Experiencing my first conference as an apprentice | NCFE

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Experiencing my first conference as an apprentice!

We were thrilled to invite one of our apprentices to join us recently as we travelled to Birmingham for the 2023 Annual Apprenticeship Conference. Jess Gillie, our EPA Customer Support Apprentice, was keen to throw herself into the opportunity and take in the full experience of attending a conference – from sitting in on sessions, to networking with new people, to being present at our stand.  

We sat down with Jess to hear more about her experience of attending her first-ever conference. 

What were your first impressions when you arrived at the conference? 

“Attending the ACC apprenticeship event was an exciting experience from start to finish – this was my first time attending an event like this, and it did not disappoint! 

“When I first arrived at the event, I felt slightly overwhelmed as I hadn’t been in a professional setting like this before where you're meeting so many new faces, including providers, employers and apprentices. But once everything got underway and people started to walk around and mingle, I felt a lot more comfortable. Plus, I soon realised that there were others there attending for the first time as well.” 

How was your experience at the NCFE stand? 

“The NCFE stand looked amazing. On the second day I was able to join my colleagues at our stand in between workshops, and it was really insightful to watch as they spoke to such a wide range of people about who we are and the difference that we make at NCFE. 

“The Gateway Gators also went down well – even though everyone thought they were dinosaurs to begin with! They were a good way to encourage people to come over to our stand and enter into conversations about apprenticeships and everything that we offer when it comes to supporting them.” 

A group of colleagues standing in front of a conference stand

NCFE colleagues at our AAC stand (Jess is the furthest on the right)

Were you able to explore the conference or meet anyone new? 

“Yes, on the second day of the event I found the time to walk around and visit some of the other stands, which I really enjoyed. I found the Learning Curve one particularly interesting, as they deliver my apprenticeship – so it was good to talk to them about this and learn more about what they expect from their apprentices, as well as what I should expect in the next stages of my journey with them. I also met one of the Directors of Learning Curve Group and we had a really inspirational conversation, as she told me all about her career journey and how she got to where she is now. 

“The Cognassist stand was also really engaging – I think the work they’re doing in terms of celebrating neurodiversity within education is such a good idea, and I think apprentices can benefit from this so much.” 

Did you learn anything new? 

I attended the first plenary and found this to be really interesting, as it featured a lot of impressive speakers such as the CEO of UCAS, Clare Marchant. She explained how UCAS plan to introduce a new apprentice scheme and the ways that this will help to bring in more apprentices at all levels of apprenticeships, which I think sounds like a great idea. 

“It was also nice to meet other EPA providers at the conference to learn about the things they do both similarly and differently to us as fellow EPAOs. You can always learn something new or benefit from seeing something from a different perspective! 

“Finally, I also made sure to ask our Director of Delivery, Sacha Finkle, lots of questions while attending the various sessions with her, especially on the first day, so that I could learn as much as I could about everything going on around me.” 

A table of cuddly toys at a conference

Our Gateway Gator teddies were a huge hit at the conference

Overall, how did you find the experience of attending the conference? 

This was a great experience and I’ve taken so much away with me! For example, taking part in workshops and visiting different stands provided me with new knowledge and questions to consider when working with customers, which will really benefit me in my job role. 

“Meeting so many lovely people both within our wider organisation and outside of NCFE was another standout for me – it was great to meet some of the providers that we work with, as I’ve spoken to so many of them over email and by phone but have never met them in person before! 

“From the train journey down to Birmingham to arriving back here in Newcastle, the experience has been a really fun one. I’d definitely love to attend the event again.” 

If you’re looking for more information on starting an apprenticeship, visit our becoming an apprentice webpage. To find out more about our work in this area and learn why we were voted EPAO of the Year at the FAB Awards 2022, visit our apprenticeships homepage. 

It was great to meet some of the providers that we work with, as I’ve spoken to so many of them over email and by phone but have never met them in person before!

Jess Gillie, EPA Customer Support Apprentice, NCFE
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