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A culture of lifelong learning has always been a key element of Chester’s offer to students, but what did that look like in 2020/21?  Well, we continued to take pride in the foundations we’ve built to support genuinely inclusive learning for all, but we also started to evolve these strengths – tailoring them even more to the communities and professions who access our education.

Career Progression

Meet Chartered Manager Degree Apprentice Rachel O’Dwyer as she explains how her commitment to lifelong learning has led to career success.

Tell us about yourself – what are you studying and where do you work?

My name is Rachel and I am a Senior Strategy Manager in the NHS, currently leading on a New Hospitals programme. This involves full project planning, from initial scoping of locations, costings, writing a case of need and the potential benefits and all the way through to the design and build phases.

I have just completed my Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Chester.

Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

Prior to completing this degree I have achieved 11 GCSE’s, 4 A Levels and began a degree in History and Politics, though sadly due to personal circumstances I wasn’t able to complete the degree.  This has always stuck in my mind and when I was given the opportunity by my employer to undertake the CMDA I was absolutely thrilled.

I was working in the NHS at the time I found the CMDA course online and approached my manager to discuss the possibility of study leave and the Trusts Apprenticeship Levy.

That same day I was put in touch with our Hospitals Apprenticeship Lead and we began the discussions with the University of Chester about me joining.

I was the first person in my Hospital to undertake the CMDA but I now believe it is quite popular amongst a variety of staff.

Tell us a bit about how the apprenticeship model worked for you in practise?

When I first joined the CMDA it was pre-pandemic so I was lucky enough to have many face-to-face workshops, which I always found really fruitful. It was a great way to meet people from other organisations/careers and to share our own experiences, ideas and thoughts.

It was usually around 2 days every 3 months of classroom/lecture style learning and the remainder is done at distance/electronically.

I have been able to undertake a work-based project for all of my modules. In the early days of the course I would sometimes ask my Manager for ideas or pieces of her work that I could assist with, that would be relevant to the topic. However after 1 year of study on the CMDA I was lucky enough to get an “Assistant Manager” role for a Medical Clinical Business Unit and I found that much of the theory/modules aligned to my everyday job. I have been able to do a deep dive into recruitment marketing strategies, write a business case for delivering a new service, reflect on my behaviours as a manager, amongst many other projects. So I would definitely say there has been a personal and workplace gain from this opportunity.

What was your highlight of the 2020/21 academic year?

Since starting the CMDA I have actually changed jobs four times. This may seem a lot, but I like to take opportunities as they present. I also enjoy the prospect of challenging myself and learning new things, so alongside the degree I would say I’ve definitely grown a lot since that first day!

I have absolutely no doubt that this would not have been possible without the CMDA.  The ability to develop my presenting skills has helped me in 3 out of 4 interviews where I have had to deliver a presentation to a panel. In addition to this I have been able to use the theory I’ve learnt along with my work-based projects to demonstrate my knowledge and experience as a Manager and I do believe employees look for those who can demonstrate continual professional development.

I started as a Medical Education Coordinator and have since been an Assistant Manager for Medical Care, a Service Manager for Complex Care and now I am a Senior Strategy Manager.

I think the degree has taught me, as long as you dedicate time, apply yourself and have faith in your abilities, anything is possible. 

Interested in an apprenticeship?

Find out more.