How do I choose the right business school leaver programme?

How to choose the right business school leaver programme
Considering a business apprenticeship? Some allow you to try out different business functions such as HR and marketing, while others specialise in one area.

Higher apprenticeships, sponsored degrees and entry-level jobs in business are available, so you need to take the time to think about your skills and aspirations to decide which route is right for you. If you are thinking about a higher apprenticeship or other formal programmes you should consider what qualifications you will study towards, if the programme gives you the opportunity to experience a range of business areas and the duration of the programme. If you want to go straight into an entry-level role you need to think about what training you will be offered, if you will need to study for qualifications in your own time and whether you can progress quickly.

What qualifications will I end up with?

The real advantage of school leaver programmes is learning while earning. The qualifications you gain during the programmes vary between employers. For example, the Schroders traineeship programme has roles available in HR, sales and marketing, and allows you to gain a professional qualification. There are also sponsored degree programmes offered by employers such as Nestlé, whose fast track programme gives you the opportunity to work in different business areas while studying for a degree in professional business practice at Sheffield Hallam University.

When choosing a programme you should consider whether you want a degree or if you think studying for professional qualifications and diplomas would be more suitable for your career. In PR, for example, professional qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) are highly regarded and people often enter the profession without a degree, so it may be better for you to look into school leaver programmes that support CIPR qualifications. However, studying at university during a school leaver programme will mean you have a debt-free degree and you can put the theories you learn at university into practice. Having a degree also opens up more options to you if you decide you want to change career at a later point in time.

Will I specialise in a particular area?

Some school leaver programmes will allow you to rotate across different business areas; for example, Morrisons offers a head office programme where you can work in marketing, HR, finance and buying. The Nestlé fast track programme allows you to rotate around different business areas in your first two years and then specialise in your final year. Other programmes focus on one particular area of the business. For example, PwC offers a school leaver programme that focuses solely on management consulting.

If you know what business area interests you, it will probably be more beneficial to find a programme that specialises in that sector. If you have a range of skills and like the sound of a couple of business areas, then a programme that allows you to experience different areas may be better to find out which area suits you. Our article on what types of jobs and employers there are in business may help you decide too.

How are the programmes structured?

The length of school leaver programmes varies – some last for 12 months and others can last for three years. Programmes where students study for a degree tend to last the longest. Some employers will ask you to attend college or university one day a week to study for your qualification, but others may require you to study in blocks – Nestlé gives employees blocks of study time in Sheffield. You need to consider whether you only want to be training and studying for a year, so you can progress onto a full-time position, or whether you want to develop your academic knowledge further by undertaking a sponsored degree programme.

You should consider location and decide whether you want to move away from home, stay local or commute. If you want to stay at, or close to, home then look at school leaver programmes in your area. Lloyds Banking Group, for example, runs a number of programmes in different locations including Leeds, Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester and Exeter. Some employers will rotate you around different locations, such as Mondelez International, who will expect you to be mobile and offers relocation support. Make sure you know where you will be working and if you’ll be expected to travel, and that you are happy with the arrangements.

Does the programme enable me to progress as quickly as graduates?

With some employers, by the end of the school leaver programme you will be at a similar level as graduates who join the organisation on graduate schemes or in entry-level roles. This is because you will have qualifications as well as on-the-job experience. However, this won’t necessarily be the case at all employers, so ask before you sign up if this is important to you.

After getting your first job in HR, PR, sales, marketing or management consulting, industry-recognised qualifications tend to allow professionals to advance their career. There are a range of courses and certificates at different levels that are open to school leavers and graduates.

How do I find out more?

Visit companies’ websites and social media channels to find out about aspects of the business that matter to you most, such as size, location, culture and structure. Research who a PR agency’s clients are, for example, and read news stories about the projects it has worked on.

Talk to friends, family or anyone they can put you in touch with who works in the business sector that interests you, as it can help you to get an insight into the daily life in the particular job. There are also events, such as open days, that you can attend to improve your understanding of specific sectors and employers. Look out for these being advertised on employers’ careers websites and on TARGETcareers. Careers fairs also offer the chance to meet employers – your school may know when and where these are happening.

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