By Jasmine Hughes
Sometimes we don’t lack the confidence to do something — we just need to be shown that we have the capability to do it.
For Craig Service, the desire to make a difference was the motivation he needed to take the initial steps on his journey to the boardroom.
“I really enjoy helping people and wanted to give something back to society,” Craig, who was raised in Newtownards but now lives in Broughshane, explained.
“I have a real passion for making sure everyone within our community can take advantage of all opportunities available to them. I have a real desire to serve and make Northern Ireland the best place I know it can be.”
What better way to make a change than to get actively involved in an organisation in the public or third sector? While it’s an easy dream to have, it’s harder to put into motion.
The aspiration is there, but without the means to convert it into reality, it can soon begin to seem like an impossibility.
Combined with a lack of confidence and no prior experience, and it’s easy to see how such goals might be shelved as pipe dreams rather than acted on.
Enter Boardroom Apprentice.
Founded back in 2017 by Eileen Mullan, Boardroom Apprentice is a twelve-month programme that seeks to move the board member role from aspiration to reality.
For individuals wanting to bring about positive change to their local or national community, Boardroom Apprentice enables applicants to learn and develop the necessary skills in a safe and well-supported environment.
By placing participants on the boards of charitable or public organisations, Boardroom Apprentice sets them on the path to joining a board in a permanent capacity in the future.
Joining the Boardroom Apprentice programme was an entirely new experience for Craig, who works as a mortgage adviser at AIB (NI).
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he said, adding: “I thought it would be daunting and I suppose I doubted my capabilities to be involved in such a programme.
“One of the main attractions of Boardroom Apprentice was to give something back into society and serve the people within our communities,” said Craig.
As well as this, the 44-year-old knew it would provide him with “the opportunity to learn and have hands-on experience with how a boardroom operates”.
After joining the programme, Craig was placed on the NI Police Fund board, headquartered in Holywood, Co Down. He was certainly able to make a difference here.
Established in 2002, the NI Police Fund provides financial assistance to police officers and the families of police officers that have been injured or otherwise harmed by terrorism.
Craig’s time with the host board gave him both insight into and experience of the way such an important organisation functions.
“It delivered in the learning and practical side of a boardroom for me,” said Craig.
But the experience went beyond just the practicalities of the boardroom.
“I met and worked with wonderful people all of whom have their own views, opinions and experiences that I could learn from,” said Craig.
He added that he was surprised by how “humbling” everyone was.
“I felt a true connection with all my boardroom colleagues and all the guest speakers involved in the learning days.”
The connections Craig made with his colleagues helped form the foundations for the skills Craig learnt whilst on the programme. The 44-year-old felt that during his time with the NI Police Fund, he became a better communicator.
But, even better, the Boardroom Apprentice programme helped Craig to overcome that initial imposter syndrome; Craig has done away with that apprehension and feeling of disbelonging.
“I learnt not to be afraid to speak up and ask questions, and that I do belong in a boardroom setting,” said Craig.
Following his time with Boardroom Apprentice, Craig has made a vital jump — from wanting to make a difference, to feeling capable of doing so.
“I feel I can make a real difference,” he said. “It has given me the confidence to sit in a boardroom setting.”
Beyond instilling confidence in individuals, Boardroom Apprentice aims to increase diversity in the boardroom. It’s a value that Craig holds in high regard.
“The boardroom is for all. It is important to share our experiences from the boardroom apprentice. For NI to prosper all voices need to be heard. The Boardroom Apprentice offers that platform.”
“This diversity is very important,” Craig added.
“The programme is open for all to apply, providing the toolkit to be able to apply for board positions and make real changes.”
Though Craig comes away from the NI Police Fund with experience and skills that he can apply to future ventures in the public and third sector, he also departs having enjoyed connecting on a personal level with his colleagues.
Craig shared that his biggest takeaway from his time with Boardroom Apprentice was “the people and the overwhelming support and friendship that I have gained throughout the programme.”
He added: “It was one of the most humbling and authentic experiences I have ever had. I would highly recommend the programme to anyone.
“If you are thinking of applying please apply,” said Craig, “you will not regret it.”
Applications for the Boardroom Apprentice 2023 programme open on Monday June 5 and close at 3pm on Monday June 19.
To apply go the Boardroom Apprentice programme go to boardroomapprentice.com/how-to-apply