Case Study:

The reality of a degree apprenticeship for a young professional working with IBM, Unilever and Tesco

Thursday 12 July 2018
This is what a degree apprenticeship actually takes – and what it can do for you as an employer, too
Olivia Smith

Olivia Smith was on her way to a university open day when her boyfriend emailed her about the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA). “It just seemed a perfect fit. It was the fact that you can learn on the job. That’s what I really wanted.”

All of Smith’s siblings had been to Russell Group universities, but afterwards, she says, “none of them got jobs – they just went travelling”. So Smith broke rank and decided to go the CMDA route, doing a unique rotational degree apprenticeship programme delivered by Pearson Business School. It combines apprenticeships across three leading organisations with studying for a degree at the same time.

Since starting, Smith has worked in the supply chain at Tesco and the water innovation team at Unilever, and she’s now embedded within the Watson customer engagement team at IBM.

The best work experience that apprenticeships can offer

In her first week at Unilever, Smith was sent to Liverpool to work on the development of a new product. She was involved in all aspects, “from the artwork to the branding, the tone of voice, the advertising campaign – everything”, she says.

Read more: three case studies of how apprenticeships benefit employers

The benefit to employers

Employers too are able to appreciate the contribution that skilled apprentices who are being tutored in top-tier management thinking, can bring to their workforce.

Currently, 63% of managers support the Apprenticeship Levy as a way of helping employers to invest in professional skills, according to a survey of 1,640 business leaders carried out by CMI in February 2018. Organisations are able to use the fund to upskill their existing workforce as well as attract ambitious new recruits. Improved productivity is one key benefit: Organisations with effective management and leadership development programmes have on average 23% better results and are 32% more productive, according to CMI’s Management Manifesto.

Olivia Smith knows the commitment that an apprenticeship takes: “You have to work hard,” she beams. “There’s a perception that apprenticeships are easy, but they’re not. It’s very full-on and the companies we work for are very demanding – that’s why they’re so successful.”

The standard of all apprenticeships is safeguarded by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, as well as the Chartered Management Institute, where relevant. Smith is studying a level-6 Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, but CMI-accredited apprenticeships are also available at Supervisor level (level 3) and Operational/department manager level (level 5) too.

Her own course means she studies for one day per week, but employers and education providers can also establish a work/study pattern in which the education side of the programme is undertaken in blocks, adding convenience and flexibility to the schemes.

For Smith, an apprenticeship offers the best of both worlds and she recommends it to others. Asked if she misses the university experience, it’s a resounding ‘no’. “If I want the student lifestyle – I can go and visit!”

Watch: the IBM apprenticeship in action

Olivia Smith is assistant brand manager at Unilever, doing her Level 6 CMDA with Pearson College London. The CMDA offers world-class business education, work-based learning and ongoing professional development that results in the prestigious Chartered Manager status. 

For more information on management apprenticeships visit:

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