May 18, 2022 Admin

Giving back, moving forward – the joys of Boardroom Apprentice

“Your confidence will grow. Your experience will grow. Your knowledge will grow.”

When she turned up at a meeting of community group, The Next Chapter, in Newry in 2018, primary school teacher, Jackie Coade, got more opportunities than she had bargained for.

The Next Chapter is designed to inspire women in the Newry area and to help them address issues that are important to them. Community-minded Jackie wanted to see how she could contribute to her local community and help other women in the area.

On that particular evening, however, the group was being addressed by Eileen Mullen, founder of the Boardroom Apprentice.

Eileen had come along to The Next Chapter to discuss the Boardroom Apprentice programme and, from the get-go, Jackie loved what she was hearing.

“What I loved about what Eileen was saying,’ says the 46-year-old Omagh woman, “was the fact that she talked about being on a board and about representation. More importantly, however, she talked about giving back to the community and I felt really inspired by that.

“Within a short time, I thought that the Boardroom Apprentice would not only be a huge learning experience for me, but would also enable me to give something back to the community.”

Eileen had founded the Boardroom Apprentice in 2017. The programme comprises a unique board learning, development and placement situation, 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 taking that ‘big step’ into the real thing.

The twelve-month programme provides participants with formal training opportunities throughout the year to develop and garner new skills. These days include, but are not limited to, the development of communication, conflict, questioning, governance and finance skills.

Despite initially feeling that being a board member was beyond her capabilities, Jackie decided to go out of her comfort one and take the infamous ‘leap’ without looking back. As a result, she found herself in an uplifting and supportive environment.

Before she knew it, Jackie had signed up for the Boardroom Apprentice course and took part in the 2019 cohort of apprentices, working alongside Bolster Community, previously known as SpaceNI.

Bolster Community is a hands-on charity that works with individuals, families and communities to help them get through and get ahead some of life’s toughest challenges.

“What I loved about the Boardroom Apprentice was the fact that you can start at any level and not feel out of your depth,” she says. “That’s because everyone is starting from the same place and everyone is learning regardless of their experience. Everyone comes with different experiences and you learn from that. You just soak it all up because it’s all so interesting.

“When I started off, I felt very inadequate. But by the end of it, I’d learnt so much and become so much more informed.”

Jackie found Eileen’s constant reinforcement throughout the programme very helpful and helped her to gradually realise that she did, indeed, deserve a place at the table.

“Eileen’s input was absolutely invaluable. I lost count of the number of times when she asked us, “Why shouldn’t you be here? You’ve got great, wonderful things to say and do as well, so why wouldn’t you participate?

“As the weeks and the months went on, I certainly felt more confident. Every feeling I had was a positive one. It was all about learning, enthusiasm and moving forward. It really is a very special programme.

“Our learning days were on the first Friday of every month for ten months. Every month we were learning about something different that could be applied within our placement board and, the whole time that we were doing that, we were preparing for the end results.”

At the end of the Boardroom Apprentice programme, every participant had to produce a case study. Jackie loved the fact that everyone in the group worked together to put the results of their findings together for the end results on the actual boardroom day.

“Oh, it was so exciting,” she says. “The collaborative working was absolutely fantastic but, more importantly, we all enjoyed our time together. We had the best laugh the whole way through it, but we also learned so much on our journey. We all got on so well together and we’re all still in touch!

“On top of the board that I was with, we also had these wonderful café conversations around lunchtime. We’d have CEOs and permanent secretaries join us, and I think that was a huge selling point because it was great to sit down and chat with these people, who were in huge organisations.

“Despite their positions, these people would be talking about how they had imposter syndrome, which was really surprising to hear, but also very uplifting as it made us feel that anything was possible.

“These high-ranking CEOs were talking about days where they felt that they were out of their depth, particularly the women who felt that they were the only woman in the room and that their voice wasn’t being heard.

“Listening to how they built up their confidence was very uplifting.

“At the beginning of the programme, I felt very inadequate, but, by the end of the programme, I’d learnt so much and felt so much more informed. My confidence had really gone up and I found myself telling myself, “Do you know what? I can do this, and I will be seen, and I will go out there”. That’s what makes it a very special programme. There’s no feeling in the Boardroom Apprentice programme. There’s only learning and enthusiasm and moving forward and I think that’s the beauty of it.

“If I had one message to people it would be that the Boardroom Apprentice is a totally positive experience.”

Since completing the programme in 2019, Jackie has gone on to sit on the board for rural transport in her area, showing the effects of transportation on positive ageing. Additionally, it has also provided her with invaluable knowledge as she runs for election in Newry and Armagh.

Reflecting on her experience, Jackie now knows that she wants to become more involved as an alumni of the Boardroom Apprentice programme, offering advice to – and encouraging – those who may be considering applying.

“I absolutely adored the Boardroom Apprentice experience,” she says. “I would want everyone that I know to know about it, and to apply for it. I would encourage anyone to get involved because, not only will it benefit you personally, but think of the organisations who need you! The learning is immense.

“Yes, it is a commitment, but it is a commitment that does pay off and is really worth it.

“I really found the whole thing an uplifting experience,” she continued. “It breaks down a lot of barriers in terms of the people that you think are running a lot of organisations.

“As far as I’m concerned, everyone should give it a go.

“Your confidence will grow. Your experience will grow. Your knowledge will grow.”