August 23, 2023 Admin

Driving Change In Local Community Was Inspiration For Nicola Charlton To Apply For Boardroom Apprentice Programme

By Zahra Baz

For 33-year-old Nicola Charlton, driving change with a meaningful impact on her local and wider community has always been on the agenda. 

With the ability to attain purposeful influence and propel societal change continually feeling out of reach and only for society’s elite, the London woman who works as a Payments Research & Insights Manager at Tyl by NatWest jumped at the chance to apply for UK Boardroom Apprentice in 2022.

“Being on a board always felt like something that was very much out of reach. It felt as though people at my age or stage in my career were the ‘wrong’ option; that I wasn’t seen as a suitable person for the role,” she explained.

“It was a spur of confidence. I kept seeing social media adverts for the programme and thought it sounded really interesting.

“Having experienced the support from charitable organisations that assisted my sister who has learning disabilities, it really means something to have the opportunity to give back and have an impact on public life.

“A lot of people talk about wanting to change something, and the Boardroom Apprentice felt like a meaningful way to do that. Having a voice within an organisation where you want to see change is incredibly empowering.”

Established by Eileen Mullan in 2017, Boardroom Apprentice is a 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 the experience that they need to take that step. 

Combining board training, personal growth, and hands-on placement, the programme offers an exciting and transformative journey where participants gain valuable knowledge and foster the confidence needed to drive change and make a meaningful impact in board roles.

During her experience, the North Yorkshire woman, now living in London, was placed with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, based in Surrey; a regulatory body for pet and livestock medications.

“When I was applying, I only knew my ‘why’ and didn’t necessarily have one board in mind, but was absolutely delighted to have been placed with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

“There were around four meetings during the year, each was around five hours long including the risk and audit committee. It sounds like a long time, but you soon get to understand how different people approach tasks, challenge others and understand the pros and cons of a situation.”

“My Host Board and the management team were very friendly, welcoming and interested to hear my questions and reflections. Just listening and learning from board experiences was extremely valuable.

“Being an apprentice with VMD, was like going back to my roots as I grew up in farming communities. It felt like a great match and it was valuable to see the role the VDM has in public life.”

Boardroom Apprentice also prides itself on the support system for those taking part in the programme, ensuring that everyone feels welcome and comfortable in their new role. Upon being assigned a host board, Boardroom Apprentices are paired with a Board Buddy who aids with their progression throughout the twelve-month experience, as well as being provided with a suite of learning days.

This was something that Nicola found especially beneficial as she could tap into her buddy’s expertise. She explained: “Having someone to lean on really fed into the safe and secure environment that the Boardroom Apprentice programme prides itself on.”

“I can’t emphasise enough how having the support of your Board Buddy a WhatsApp message away really makes you feel supported to be your best at the board meetings.

“On the first welcoming event, me and my Board Buddy arrived together. Throughout the programme we kept in contact informally through WhatsApp, email and zoom, having a call when needed or even sending articles of interest to prompt conversations about the VMD, so when it actually came down to getting to work, nothing felt too overwhelming.”

Boardroom Apprentice acknowledges the importance of providing formal learning and support to individuals who aspire to serve on a board. Moreover, the programme places significant emphasis on enhancing skills and knowledge through a series of well-structured learning days. By actively participating in these sessions, participants are empowered to excel and flourish in their aspirations to serve on a board.

Nicola described her experience as a “major exchange of skills” where she developed skills she did not realise she needed.

“The whole experience really enhanced my communication, collaboration and finance skills, as well as my confidence to ask questions to those who have more experience than me.

“There’s a big difference between me at the beginning versus me now. For example, I’ve developed the ability to understand what ‘good’ looks like for a board, the responsibilities and how to apply myself to future roles.

“I was also pleasantly surprised about the level of accountability of board members, and all the different responsibilities needed to ensure the right business decisions are being driven forward.”

Upon reflection Nicola felt that the UK Boardroom Apprentice programme has been fundamental in the rebuilding of her confidence and finding her voice, providing her with a strong foundation going forward.

For those contemplating applying to next year’s UK Boardroom Apprentice programme, Nicola imparts some valuable advice: “Do it. It’s such a brilliant opportunity to learn about yourself and to give back in a meaningful way.

“It’s such a great opportunity to learn skills that are needed for a boardroom, but it’s all done in a very safe space. You’re constantly learning, supporting one another throughout the entire process

“That very combination of learning and support offers a unique structure before entering what can first appear as a daunting boardroom environment.”