Banbridge data analyst manager Seamus Sands embraced the opportunity to take part in the Boardroom Apprentice programme to advance his career and take on meaningful roles that would allow him to make a difference in education locally.
The programme aims to bring hope to reality, offering placements and invaluable training days that allow applicants to increase their chances of sitting on boards across Northern Ireland.
“It was the idea that there was an opportunity to learn how to be a non-exec director before going on to a board, but also to do it on a particular board with support as well,” said the 31-year-old. “That’s something that I didn’t think you could do before. It gave me an opportunity to feel like I could effectively contribute on a board.
“Beforehand, I always thought I was too young to be on a board and that I didn’t think my CV would cut it to get onto a board. Instead, this gave us the opportunity to show what you’re passionate about, to be able to get training in areas like legal obligations, finance and responsibilities.”
The ability to see up close how boards work was vital for Seamus.
“It also gave you the opportunity to learn in a placement setting where you’re on a board with a board buddy that allowed you to learn the ropes while actually doing it and not feeling like you’re on your own,” he explained. “That was the main reason, whenever I saw the opportunity come out that I applied for it because I thought it was a really good opportunity for me to be able to get into that area where I could try and make a change from a board because I think that’s where real change can happen.”
His experience during 2017 & 2018 provided an opportunity to learn how to be a non-executive director with full support, while guiding Seamus into a new era of confidence and personal growth.
Whilst Boardroom Apprentice provided him with key career opportunities, it also allowed a time for self-reflection, analysing strengths and weaknesses which in turn led to making changes and adapting how Seamus progressed his career.
“I just felt like I was able to bring a young person’s voice to the board which was an achievement for me as when I looked on the board the average age was around 40-50. At that time I was in my mid-20’s” he said.
The driving force behind The Boardroom Apprentice, Eileen Mullan, is the reason as to how Seamus discovered the opportunity. Having heard of Eileen prior to the programme in an inspiring TEDx Talk @ Stormont in 2016, he came across her name on Twitter promoting Boardroom Apprentice and had to know more.
Just a single click later, everything for Seamus would change.
“The actual training and the sessions that were put together by Eileen and her colleagues exceeded my expectations as it made me feel prepared, it made me feel like I had the right skills to be on the board, at the same time introduced me to a group of Boardroom Apprentices that all had similar aspirations and passion for making a difference.”
Both the application and interview process for Boardroom Apprentice is primarily based on the passion derived from the applicants which helps ensure they are right for the programme and paired with the right boards.
With a strong interest in education alongside a background in IT, Seamus complemented the board with his experience whilst showing a keen regard for expanding his knowledge further.
“I wanted to do something to do with education because for me education is a big thing, it’s because of the access to education that I have gotten to where I am today,” Seamus said. “I’m very much an education advocate, particularly around the improvement of education to bring up the next generation of young people, to make them more connected, to make them more skilled in digital skills and feel prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.
“One of the things I think we have been quite weak at in previous years was that young people weren’t getting the opportunity to look into technology and IT until maybe GCSE level and A level and that was something that I was working on trying to improve through educational outreach programmes at my job in Kainos.
“I wanted to do something related to education to try and see if I could get in and try and make a difference. So, whenever I saw the opportunities and the list of boards, the main ones I picked were ones related to education.”
While on placement with the Education Authority board, new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) legislation was coming in, which proved an advantage to him due to previously working on the topic within his role in Kanios.
The knowledge Seamus brought from his role was transferrable as he was able to ask critical questions that many members of the board were not advanced on as they were only going through GDPR initial training.
Bringing a fresh perspective was vital to Seamus, as he was of the belief that boards should be reflective of the community through younger, diverse people and showcase an amalgamation of skills to create a board of opposing backgrounds.
Seamus took part in monthly board meetings whilst also attending two sub-committee meetings each month. This enabled him to be involved three days a month in boardroom activities.
In the 12 months he was on the programme, Seamus believed he gained more experience than he would have garnered over several years considering that many boards only meet quarterly.
Critical to the success of the programme, the boardroom buddy feature allowed the individuals to have personal 1-1 support and guidance which set up the environment as a safe space to learn and integrate skill sets.
The array of skills achieved throughout the duration of the course translated into Seamus’ everyday life as he learned all about areas he lacked confidence in such as finance which were of initial concern to him as he didn’t come from an accounting background.
His advice for future applicants involves being true to oneself as the programme relies on people who are passionate about committing themselves to the sometimes gruelling schedule.
“Sometimes people all go for the same boards (the recognisable named boards), and it ends up there’s 10 people going for the same board. However, these same people haven’t maybe gotten proper second or third options and so it was hard to place them in something they felt passionate about.
“My advice is to really think about your top 3 boards and ensure they are all areas you are passionate about, as this really helps reinforce the experience and learning. With the added bonus of making the whole experience as enjoyable as possible. At the end of the day we all love to do something that we are passionate about.” Seamus explained as he paid tribute to the work of the programme.
“I think the vital work Eileen and the Boardroom Apprentice programme has done to change that narrative and change that perspective has been really beneficial. Hopefully you can start to see that real change is coming from these boards, by providing the right level of representation that a more diverse boardrooms provides.
“Don’t be afraid to push yourself forward and go for things you’re really passionate about because that’s half the battle.”
Applications for Boardroom Apprentice are open until May 24th, 2022.