathway you have to go through that pathway yourself. Explore, research, and assess the options that are available to you.

The one thing that I don’t like is that sometimes apprenticeships can be seen as a pathway for people who aren’t smart or are less academic. That perception has to change. I went to a grammar school, and I did well in my exams, but that doesn’t mean that I had to go to a Russell Group university.

I could have gone to university if I wanted to, but I knew that this path was right for me. So follow your gut, and do your research. I knew that I enjoyed maths, economics and analytical subjects during school, so I knew that this was the industry that I wanted to go into. So, if there is something that interests you, definitely research and look into different pathways to get to where you want to be. University isn’t the only option, there are other options for you as well.

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