Brexit Resources

Here are a couple of websites that may be of interest when researching potential impact of the UK leaving the European Union:

FT: Brexit Briefing

HMRC: Overseas trade statistics in November 2016

Institute of Export: Survey results
Following the Brexit vote, over 600 participants from 180 sectors responded to a survey of the UK’s Institute of Export. Members, established exporters and importers as well as trade association members were asked to share their views on associated risks, impact on business growth, current export/import procedures, key markets, etc.

CBI: ReportMaking Brexit a Success

DIHK / German Chamber of Industry & Commerce: Monthly Brexit Newsletter

German-Irish Chamber of Commerce: Brexit – a view from the Chambers in December 2016

 

Foreign Languages – worth the Investment?

In Germany, this question never really presented itself. First of all, learning a foreign language is compulsory. Secondly, there is a visible demand for such skills from employers and required even when applying for many apprenticeship places.

With English being the language of business and travel, how important is it for native English speakers to become fluent in another language? What are the benefits and are there some languages that are more ‘valuable’ than others?

Foreign Languages in Germany

In 2012, the Federal Institute for Vocational Education & Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB)) carried out a study with 20,000 employees. Overall, 17.9% stated that their job demands expertise in a foreign language, with another 39.6% stating that they need a basic knowledge.

The higher skilled and educated an employee, the more likely is the requirement for foreign language skills. 68.8% of graduates of science, chemistry or physics are expected to have foreign language competency and in core IT jobs, the majority (63.2%) have to be able to communicate effectively in a foreign tongue.

English is the language most in demand by German companies and used by around 86.7% of all employees with a foreign language requirement.

The German school system caters for this demand, with English being the first foreign language most students learn. Before reunification in 1990, Russian was the first foreign language in east German states. French has been the second foreign language for many students, but Spanish and Italian are growing in popularity. And dependent on border regions, schools also teach Dutch, Danish or Polish.

Foreign Languages in English Native Countries

So if English is your mother tongue, how important is it for somebody in Britain, the US or Australia to invest time and effort to learn a new language?

In 2014, a joint CBI/Pearson survey of British employers stated that 65% of them value foreign language skills among their employees. The most popular languages were considered to be French (50%) and German (49%), and due to increased business dealings with China, a knowledge of Mandarin has also gained in importance (31%).

One year earlier, research commissioned by the UK’s Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) concluded that the lack of foreign language proficiency costs the UK economy around £48bn (ca. 3.5% of GDP). It also stated that due to a lack of skills, 17% of vacancies were left unfilled.

This was followed by a report of the British Council on the Languages of the Future and identified, in this order, Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese as the top 10 languages.

In England, foreign languages are now compulsory in primary schools, but no longer in secondary education.There has been a steady decline of students taking GCSE and A-Levels and in the academic year 2013/14, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, only 1,845 students studied French, 1,480 Spanish, 640 German and 635 Chinese across the UK.

Last year, a Freakonomics radio podcast in the US debated the question if foreign languages offered an ROI (return on investment). One of the contributors, Albert Saiz, an economist at MIT, was himself disappointed when he learnt that languages only add a small return on US salary packages – for example 1.5% for Spanish skills, French 2.7% and German 4%.

Benefits of Foreign Languages

The salary impact of those foreign languages may depend on the country, what demand and supply there is for a particular language and the individual’s competency. It may also improve chances of overseas assignments or international projects work. It is not unheard of that companies send their staff on overseas placements that have no local language skills yet.

Being able to communicate with other team members or business partners in their native language should also help establish better relationships and deeper local understanding. An individual who had to study another language can also empathise more with a counterpart trying to communicate in a foreign language. They may find it easier to understand foreigners’ accents or notice quicker that something is ‘lost in translation’ than a native speaker.

Students may also find, that they have more options when choosing a university by not being limited to their own country. They add enhanced language skills and overseas experience to their academic achievements, making their CV even more attractive to potential employers.

But how else can you define ‘value’ or ‘return on investment’ of language learning? There are various studies that have highlighted the positive impact on the brain such as better memory, but also later diagnosis of illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

Another interviewee during the Freakonomics radio podcast, Boaz Keysar, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, mentioned that it made a difference to decision making depending on which language he was thinking in.

Learning that Language!

There are many people today that grow up bi- or tri-lingual. Children speak their native language, but attend maybe an international French or German school, while living with their parents in a third language country. Or children of multi-cultural parents, where the mother speaks one, the father another language.

However, most of us are not that lucky and have to learn languages in different ways. School and university seem to be the obvious places, but there are also many other options.

That language learning doesn’t end after formal education in Germany is demonstrated by 11.9% of employees (around 4.3m people) that indicated in the BIBB study that they were planning further language training within the next two years. There are for example Germany’s ‘Volkshochschulen’ (evening classes funded by the public sector/donations), but also many private language schools.

Online training is also gaining popularity and students can study from home at a time that’s suitable for them. The internet enables them to engage with teachers all around the world and they can participate in either a virtual classroom, one2one lessons, supported by videos or online exercises.

Language holidays are another option to combine language learning with travelling and meeting locals and other like-minded people from around the world.

Or you could just take the plunge – take time out, visit the country, do some work, take classes and learn it ‘on the ground’. Your reward should be fluent skills, maybe a local accent and a very good insight into the local culture and people. You will have been challenged in a new country, had to adapt and learn many other new skills. And in terms of input and output, it may possibly give you your best return on investment!

Please feel free to share your experience of learning a language and what benefit it is to you. If you are a recruiter or employer, it would be great to find out more about your experiences.

The Lingua Franca

A recent BBC Radio 4 programme with German comedian Henning Wehn – This is me totally sausage –  explored the challenges that non-native, but also native speakers of the English language face. Listen to entertaining interviews with people from around the world and their experiences of miscommunication revolving around the meaning of words, implicitness, irony, accents, pronunciation, spelling etc.

Have you experienced any linguistic faux pas in English or another language, that you would like to share with us?

Small Talk or Straight to Business?

Imagine two German business visitors. They are in the UK for a business meeting and arrive ten minutes before their scheduled meeting at the offices. The meeting is due to start at 9am and finish at 10.30am and they come well prepared. The secretary welcomes them and offers some tea or coffee. They remain at reception until one of their hosts arrives, shakes hands and takes them through to the meeting room. They chat a little bit about their trip. Another colleague arrives as he got stuck in traffic on the way into work. They talk a little bit more about travelling, the weather on the day, where they last met and about joint acquaintances. At 9.30am, the formal part of the meeting begins ….

The German visitors had not planned in such a delay. They had originally prepared for a presentation with questions & answers to fill the 90 minutes of the meeting. Now they needed to rethink what was most important and drop some of the material and focus on the essentials. Some less important information was left with the client as part of the hand-outs. The two German visitors decide that next time they need to leave some time for small talk and not get caught out wrong footed again.

In a British subsidiary of a German company, the accountant works flat out for over a week on a major finance project for the management. Colleagues from other departments help out as it’s a time critical work. She receives an email from her German counterpart, simply saying that they cross-referenced certain figures and those highlighted are unclear and are to be checked. Written in the present tense, the email contains no acknowledgement that the British accountant may currently be under pressure nor does the German colleague offer any potential time window for the response.

People’s own preferences, the type of organisation you work in, or customs derived from your national culture can all impact how people communicate and what information they share at work. Do they get straight down to business to effectively use their limited time and focus on the task ahead? Or are they trying to get to know their counterparts better to build up relationships, goodwill and trust?

The German accountant focused on what she needed to communicate. She got her message clearly across. Her intention was not to put pressure on her colleague or be impolite – she just advised a status. Her British colleague felt that she was not appreciating the immense pressure her team was under and was unclear when her colleague needed the information by and reacted therefore initially defensively.

Direct communicators may want to re-read their email before sending it off to more implicit and relationship focused colleagues. Start off with your core message, then think of it as a sandwich and add some ‘niceties’ at the top and bottom. On the other hand, relationship focused people may sometimes cut down the length of their communication to focus on the essentials and communicate this without ambiguity. Otherwise, their direct counterpart may not be clear what is expected of them as the message may get lost in the ‘small talk’.

A direct American, who had previously successfully worked in Germany, is now extremely frustrated with, what he perceives, lack of focus in the UK. He tries to avoid the ‘time-wasting chit chat’ before meetings by simply arriving ten or fifteen minutes late when the actual business part starts. However, he misses out on building very important relationships with his British colleagues who often use small talk and informal meetings to clarify topics, sound people out and influence decision makers.

In a North East manufacturing company, the first hour of each Monday was dedicated to a rather work unrelated ‘meeting’ – the previous weekend’s football results. And considering the popularity of football hospitality, I assume football talk must considerably contribute to the bottom line in many companies around the globe.

When engaging in this ‘small talk’ in the meeting room, the evening dinner, the airport or the hospitality suite – the international business traveller may need to do some homework. How did the local/national team play last? What’s going on in the country that people may talk about? The impending Football World Cup in Brazil may not mean that much to an American who doesn’t follow soccer. Questions or comments about age, weight, money or marital status may not go down well in some countries, but are acceptable in others. What kind of humour is seen as funny and what’s unacceptable? And beware of those tv references – Butler James & Miss Sophie, Don Camillo & Peppone or Maya the Bee may be well-known characters in Germany, while Germans may struggle with references to Dr Who, Ant & Dec or the Magic Roundabout.

And even when visiting just one ‘country’, communication style and small talk topics may vary from region to region. The English broadcaster and journalist Simon Hoggart put it like that: “In Washington the first thing people tell you is what their job is. In Los Angeles you learn their star sign. In Houston you’re told how rich they are. And in New York they tell you what their rent is.”

‘Pleased to meet you’

InterNations will hold its 12th monthly event in ‘Pleased to Meet You‘ on Tuesday, 27 May from 6pm onwards. This trendy bar and eatery in Newcastle’s city centre (High Bridge Street, just off Grey Street) is particularly famous for its gin and tonic selection. You can either register directly at the InterNations website for this event – it’s free to join, you simply pay for your food & drink on the night.

Our group is very international – the guests are from all around the globe and all newcomers are made very welcome.  

InterNations Newcastle meets at Jamie’s Italian

Join our InterNations Newcastle Group on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 from 6pm for our monthly meeting. Jamie’s Italian at the Monument in the city centre will be the venue and we will meet in the downstairs cocktail bar. If you’re hungry after a hard day’s work, there’ll be snacks at the bar or you can also sample the new spring/summer menu in the restaurant.

What has just happened?

With some people, you don’t need a lot of explanations – you both just ‘get it’. Other people may appear very strange to you, and we may not particularly enjoy socialising or working with them. Tools such as NLP can help us to establish a rapport, or, alternatively we can find out more about our personality types through tools such as the Myers Briggs instrument, which may explain why some relationships and others are harder to make work.

If people from the same culture suffer from misunderstandings and communication conflicts, to the extent that they require tools to support the relationship, what happens when we engage with people who do not speak the same language, have an alternative set of learnt behaviours and a different educational background?

Following are five tips that may help you stop and pause before jumping to conclusions too quickly:

1) Know yourself

Who am I? What type of person am I?

Am I more of an extrovert or an introvert. Do I look at facts and figures or does my ‘intuition’ reign?

 How do I learn and how do I approach problem solving?

What was the acceptable way of learning at school? At school were we trained to memorise facts and figures or develop a more creative approach to thinking? What’s my own preference? If I get IKEA furniture, do I just have a go or do I follow the instructions? What is learnt and what comes ‘naturally’ to me?

What values do I have personally?

Do I like to be independent or is it normal to depend on the state, family and other external agencies? Do I enjoy taking responsibility for my actions? If I have a family emergency, do I put the job before family? Do I live to work or work to live? Do I plan long-term or short-term?

And how has my national/regional culture influenced my thinking, behaviour and communication style?

People grow up in a community that generally has a shared history and language. They are influenced by the local climate, geographic location and economic circumstances. If you live in a first world country, with high employment, a social network provided by the state and a high per capita income, this gives an individual economic freedom and choices, but they may also spend time and resources to maintain a certain social status and loose some of the family network.

2) Direct / indirect communication

Some countries, like Germany, the US or Scandinavia prefer a more direct communication style. To be straight and get to the point is appreciated, whereas in other countries this may be seen as impolite. However, even within these very direct countries, some people may not appreciate this style – in Germany they use the term ‘Mit der Tür ins Haus fallen’. (To tall with the door into the house)

So what does it mean to be direct in a country like Germany? It may mean that you are open and honest, trustworthy and are not wasting the other person’s time by ‘beating around the bush’. However, in a country that favours indirect communication, the same communication style may be viewed as rude, rushed and lacking the accepted social ‘niceties’.

Some people may also want to have more context first and see the bigger picture before they can move on to make a decision or take action. They may want to view things from all angles, rather than ‘rushing into something’.

When dealing with people who favour indirect communications, their direct counterparts may have to pay a lot more attention to what was meant rather than what was said. Does the yes mean a no, packaged in a way that should not be construed as rude. If you give an instruction, was it really understood? And when you receive feedback, was there something else hidden in that positive sounding message?

3) Humour & Self-Deprecation

In Britain, there’s humour everywhere. I often wonder, as I didn’t attend  school here, if it was a compulsory subject! Not English grammar, but how to use double entendres and how to make fun of things.

Humour is also used in situations where British people don’t feel comfortable – a quick joke can diffuse a situation. This can be misunderstood by people from other cultures, where it isn’t ‘normal’ to use humour in a business environment. They may view the person making a joke as somebody who is not serious about the task at hand. That doesn’t mean that they have no sense of humour, they’re just too tasked focused to get side tracked by humour.

If you’re using double entendres in English, you also need to have quite a sophisticated understanding of the language to quickly spot the opportunity for a witty remark.

Modesty in Britain is often expressed through self-deprecation. This may be problematic in countries such as the US, where it’s appreciated when people can sell themselves and their achievements. An understated and witty way to talk about ones experiences and track record may be completely misunderstood there.

Also beware that in some cultures they do not use irony, so they could both totally miss the message and the humour in it.

4) Language & Grammar

English is the recognised language of business, but as already outlined above – even between native English speakers there may be communication breakdowns. This could also be down to accents, slang or typical sayings. Does an American understand when a Brit wants to ‘discount a business opportunity’? Or what do both sides understand when we ‘table a topic’? And what is it with Americans wanting to ‘reach out’?

Then you have other countries embracing the English language and ‘tailoring’ it – the Germans made a ‘Handy’ out of a mobile phone and I recently came across the term ‘body leasing’ – you try and guess what’s meant with that one!

When doing business with non-native English speakers, the whole communication process becomes even more complicated. Non native English speakers learn English and reference it back to their own language. The structure and order is usually different. Some nationalities may sound extremely rude talking in English – but it may just be down to the grammatical structure of their own language and subsequent translation into English.

A recent study by Keith Chen of Yale University found that the German language and our ability to talk about the future in the present tense, enables us to save better as it’s a more immediate statement.

People may have a strong foreign accent. Even within Britain, a Londoner may not understand a Glaswegian. What if certain words don’t exist in your own languages and for example the sentence structure already communicates that you’re polite and therefore you don’t have a word for ‘please’. Does that mean that people have no manners? Even if English is the language of business, for some people it may be the fourth or fifth language that they learn..

How do you address your counterparts? In English, people are very informal – they use ‘you’ and first names. However, this may be considered rude in other countries where there is much more emphasis on formality and hierarchy. Another minefield is ‘politically correct’ language. Is something that’s politically correct in the UK the same as in Britain or South Africa or Australia?

5) Non-Verbal Communication

Just as you get to grips with indirectness, grammar and foreign languages, then there’s the all so important non-verbal communication. You just have to look at your pets to see how wrong they can get it – the dog wagging its tail will hardly get a similar response from a cat.

If somebody nods their head, do they mean they agree or that they have ‘heard you’? Does a smile mean somebody is friendly? Or are they embarrassed and don’t want to loose face?

Do you judge somebody by their handshake? How is a ‘proper’ handshake supposed to be? And do you kiss? Who do you kiss? And how many times? Where do you start? If you look somebody straight into the eyes, does that mean that you’re open and transparent or aggressive and disrespectful?

Some cultures are used to physical space between them, others don’t mind touching and being close. Are their differences between men and women in relation to how we can interact and where is body contact acceptable.

In some countries, it’s perfectly acceptable to speak very loudly. This may be seen as a nuisance somewhere else. If you’re upset or annoyed about something, should you show this and raise your voice or control your emotions? The sentence ‘This is an interesting proposal’ may have different meanings, dependent on the tone of your voice.

And last but not least, there’s silence. What does silence mean? Somebody has nothing more to say/contribute or are they reflecting on what’s been said, are they in agreement/disagreement?

Some more reading:
Edward T. Hall’s Beyond Culture

Settling down in the Windy City

922793_10151637835010390_1059928942_n Ciara Newby has made Chicago, Illinois her second home, where she moved to seven years ago.

Growing up in Sedgefield in the North East of England, Ciara always had a keen interest in languages and foreign cultures. She first studied for a BA in Spanish at Leeds University and then continued with an MA in Modern Languages at Newcastle University.

During her studies, Ciara also had the chance to spend one year abroad and perfected her Andalucian accent in Sanlucar de Barrameda.

391416_10151666623925390_689454676_nFollowing her teacher training in the UK, Ciara got the opportunity to move to the US for a job offer at the British School of Chicago. Since her arrival in 2006, she has been promoted first to Head of Spanish and is now the Director of World Languages. Her husband Ben also moved to the US with her and was a partner in one of Chicago’s hippest nightclub, a Vice President of Nightlife at the Menin Hotels in Chicago and has now established his own business.

When you moved to the US, what were your expectations?

I had never been to the States before so I had a pretty stereotypical view. I imagined that life would be somehow like in the movies, that it would be quite cheap, I had a preconceived idea of service and that there would be shopping malls everywhere. I also didn’t expect things to be very different as I would work at a British school, but there were differences for example the use of the English language.

 How did you manage your initial settling in period?

Technology, like Skype, helped a lot to be able to talk to my family. Also the American culture is all set for convenience, which is great. My company also helped us with the move there and sorting out practical issues such as opening a bank account and getting a social security number. But the hardest thing was to make new friends – I just didn’t want to live in the expat bubble or only socialise with people from work. The older you get, the more difficult it seems to be to make new friends. 

 How did you make friends outside the expat community/work?

I tried to always be very friendly and open. Americans in general are quite curious to find out where you’re from so when I thought I would get on with somebody, I’d ask them to go for a coffee and chat. You just have to grab opportunities and keep working at it. I also know of friends networks and groups, which others used to get to know people.

 What do you enjoy most living in Chicago?

The standard of living is higher and I love to travel and explore, both in the US and Latin America. It is very exciting living in the centre of a city that is so beautiful and has such outstanding architecture. I love the mix of culture, restaurants and the street festivals they organise.

What do you miss from back home?

Obviously friends and family. But I also miss the quaintness and Britishness, the picturesque countryside, Sunday dinners with Yorkshire Pudding, chips with salt and vinegar and Coronation Street.

They sometimes talk about two nations separated by a common language? Have you experienced any differences in communication style?

People in the US are more well mannered. British people are more to the point. Socially I was quite shocked how acceptable it was to have dinner and use the cell phone all the time for calls and texting. I don’t know if that’s the same now here in the UK.

 What values did your parents/school instil when you were growing up?

I went to a Catholic school and we were taught to be honest, always tell the truth and see the good in anybody. I would say I was brought up with Christian values.

From your observations at school, what values do you think are important in the US, that we don’t focus so much on in the UK?

Ambition is driven into children for example in sports and also academically. Parents have to encourage their children as education is more expensive than in the UK. They seem to have a stronger vision about being the best. In the UK it is more about enjoying to be a child.

Could you imagine working in another country?

Yes, I could. I’d like to spend more time in Latin America as I enjoy the Spanish language and I’d like to learn more about the cultures. As a linguist, I would also like to learn another new language and more about other cultures.

Do you believe working abroad has been useful for your career?

Definitely. As Director of World Languages, I also look for overseas experience when looking at other people’s resumes.

What characteristics do you believe somebody should have, if they want to work/move overseas?

They have to be adaptive, patient, enthusiastic and need to accept that things are done differently. If you’re in a country that has another language than your own, it is essential to take lessons in it to be able to integrate more. I would also recommend that people should explore more outside the ‘expat bubble’ as this will make their overseas experience more worthwhile.

What is your favourite food & drink in the US?

I love sushi – there are so many sushi places in Chicago and I hadn’t had it before I came here. I also like American steak and seafood houses. Drink, well it has to be one of my husband’s cocktail concoctions:-)

What places would you recommend for people visiting Chicago or the States?

Downtown Chicago is beautiful, I’d recommend they take the architectural boat tour and find out more about the history. They should definitely go to a game of the Bears, Bulls, Cubs or Sox to get into the sports atmosphere. I love California and the Pacific Coast Highway, Arizona is beautiful and I love Miami as it’s quite Spanish.

What should people avoid?

Oh, be careful with grits – that’s a breakfast dish from the Southern states. I was really excited to try it and found it was disgusting. I’d also watch out for the portion size here – I first put on weight as I didn’t realise I could leave half my plate to go back. In the Southern states – Nevada, Alabama etc – public displays of affection are also frowned upon. Also be careful not to get yourself into less desirable neighbourhoods, because people do have guns in the US and use them.

Have you taken up any new activities since moving to the US?

Yes, I started sawing and taking lessons in dressmaking, which I probably wouldn’t have done at home. Americans are also very much into exercising here and I now do yoga and spinning, which again I don’t think I would have made the effort back home.

And we have to have some weather talk – what’s it like in Chicago?

The summers are very hot and we go to the beach a lot. There are also open air cinemas where you can go and have a picnic. In the winter it gets well below zero, sometimes even down to -30 degrees so you need snow boots and a good down jacket. Oh, and if you get an apartment, make sure it has air conditioning! Overall it’s a fairly safe place to be. Ah, there are some spiders here that can bite. But maybe there are some that bite in the UK??

What steps would you advice somebody to take before moving to the US?

I would think very carefully about what you really need to take there as everything can be bought here. Also prepare yourself emotionally as you’re a long way from home and make sure you say good-bye to everybody. I’d recommend to read some books, such as a Lonely Planet Guide. It helps you get a clearer idea of your new area and the more you know, the easier it will be to find your way around. If you come to Chicago, you can watch some movies that play here to see more of the city, for example Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Break Up or the Time Traveller’s Wife. The tv series Prison Break also starts off in Chicago.

Any final comments?

I have not met anybody yet who didn’t like Chicago. Some people wanted to go home after a while, but I don’t think they had made enough effort to meet people. You just have to be prepared to have a go. If you come here with an open mind, you can adapt. You can never plan for every eventuality and things will go wrong whatever you do and they also won’t be what you expect. Personally, I have no plans yet to return to the UK.

An Apprentice’s View

Last week saw the celebration of National Apprenticeship Week in the UK. In the past few years the government has focused on this type of vocational training for young people as an alternative to the academic university education. However, a recent survey of the CIPD found out that there apprenticeships are seen as the poor relation to universities and almost 50% of those questioned believed that they were more suitable for manual or blue collar professions.

In other countries, such as the DACH countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), their long-established Dual Education System is seen as a cornerstone of economic prosperity.

In Germany, around 60% of school leavers choose this route to attend vocational college, for example on day release, combined with practical experience in a company. Dependent on their previous school qualification and chosen profession, the training lasts between 2 and 4 years. There are around 350 officially recognised training occupations and last year 21.7% of companies were offering training to young people. They made a total of 584,547 apprenticeship placements available, with 551,272 contracts subsequently signed.

Other European also adapted the dual education system such as Belgium, Denmark, France and the Netherlands, but it is used even further afield for example in China and India.

Laura Nicholson - smallRTR Handelsgesellschaft is a German SME with a head office in Ratingen and subsidiary offices in the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland. The company is a supply chain provider to the power industry, specialising in steel tubes and pressure parts.

In Germany RTR has offered apprenticeships for many years to ensure its skilled workforce for the future. Here in the UK, Laura Nicholson was the company’s first apprentice. She joined their Gateshead operation in 2011, following completion of her A-Levels. Here’s what Laura thinks about her experience as an apprentice:

What were your favourite subjects at school?
English, biology and art.

What kind of career did you have in mind following your school education?
I was considering primary school teaching for a bit, then physiotherapy was another idea. I also wanted to be a vet but that didn’t last long neither. I didn’t have a big game plan.

I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do and decided to gain some experience. It personally seemed silly to spend thousands of pounds to get a degree I might not even need. I was advised by my parents to only go to university if I knew I would need a degree to achieve well in the profession e.g. doctor, teacher, lawyer.

How did you find out about the RTR apprenticeship place?
I joined an apprenticeship company – Access Training – and they found me potential apprenticeship placements. It was all about administration or recruitment. They interviewed me first before suggesting the apprenticeships they thought would suit me.

What attracted you to RTR?
I stopped doing German at GCSE level at school and it has always been a little regret as I originally wanted to continue it and I liked the fact that they wanted me to do German as well as my NVQ. RTR gave the impression of being a small and good company and two managers interviewed me for the job.

What kind of qualifications have you gained so far?
I’ve completed an NVQ Level 2 in Business Administration. I’ve been also been doing German at the University of Lifelong Learning and completed an ACT! User and Administration Course. I’m currently doing NVQ Level 3 in Business Administration and Level 3 in German and I’d like to do the exam for AS Level German. I also did a telephone course with Access Training.

What kind of practical work experience do you think you have gained since you joined RTR?
I learnt about logistics and sales and use an ERP system. I build up customer and supplier relationships. I prepare quotations, send out material enquiries and handle all the paperwork through to invoicing. I can also make a macchiato in the correct way J I’m a lot more confident than I used to be and I can honestly say I think my apprenticeship has attributed to that.

How do you gain your theoretical experience for your NVQs?
You pick your own subjects and you can link them all to the job that you do. I’ve chosen for example order, product and services because I do this every day. All the questions I get asked are easier to answer as I have experience. If I don’t know something, I can call my assessor at any time to talk about it. The NVQ is based on continuous assessment and I have regular meetings with my assessor and Access is very, very supportive.

What do you think have been the advantages and disadvantages of doing an apprenticeship?
The advantage is that you get work experience and a qualification. It’s at no cost to you and you get paid to do it. It’s easier to do the qualification as you can base it on something.

The disadvantage is that you don’t necessarily get a degree and that’s what some people look for if you apply for a job. Apart from that I can’t think of anything else.

What do your friends from your school think about your apprenticeship?
They think it’s really, really good. Some wished they’d done it rather than go to university. You don’t get into any debts. My friends at university all knew exactly what they wanted to do as a career and they needed a degree for that. They sometimes say they’re jealous of me for choosing an apprenticeship, I think this is mainly due to the fact I’m saving up for things like a new car and to move out and they know when they leave university, they’ll have debts that I won’t have and they won’t have savings like I have.

How do you think apprenticeships could be improved?
Sometimes apprenticeships seem to be a bit like slave labour and that side needs to be looked at. The minimum apprenticeship wage differs from the minimum wage, but what people need to take in to account is the advantages of an apprenticeship against being paid slightly less money. I’ve been told that I’m one of the lucky ones and other companies don’t train or let the apprentices take any time off to do NVQ their studies.

Do you meet any other apprentices?
No, not really. I only know one other person who does an accountancy apprenticeship at Procter & Gamble. And another girl who does hairdressing. Everybody else is either working in an office, in ICT, in catering, but all my best friends are doing a course at university.

Do you have any other plans after your NVQ Level 3?
I need to think about what I want to do as I don’t think there’s a Level 4 at the moment. There may be something set up by the time I finish, but I’m not sure.