By Rachel Stephens
Fred Sworder applied for UK Boardroom Apprentice because he couldn’t pass up the “unique opportunity” to experience a year on a board of an important cause.
Originally from Chiswick, now living in Brixton, Fred realised that the incredible opportunity that the UK Boardroom Apprentice programme offers was an amazing chance to get a start within the board landscape.
Keen to find a way to put his skill set to use, whilst also participating in something that genuinely mattered to him, he applied to the 2023 UK programme.
He said: “It seemed quite interesting, quite unique to anything I’d ever really seen in terms of career development opportunities or chances to get involved in something that mattered.”
Boardroom Apprentice is a twelve month unique board learning, development and placement programme which enables those who would like to serve on a public or third sector board to learn and gain experience in a safe way before they take that step.
Being on a board was not something that Fred had considered at his stage in his career, before learning about the programme. Instead, he thought it would be something that dictated the last stepping stones of his career.
“The perception is that you have to be someone who is a leader in an industry or has a tremendous amount of experience or probably has been on many boards before” he explained.
Fred found this to be completely untrue and was excited to learn that boards are open to people at all stages of their careers. Within both his personal and career development, Fred spoke about his sense of personal pride as a result of achieving his goals, whilst dealing daily with dyspraxia.
“Being dyspraxic, my organisation and ability to manage competing priorities has often been challenging.”
As dyspraxia affects Fred’s day-to-day life “to have made it as far as I have in my career whilst having these challenges bubbling away underneath is something I’m very proud of.”
Fred’s host board, The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board based in Kenilworth. Explaining how the organisation works, Fred noted that their purpose is to invest money into the development of the agriculture industry, through “building relationships with other countries to export British produce, directing farmers to the most efficient way to fertilise their crops whilst championing being more sustainable and helping the environment.”
Speaking about his first board meeting Fred recalls that, “it was very daunting” and that it can be “hard not to feel a little bit out of place at the beginning.” But immediately, he was made to feel welcome.
“People were very friendly and very interested as to why I was there and what I wanted to get out of it.
“I came away from it feeling quite invigorated that I could add a lot of value. By the end of the meeting I came away thinking there probably is a way I could apply my skills to a board like this one day”
When speaking about what he gained most from the programme, Fred highlighted two lessons which he particularly benefited from.
Firstly, he came to find that “there’s kind of a rhythm to being on a board” and that living through the experience, and being in the room was “particularly invaluable because you kind of understand how decisions are made and how information is presented.”
Fred claimed: “I don’t know how you would get that insight unless you are actually there living it.”
Secondly, he found that in his day job, when speaking to the CEO, or presenting to his own board, he now better understands how to “effectively get information to them” and what kinds of communication works within a boardroom setting.
He said: “I’ve definitely found that I could take this experience to another board one day but also I’ve been really surprised with how I’ve actually developed in my own day job.”
The UK Boardroom Apprentice changed Fred as a person, giving him an increased boost of confidence and enabling him to comprehend unique challenges. Despite being previously passive with his ideas, Fred now feels empowered to “get involved and be an active participant.”
When asked for what advice he would give to the next class of Boardroom Apprentices, Fred said not to hesitate about putting in an application.
“The structure of the programme is very very supportive and the people you will meet, all the other boardroom apprentices are fantastic and actually an invaluable resource.
“It’s an incredible resource that I never really thought would exist and has been something that has really just clarified my thinking about where I want to invest my time and effort with the skills and experience I’ve built up”