August 23, 2023 Admin

“UK Boardroom Apprentice Helped Me Achieve Lifelong Dream Of Giving Back” Says Alex Stewart

Alex Stewart

By Hannah McCormack

Alex Stewart has held a lifelong aspiration to create a positive impact and contribute to society.

After discovering the UK Boardroom Apprentice programme through a post from the Young Trustees Movement, the 28-year-old finally finally found a way to use his experience to benefit others. 

He explained: “I work in charities and I’ve seen in the past that you work with boards quite often, which has meant that I’ve seen a lot of both really effective and a few ineffective board members. 

“It’s really inspired me to get to that stage and make a difference. That’s one of the ways you can use your experiences to make a difference in a charity, you sit on the board. 

“Looking back, I was never really that confident in getting to the stage of becoming a board member. I was always worried that I wouldn’t be an effective one.

“I was always nervous of being seen as just a young person – it can be quite frustrating at times. I might be a young person now, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see the opportunities for change now, and I don’t want to wait until I appear ‘experienced’ to enact that change.

“I think that having an opportunity to learn the skills necessary to actively make a change and make it in the best possible way, without undermining the work of anyone else – that’s really the bare bones of it all.” 

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. 

It seeks to enable a wider diversity of individuals to play their part within boardrooms, allowing those without board experience to enhance their knowledge and understanding through in-depth learning and support.

Since its inception in 2017, the programme has seen 372 Boardroom Apprentices embark on their personal journey to serve on a public or third sector board. 

During his experience, the rural Gloucestershire native, now living in Brighton, was placed with the nationwide Forestry Commission; the government department responsible for protecting, expanding, and promoting the sustainable management of woodlands.

Throughout the programme, Alex received comprehensive training while serving on two boards – Forestry England and Forestry Services. Additionally, he had the opportunity to participate in site visits and executive training schemes, enabling him to gain valuable insights into the organisation’s operations. Moreover, Alex engaged with various members of staff, learning about their roles within the organisation.

He elaborated on his time there: “I grew up in the Forest of Dean and I saw the signs for the Forestry Commission everywhere, but didn’t really understand what it did. I knew that it had an impact on my community even though at the time it was quite faceless. It’s come a long way since then, when I was a kid. But I still wanted to find out more about it. I was really excited to lift the curtain a little and see how everything worked.

“To put it simply, I learned a lot about forestry and I learned a lot about being a board member. I think it’s important to have a basic understanding – to have that base level knowledge of all of the work, just so I could understand why decisions were being made. 

“I’ve essentially been going along to all the board meetings. They assigned me two board buddies, one for each board who are both experienced non-executives. They were there to explain why things were happening and the context behind it all.

“I visited forests across the UK, to understand both the Commission’s direct land management work and its role enabling other landowners to protect, improve and expand woods, including current tree planting targets, and how wood is a commodity as well.

“It’s been a lot of questioning into why things are done the way they are, and trying to understand if the answers which you’re given make sense with your experience of the world.”

Throughout his participation in the UK Boardroom Apprentice Programme, Alex aimed to identify his areas of expertise and explore how he could leverage his experience in fundraising to make a meaningful impact within the Forestry Commission and drive positive change.

“I believe that civic duty is important. It’s also extremely exciting to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and for this type of opportunity to be presented in a safe, nurturing environment was just the icing on the cake for me.

“Using my experiences and combining them with the learnings of the UK Boardroom Apprentice means that I can make a real difference to an organisation in the future.

“For me, the most empowering part of the programme was not only how much there was to learn, but identifying how much I could contribute. I now have the confidence necessary to put myself forward, as well as the ability to be critical in a positive light.

“That’s been something that I’ve really enjoyed: being able to look inwardly and seeing the positives of what I already know, and then coupling that with the learning experiences that we’ve been provided with as well.

“It’s been a lot. The programme demanded more of my time than I originally thought it would, but it’s 100% worth it. I’ll never get another opportunity like this in the future, there isn’t any other programme like this.”

When looking back on his time with the UK Boardroom Apprentice, Alex urges others to apply for the programme in order to develop outside of a working capacity: “It’s worth every second. You won’t notice any changes within yourself immediately, but your colleagues and those around you will.

“You’ll learn skills you didn’t even know you were missing and make real friends along the way

“It’s extremely complimentary to your working life and persona because it allows you to develop massively outside of your day job. Try to put as much effort as you possibly can in, because that’s how you flourish and thrive.”

Applications for the programme are open to people of all ages, from 18+, and all backgrounds and abilities.