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Diary of an Apprentice: my journey into leadership

Sakina Khan Sakina Khan Innovation Project Manager at NCFE

The following article was originally published by FE News in February 2023.

Starting a new chapter in life can be both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. It’s a grey morning in November 2023, and after recently turning 46, I’m preparing to start a Level 7 apprenticeship in Senior Leadership at The University of Manchester: Alliance Manchester Business School.  

A mix of emotions flood my mind – the prospect of expanding my knowledge and honing my skills in this field fills me with excitement, while the thought of stepping out of my comfort zone brings a sense of trepidation. I decide that it’ll be helpful for me – and hopefully, for others – to note down my experiences as I jump headfirst into this transformative journey. 

So, welcome to the first entry in my Diary of an Apprentice series, where I'll be chronicling my pursuit of knowledge, my personal motivations, the highs and lows of being an apprentice, and the growth in my leadership skills. 

Investing in myself 

Many people have asked me, “Why now?” The decision to return to studying after a considerable break might seem unconventional to some, but for me, it's a natural progression in my journey of self-improvement. With my children now grown, I felt it was the perfect time to invest in myself and further my education. 

Despite holding management and senior roles for many years, I've always considered myself a lifelong learner. This apprenticeship provides me with the perfect opportunity to challenge myself and explore new horizons, whilst equipping me with the academic framework to complement my practical knowledge as a leader. My hope is that this combination of real-world experience and academic insight is a powerful recipe for effective leadership. 

Plus, the prospect of being able to learn from renowned educators at The University of Manchester continues to fill me with enthusiasm – as does the chance to interact with like-minded apprentices who share a passion for senior leadership. 

Paving the way for others 

Beyond my personal and professional growth, this journey is also about inspiring others. I want to break barriers and pave the way for other women – particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds. 

For me, it's about creating a path for those who might not see themselves represented in leadership positions, showing them that it's not just possible, but necessary, for diverse voices to be heard at every table. I want to be part of the decision-making process and contribute to high-level discussions.  

Visibly increasing diversity within organisations so that everyone feels like they belong is absolutely critical for fostering productive and inclusive workplaces, and this is something I’m determined to model. I want this to be part of my legacy – for both my own children, and for other young aspiring leaders. 

Overcoming obstacles 

Another reason I decided to return to my studies was to prove to myself that I can go and do it. Whilst I gained a Higher National Diploma (HND) and teaching qualification following school, I look back on this as being a period of frustration. I couldn’t always understand academic language, and it was challenging – I didn’t know I was dyslexic at the time, nor did I know I had dyspraxia or ADHD. 

Now, I see my dyslexia as a plus – it allows me to work in innovative ways, to be more creative and to think outside the box. Plus, after being diagnosed later in life, I’m now equipped with strategies I can put in place to get the most out of my learning experience. For instance, academic reading might take me longer to digest – but The University of Manchester: Alliance Manchester Business School has been great at sending me lesson slides in advance and in supporting me thus far.  

Strength from my support system 

My first three months on the apprenticeship have been filled with a range of emotions. I’ve felt nervous, overwhelmed, excited and empowered. I’ve had thoughts of self-doubt after being surrounded by younger and more experienced individuals, which have transformed into feelings of confidence after reminding myself that age is just a number, and that the knowledge and experience I possess are a huge benefit.  

As such, the support I’ve gained from my family, friends and employer has been key to keeping me going whenever I’ve doubted myself, even momentarily. My mentor and line manager at my workplace have been phenomenal, providing encouragement and words of wisdom from the very outset of my journey. 

In fact, it’s a testament to NCFE’s dedication to fostering individual growth and development which provides me with the confidence and motivation to pursue this apprenticeship wholeheartedly. Their unwavering belief in my abilities reminds me that I am not alone on this journey, and that gives me the courage to overcome any obstacles that may arise. 

Looking ahead 

One thing is for certain – immense growth opportunities lie ahead for me. As I reflect on the early months of embarking on this new journey of studying for a Level 7 apprenticeship at this stage in my life, I feel more excitement than nervousness. The prospect of gaining invaluable knowledge, developing my practical skills and expanding my professional network fills me with enthusiasm. 

Stepping out of my comfort zone may be daunting, but I feel motivated and am ready to face any challenges head-on. With the support of my loved ones and my place of work, I am confident that this journey will be a transformative one, propelling me towards new heights of personal and professional success.  

I look forward to continuing to share my insights, challenges faced and my personal victories through this Diary of an Apprentice series. Please reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have any questions or topic ideas for future diary entries! 

Stepping out of my comfort zone may be daunting, but I feel motivated and am ready to face any challenges head-on. With the support of my loved ones and my place of work, I am confident that this journey will be a transformative one

Sakina Khan, Innovation Project Manager at NCFE
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