Experience: A year abroad put the world at my feet

I still remember the day I got my acceptance email. I was in my second year house kitchen, on my phone as a way of procrastinating – story of my life – when the email arrived. The small excerpt at the top of my iPhone was enough to make my heart stop. I was offered a place to study at Prague’s Charles University for a year. It was finally happening!

Like many others, undertaking a year abroad did not even cross my mind prior to University. I stumbled across the opportunity when looking at courses in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent and settled on four year course, which included a year in “Continental Europe”, although I’m still not too sure what that means.

I guess I was quite lucky in the sense that my University is heralded as the UK’s European University, and so the Erasmus office is run extremely well and offers an infinite amount of support to those who choose to do a year abroad.

The reasons I chose to do my year abroad centred more around self-growth than living in a great city in Europe (I’ve got the best of both worlds really!) I wanted to prove to myself that I could stomach what is potentially one of the most important things you can do at this age: moving to a foreign country alone. I say ‘alone’, but you establish a network of people prior to leaving and as soon as you arrive, so it’s worth checking which services your university offers to year-abroad students. I was very fortunate in that I managed to meet other people from my University who were also going to Prague – something I would certainly urge others to do – and some of us agreed to live together.

Since being in Prague I’ve learnt a lot more about myself. That’s probably one of the most cliched things that can be said in an article about a year abroad, but it aptly summarises my time here so far. I’ve learnt to stand up for myself, and to be a better cook. I’ve learnt that the only person that can make you do anything is yourself, so I’ve discovered an amount of self-determination through that, which is probably what I’m proudest of.

Personal achievements aside, a year abroad can enrich your life and define your views on a number of topics. This is partly down to the change of culture you will experience as well as time spent meeting people with vastly differently experiences from vastly different places. My time in Prague so far has taught me a lot about the history and current politics of the Czech Republic, as well as the mentality and attitude of those who lived under a Communist regime. I almost regard it an honour that I have been able to receive such an insight into a country whose past differs greatly from my own. I urge anyone undertaking or thinking of undertaking a year abroad to explore the area you are living in, in both a physical and historical sense. Speaking of exploring, it would also be ludicrous to not check out a neighbouring country/state on your year abroad, especially when you are from an island like the UK, where it can get quite lonely. I have had the opportunity to venture to Kraków where I then visited Auschwitz, a significant landmark for those both interested in the past and those who do not wish to repeat it.

Travel is cheap in a lot of ‘year abroad destinations’ and trains are of great quality in Europe (they have wifi and give out free mint tea!) There is good reason to travel and discover history first-hand. It’s definitely given me the travel bug and there are plans to travel to Berlin and to the Balkan region of Europe in the summer.

Although these experiences are great when you undertake them in the immediate future, the memories that you create, and the wealth of knowledge you’ll gain, stay with you for a very long time. You may not remember all three years of your time at university, but you will remember the times you were challenged on your year abroad and were rewarded in tenfold for it. From a career perspective, it this growth adds colour and flair to your CV, and it will most definitely give a potential employer something to ask you about in an interview.

A year abroad journey often begins with a talk regarding the programme as a whole towards the end of the first year of University and only really begins to take heed in second year, particularly in the second term where you are inundated with emails from the Erasmus office as well as forms and talks that they recommend you go to. One of the talks to look out for are when students who had gone on their year abroad the year before come to talk about the process and their personal experiences. I lucked out as one of the students had actually gone to Prague on their year abroad, so straight after the talk I accosted him and spoke to him at length about his time time there, which is another thing I would recommend doing. The Erasmus office are great for pairing people up with others who have undergone a year abroad.

The scariest part of anything is getting started, and that applies to when you are shooting off emails and forms incessantly to the Erasmus office to when you first arrive in your chosen city. If at any time you are overwhelmed, just remember that it will all be worth it. Even though I knew all of the above before coming to Prague, the feeling of actually being here was frightening up until I arrived.

Expect a culture shock, even if you only go to a neighbouring country. Expect to accidentally buy cream instead of milk for the first few times you go to the supermarket until you learn the word for it in your chosen country’s language. You’ll find that you’ll have to use your hands more often and made to be aware of your fast paced speaking when conversing with a native speaker. People may stare more and not understand the unwritten rule of queuing but it comes with the territory of choosing to study abroad. Nothing can be said to prepare you for what you will experience – the best way to understand it is to see for yourself!

Changing to a law career: Yay or Nay?

How do you know if studying law, and pursuing the career, is right for you? Before you launch into a study change, it’s important to know which qualities and traits are needed to succeed.

As LLM LPC Candidate Billy Yu Lok Ng explains, it’s more than possible to come out fighting if you have the right attitude, intelligence, and traits but the following steps are vital...

Do your research

It may sound cliché but studying law can be very different from what you see on television or in films. The media portrays law as something fabulously professional and, after a successful trial, you may find the love of your life. Sadly, that is utterly untrue.

Studying law at University can be quite different from college, and your law degree experiences undoubtedly differ amongst various law schools, particularly in a sense of their course structures, workload and assessments methods accordingly. (Some Law School assessments can be essays/dissertations-oriented and some can be examinations/presentations based.) That is why a decision to study law should be based on a considerable amount of research.

Nonetheless, one should not only pay attention to course structures, fees or quality of teaching (not to say that they are not significant) but most importantly, you should conduct some ‘research’ on yourself. Start asking yourself which areas of law you are particularly interested in; what are the genuine reasons behind pursuing a law degree; is your motivation to study law derived from yourself or nothing but family pressure etc.? Spending three years at law school can be very expensive from a financial perspective as it will cost more than a sum of £27K on tuition fees (if you are a national student), excluding living expenses, costly law books and other academic materials. Make sure law is something you are passionate about as you would not want to spend three years of life pursuing something you do not genuinely enjoy.

Therefore, if you are reading this article and are thinking of doing law, start from today. Go and read the news. Go to court hearings. Discover yourself a little bit more and do your research.

Be creative

A Law degree at University in general involves several compulsory legal modules that you have to pass (in good grades) to establish yourself with a solid legal foundation on the law in England and Wales. Similarly to a range of other degrees out there, you are provided with a choice to opt for electives that you may be interested in during your final year or so. And that is when you are suggested to be creative with your choices.

Module choices not only reflect your passion and interests, they also serve as a significant indicator for future recruiters in determining whether you are a suitable candidate for a specific role in their firm. It is advised one should always familiarize themselves with current legal trends, for instance, how the legal aid system shapes the criminal law practices; or how mediation modifies the structure of the law in dispute resolution and litigation practices. Before deciding which elective modules you are pursuing, try think outside the box. What will be the skill sets or knowledge you will obtain from these classes which may come in handy practically in the future?

When I was studying at Kent Law School, I opted for modules such as Alternative Dispute Resolution, Gender Sexuality and the Law, Forensic Science and Criminal Trial, Japanese and Advanced Mandarin and so on. Some argue that the language modules are irrelevant, yet they will work to my advantage when negotiating a contract with Chinese clients down the line in 10 years’ time. Law firms are businesses and as China (or the Asian market in general) is blooming with potential, one ought not to purely focus on the academic sides of the law. Consider the practical skills you wish to develop further as a lawyer.

Find your passion

During my internship at the Court of Protection and the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal in Berkshire shadowing a District Tribunal Judge, I had the opportunity to have a relatively informal chat with Her Honour Judge after the day. It was interesting to know how she used to work as a Family Law Solicitor and after only 10 years she is now a District Tribunal Judge working in London, Reading, Maidenhead, specifically on entirely different cases related to tax credits, disabilities and single parent allowances. Skills and knowledge in law are, to certain extent, transferable. One should never force themselves into choosing something to ‘fit’ into certain boxes or criteria. Think outside the box, go to open days at law schools, talks, and workshops held by law firms to get an idea of how the law industry is. Dare to be a little more creative and flexible with your choices.

Grow resilience

The legal job market is competitive. Speaking to a Queen’s Counsel at a legal debate in London last week, he indicated that every year, only 400 applicants are chosen out of 1,500 Law graduates who had completed the Bar Professional Training Couse and attempted to pursue the Bar as a Pupil. Asking the basic minimum requirements to be considered for work at his Chamber, he replied: “A first-class honour” and to be “the best of the best”. Sadly, a range of law firms do look into your A-Level grades as well, so if you screwed up your college results, you will have fewer chances.

Before entering the profession, it is vital to have an undefeated positive energy and spirit in you. It is an industry which requires a tough skin. You must couple your studies and all the all-nighters (of course), with an unrelenting search for legal internship or a training contract. Opportunities will never arise at your doorstep, as cliché as it sounds, but you have to take the initiative to reach out to senior professions or mentors for helpful advice.

A very dear friend of mine had been rejected 29 times for a training contract, even by a firm she had undertaken a vacation scheme/internship at. I am sure it applies to other industries as well but it takes resilience, perseverance and concrete confidence to succeed in law. Eventually, my friend was offered a contract which funds her Legal Practice Course after her 30th attempt. It shows it is possible as long as you work hard enough.

I have been ‘nagging’ a Managing Partner of a high street firm in London I have completed a legal internship at for up to three months (I am serious), to have a reply from her offering me a place to intern at her firm for one week. I had been bombarding her with emails, LinkedIn messages, phone calls, text messages to intern for her as she is one of the forefront leading criminal ‘Super Lawyer’ in London. I guess the hard work did pay off as she offered me the opportunity to work for her as a Police Station Representative on behalf of the firm in London. Hopefully a traineeship offer will follow later on this year.

I am not saying that one does necessarily have to be that extreme, yet one should always bear in mind that persistence doesn’t hurt.

If you are hesitant about law school, my word of advice is: go full throttle or don’t at all. If you put your mind and soul into something and truly want it bad enough, and you are smart enough, nothing will ever come in your way. It takes bravery and inner strength, it takes time and energy, yet I guarantee you that at the end of the day, this will be a career worthwhile.

At a networking event in Canterbury a Managing Partner of a prestigious firm told me, “I would rather hire an individual with a story to tell, who can persuade me that it is all or nothing for him/her, than to employ a Russell Group University law graduate who is born privileged”.

If you are reading this article, I hope it has given you the confidence to make the right decision. All the best in your law degree/career (or your alternative studies!)

Billy Yu Lok Ng is a LLM LPC Candidate at University of Law, Guildford and a graduate from Kent Law.



These career change statistics will surprise you

Did you know that age plays a big part in the way we view career hopping? Or that most Brits abroad are there for work?

We’ve compiled an infographic with some of the most interesting statistics on swapping jobs, and some figures stand out more than others.

80% of 20-29 year-olds are actively looking to change careers, compared with only 55% of 40+ year-olds.

So, why does age act as a barrier between employees and their dream job? One reason is seniority – It’s hard to manage a department one minute and seriously consider climbing a whole different career ladder from the bottom rung. This is, of course, a complete fallacy, as there are a number of ways to enter even the most sought-after jobs. Sadly, disbelief is a powerful hurdle.

Other statistics may surprise you, too. Although a relatively low number of older people are looking to job swap, only 14% of people believe they have the “perfect” job.

Maybe we all just need a little extra motivation?




Five TED Talks that will motivate you to follow your dreams

These TED talks have raked in millions of views each, all for good reason. We’ve picked the best lectures for people looking to change careers or simply those who struggle to get the most out of their work life.

The career advice you didn’t get – Susan Colantuono
The CEO of ‘Leading Women’ answers the people asking why they seem to be following every piece of advice on happiness in the workplace with few results to show for it.

A kinder, gentler, philosophy of success – Alain de Botton
Philosopher de Botton discusses what we really mean by ‘success’ and how we can find true joy in our work.

How to find work you love – Scott Dinsmore
Scott Dinsmore discusses ways you can find your passion and follow it practically, covering the work of his company ‘Life Your Legend’.

Why you will fail to have a great career – Larry Smith
Canadian professor Larry Smith gives takes an hilarious look at the absurd excuses we all use to avoid following our dream profession.

Be an opportunity maker – Karen Anderson
Anderson, a columnist for Forbes, explains the methods we can use to create something meaningful in our lives whilst overcoming ‘chronic shyness’.


Experience: Why I packed in my journalism career to study politics

By Kieran Watkins for Topic Swapping

“Returning to education and giving up your career in journalism you say? Don’t be ridiculous.” That’s what someone told me when I left my writing career in lively London to study a Masters degree in gloomy Brussels. Funnily enough, it’s probably what I would have said too a year previous.

Rewind back to summer 2014. It’s August, I’m standing in my new London house having graduated with a degree in Journalism and somehow managed to bag shifts at two big news companies. It’s safe to say pursuing a Masters degree was definitely not on the agenda.

So why did I give it up? Why am I now sitting in my Brussels flat, surrounded by essay papers and grey clouds, stressing out because I can’t find statistics on how many people in Luxembourg consume chocolate? (Note: I am genuinely at a loss, if you can find the statistics I’ll give you a chocolate bar.)

It’s partly down to job prospects and partly down to following my dreams.

After a year freelancing I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I’d managed to make a few contacts and be interviewed for a couple of full-time jobs, but that didn’t work out. Jobs I did get offered were for roles that didn’t excite me, or where the money wasn’t good enough. Journalism is a hard job which pays terribly, and to get anywhere you have to rely on luck, a connection or working your way up from the bottom. I guess I wasn’t cut out for that.

Perhaps the big reason why my heart wasn’t in it was the fact my dreams lay elsewhere; in politics. When I first started my undergraduate degree way back in 2011 I had no interest in politics. The only thing I knew was my family voted Tory and Tony Blair was the devil. Ok, maybe I’m being a tad modest; I liked to read the news so had some idea of what was going on in Westminster, but that was more out of necessity than love. It wasn’t until the end of the first year when I took a politics module that public affairs sparked my interest. I found myself hooked on the Westminster system and the European Union. Who knew I had an intense passion for David Cameron? Coincidentally, it all happened around the time I came out as gay, maybe there’s a link…

Anyway, three years later and a couple more modules completed, politics was my calling. But with a degree in journalism, I felt duty bound to continue in the news industry. I hoped for a political reporter position at some point but the harsh realities of the competitive nature of journalism still hit home.

It was around this time that I started thinking about other options. In June 2014 I was lucky enough to win a place on the University of Kent summer school programme in Brussels, where I had a crash course in EU diplomacy whilst consuming vast quantities of beer. It was here I found out about Masters opportunities, but having no desire at the time to return to education – and no big bank account to pay for the fees – I ruled it out straight away.

But after working through the General Election and getting no where with job applications, my mind was set; it had to be politics. Luckily for me, I was able to save, win a scholarship and rely on generous family members to study a Masters in Political Strategy and Communication at the University of Kent in Brussels. Four months later and I haven’t looked back once.

So what am I trying to say? Well I guess, as that old cliché goes, you really should follow your heart. For most undergraduate students your degree programme probably won’t be the career you end up doing after graduation. That’s fine, you have plenty of time and other opportunities. You have a degree, that’s the main thing!

My advice would be to work first in the industry you’ve graduated in and go from there. See if you like it or not. If you don’t then explore other options, but do it sooner rather than later.

The great thing about a Masters is it gives you further training in a specific field and puts you ahead of anyone who has a BA. The bad news is they are expensive, so make sure you’re 100% certain you want to do it.

An internship or work placement could be another way in to a different industry. Look online for opportunities or move to a big city where there are lots more opportunities; I appreciate that’s easier said than done, but being in London really helps! It’s not cheap mind, but if you worked full-time in retail whilst job hunting you’d survive and still have money for drinks in Soho on a Friday night.

By changing careers I’ve managed to learn new skills, meet great people and explore exciting opportunities. But most importantly, I now feel a lot happier with where my life and career will take me.

I need professional help!: “How do I work for a charity?”

I study English Language at university but I want to work for charity. The people I know who work for charities have economic or politics degrees, and it’s quite demoralising because I have no idea how to work for some of the organisations I love like People & Planet or Amnesty International.

I love writing but when I graduate I want to work for a cause I care about. I’m just wondering how?”

–  Sally Leonn, 24

Hi Sally,

You definitely don’t need a politics or economics degree to work for a charity!

I have a relatively modest PR job with a charity I love, and my politics degree has offered very little help in my day-to-day work. Charities care about two things: Skills and passion. If you have a tangible knowledge of how to write persuasively and a demonstrable passion through voluntary work, that puts you in good standing for a number of charity jobs.

There are easy rounds of experience you can include on your CV, such as: voluntary work on campus, student media volunteering, and/or relevant modules you got a particularly high grade in. (Make a special area in your CV’s ‘education’ section to list your strongest subjects.) If you haven’t graduated yet, it may even be worth considering a ‘wild’ module in politics or development alongside your existing degree – it’s worth discussing this with your student advisor (but it’s definitely not mandatory!)

Once your CV is flawless, you may want to keep these roles in mind when job hunting:

  • Fundraising Copywriter/Junior Copywriter
  • Content Editor (digital or otherwise)
  • Fundraising, Campaigns, or Membership Assistant
  • Junior Press Officer
  • PR Assistant/Officer

Every charity needs a strong communications department to educate others on their goals and raise funds or support. Charities do care about a track record of supporting causes, but your suitability for the job at hand will always trump all else. For example, if Amnesty International is hiring a receptionist, the candidate’s adoration of human rights is irrelevant if they don’t know how to file anything.

If you love writing, find a charity job that will allow you to learn a little more about human rights but with a strong daily focus on writing persuasively, communicating with others, and using skills gained at University.

The key skills needed to enter communications or copy writer roles at an NGO are verbal and written communication ability, the capacity to take on an ‘in-house style’ of writing, knowledge of media (local and national), and attention to detail. All of these skills can be displayed through voluntary media work (did you ever sub-edit your own writing or that of others?), module coursework (can you link to a portfolio of your best graded English work?), or ordinary experiences of dealing with volunteers (have you ever worked as part of a team for something as simple as a charity bake sale?)

Generally, anybody can work for charity – NGOs need financial buffs, language gurus and admin tsars as much as they need politics graduates. Good luck!

If you have a question about changing careers or study paths,
email the Topic Swapping team at topicswapping@gmail.com


What can famous skaters teach us about swapping careers?

By Jasper Wong for Topic Swapping

The world of skateboarding is a creative one, informed by a DIY punk ethos. A large number of professional skateboarders have vibrant, creative hobbies or side jobs, and despite its coveted status amongst lovers of the sport, there are many professionals who branch out and roll away from skating as a career.

There are some high profile examples of professional skaters who have changed careers (for better or for worse!), or are in the process of transitioning towards a different one.

jason lee my name is earl skateboarding career swap

Jason Lee, star of sitcom My Name Is Earl, started off as a professional skateboarder. He bloomed from a young upstart to a major part of the street skateboarding scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, famously being one of the proponents of 360 flips (a standard in every young skater’s trick-book).

His keen interest in acting led him to take on small roles in several minor TV productions. He promptly announced his retirement from skating and following his role in Mallrats, his career has gone from strength to strength: many don’t even know that Lee started as a professional skateboarder! Lee hasn’t strayed too far from his roots, however, and owns Stereo Skateboards, where he mentors the next generation of amateurs and professionals.

A creative career swap can work for skaters, but not without humility

One example of a skater completely changing paths and failing is Jereme Rogers. A teen prodigy sponsored by a major company, Rogers’ mix of stylish tricks and hilarious antics off the board seemed to ensure he would be a star for years to come. However, in 2010 and no longer a teen, he abruptly retired from skateboarding to pursue a career in rap. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this – but he ended up denouncing the skateboarding world where he had earned his stripes and alienating his sponsors, fans and fellow skaters. Take a listen for yourself:

There’s no nice way to say it: it’s pretty terrible. His music career faltered and a year after his retirement from skating Jereme promptly ‘unretired’, slinking back to his skateboard to any company who would have him. He has never hit the heights he was expected to hit before his ill-advised temporary retirement.

skating flip career swap.jpg

What are your unique selling points, and how can you apply them?

Inevitably between the movements there were skateboarders who became specialists in their styles – vert, freestyle – who suddenly found themselves struggling both creatively and financially when these styles went out of fashion. Rodney Mullen is one such skater. A freestyle pioneer back in the day, he found his style increasingly out of fashion when street skating became popular in the mid 90’s. Freestyle skating was mostly stationary, with freestylers doing multiple chains of complicated tricks. At a time when skateboarders were focusing on going fast and doing simpler tricks down big obstacles, Mullen felt himself becoming increasingly constrained: never one to jump down huge flights of stairs or to slide down handrails, he faced the risk of becoming obsolete. Mullen had virtually unparalleled technical brilliance on a skateboard and it was through combining his prowess as a freestyle skater with elements of the new street skateboarding style that he carved out a niche in which he could comfortably express his own creativity, stay a part of the company, whilst not sacrificing his roots as an innovator. Today, he is known as an elder statesman in professional skateboarding – a highly respected and influential skater, a public speaker, co-owner skateboard company Almost with a place in history as opposed to a relic of a bygone era.

arto saarto photograph autobiography photograph.jpg

Don’t be afraid to change when constrained

Being a professional skateboarder for years is physically taxing. Many skaters have changed their styles in the light of this fact when their bodies can no longer take the punishment their youthful selves inflicted. Professionals who built their career on jumping down building sized gaps and stairs usually slow down in their late twenties to early thirties, and switch their focus to less demanding skating, often focusing on style over size in terms of their tricks. Also, towards the tail end of a skater’s career, many skaters tend to transition elsewhere: professionals Jerry Hsu and Arto Saari, who were highly influential in the last decade have started to tend towards photography: Arto has become increasingly focused on skate photography, and is gradually spending more time capturing his fellow riders jumping down the stairs and rails he would have once been jumping down. Jerry Hsu, whose body is ‘completely wrecked’, in his own words, from over a decade of skating is a published photographer who has held exhibitions to showcase his extensive travels. Ed Templeton, a top professional back in the 90’s, founded Toy Machine Skateboards and gradually moved away over the years from the actual skateboarding and turned his attention to design and marketing within his company.

The Roots

Each of the skaters above found themselves at crossroads where they had to re-evaluate their roles as professionals, and many of them have transitioned towards new professions that are conducive to their natural creativity and curiosities. It’s important to never forget that your roots – integrating these roots into your new direction can be both professionally advisable and personally satisfying!

Experience: “Should I swap to an IT support apprenticeship?”

Apprenticeships have had their share of exposure in recent years. Dubbed ‘dead end‘ and ‘advantageous‘ in equal measure, modern apprentice jobs remain high on the news agenda 25 years after they were first introduced.

The question is: Which path is right for you, and could techies gain more from swapping to an apprenticeship?

Jack Stockbridge, 19, made the change a couple of years ago. After studying A Levels and finding the style of learning didn’t suit him, he took on an IT support apprenticeship. Jack gained a lot of experience, knowledge, and confidence from his placement with a school’s technology department and is keen to emphasise the benefits of swapping to an apprentice job.

We sat down with Jack to ask him more about what to expect when swapping from sixth form to an apprenticeship, along with the traits you need to get the most out of taking this route.

jack stockbridge it support technician

So, you swapped from studying three A levels (English, Electronics and Computing) to an IT support apprenticeship. Do you think people view both qualifications in the same way?

I think there’s a social stigma attached to apprenticeships, BTECS or non-traditional paths of education. Sometimes, those who don’t study A levels are judged as being of a lower intelligence or social standard.But they’re wrong. For me, the apprenticeship was the single most educational experience of my life.

Why do you think your apprenticeship was more educational than classroom learning?

In my apprenticeship, I was lucky. Not only did I learn masses about the subject area but also about people, company procedures and policy.

You mentioned that A levels didn’t suit what you wanted to learn at the time. Did you feel pressured into taking a path that wasn’t right for you?

I definitely did follow my friends from school to college because I thought it was a natural continuation, but the environment didn’t suit me.

Even when I did decide to pick an apprenticeship, it was only in lieu of working full-time. Once I started, I realised the level of knowledge I was gaining.

So your apprenticeship was a lot more valuable than you expected? Were you positively surprised by anything else?

I had no idea how much I was going to learn. I had a pretty basic understanding of IT through AS Levels, but it didn’t give me much information on the real world issues like setting up servers and running cables and just thinking of others when scheduling maintenance or my own work. You also have the benefits of full time work with the added safety net of living with parents so you don’t have to fend for yourself quite yet.

That does sound really useful, but were there any downsides?

It’s a big jump from being surrounded by peers your own age to being almost by yourself in a work environment being treated like an adult. You make friends but they’re colleagues, too, so the relationships are different.

There’s also a risk of stagnation. Once you have an apprenticeship and do well, you’re a shoo in for a long-term position. But sometimes the pay stays low. I was offered another year by my employers but had to turn it down because I couldn’t afford to be paid an apprentice’s wage for such a long time.

New figures suggest that fewer and fewer people are completing their apprenticeships. What traits do people need in order to gain something from their placement?

To do an apprenticeship you need to be independent. You need to be able to look after yourself and get on with work without being told what to do. If you can be proactive, that’s the best quality you can have.

Some people are much more suited to college. You won’t get fired if you miss a day of college or even a week. But in an apprenticeship you need to learn maturity so you don’t see a pay dock or real-life consequences.

You recently went back to college and will be starting university in September. Do you think your apprenticeship helped or hindered your path to a degree?

It’s much more difficult to go from apprenticeship to uni than leaving from college. You also have specialist staff at college who can support you with your UCAS application. Since I’ve been back at college I have realised there are no other paths from an NVQ [immediately to university] because you need a foundation year to do a degree after working in an apprenticeship.

Despite this, would you say swapping to an apprenticeship was the right decision for you at the time?

Definitely. It’s helped me go back to college with more knowledge and a greater awareness of what to expect in a real life job. IT apprenticeships offer so many avenues, so it was nice to spend time watching the work other people do and figuring out what I’ll enjoy most in the future.

For more information on whether an apprenticeship is right for you, check the National Career Service website for more details.

February: Top Networking Nights Londoners Can’t Afford to Miss

CONSULTING: Inspiring Women – Accenture
Top consultancy firm Accenture will be hosting BBC radio journo Emma Barnett. The presenter and columnist will discuss her career, spanning across every topic from politics to technology. Students thinking of applying for Accenture’s grad scheme are particularly welcome.

When: Tues, 16th Feb, 18.15-21.30
Where: America Square
How: Book here for free

CHARITY: Drinks and networking – I Am
This month, I Am’s networking shindig will include tips from public speaking guru Annik Rau. Talks are followed by drinks and a chance to mingle with everyone from charity newbies to third sector bigwigs.

When: Mon, 24th Feb, 18.30-21.00
Where: Brown’s, St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden
How: Book here. Tickets are £10 or £20 for a year’s free attendance

HR: Corporate Cocktails – IME
Human Resources megalith IME is hoping to help six unemployed graduates find work in the personnel industry. The firm is sponsoring chosen candidates to gain free entry to the event, as well as support via a free CV workshop.

When: Tues, 23rd Feb, 18.30-21.00
Where: Rocket, Holborn
How: Email IME answering four questions as to why you should be selected. Details here.

TECH: Digital learning, training, and rehabilitation – Festival for Digital Health
Can games cure us? This event aims to find out by exploring the success and failure of training apps in health. Experts in tech, health, and neurology promise to fascinate all would-be developers.

When: Tues, 23rd Feb, 15.00
Where: University College London, Gower Street
How: Tickets are free and open to the public

favotell career swap topic swapping

ART: East Meets West – Favotell
An informal launch celebrating Chinese Favotell’s entry into the UK market. Fans of the company’s support for striking art and fashion are invited to meet the founder.

When: Tues, 23rd Feb, 19.00
Where: No21 Home House
How: Free tickets can be booked here

ART: Development and Networking – Tower Hamlet Arts
As Hackney council announces its key partners for 2016, guests can listen to speakers from Grand Union Orchastra, Rich Mix, Arts Council England, and more. Budding artists are invited to discuss collaborations, find opportunities, and mingle with likeminded Londoners.

When: Tues, 23rd Feb, 18.00
Where: Mile End Pavilion 
How: Book your free tickets here

Richard Branson: ‘You can start a business with no experience’

Is it a requirement to have experience of the industry in which you’re setting up a business? Not at all, argues Richard Branson, just create something different…

“Think about changes you’d like to see as a customer – even if you’ve just noticed little details that need tweaking. Those little changes may add up to a big idea that leads to a new and truly disruptive product or service. This is essentially how we, at Virgin, launched our first successful businesses,” explains the Virgin Group founder in a recent blog post.

“We were very sensible when we started out, setting up connected enterprises like most other companies do. We went from running a small record shop to starting up a record label with recording studios and then added our large music megastores to our portfolio”.

“Though we were music fans, we knew little or nothing about any of those businesses. But we learned that this wasn’t necessarily a drawback. We were young and stubborn, and we liked to do things our own way; paradoxically, our enterprises thrived as a result”.

In the early days of Virgin Records, a lack of insider knowledge of the music industry was countered by the idea of inviting potential customers to spend hours in a cool shop listening to their favourite music. The vision was to not just treat people like consumers.

This way of doing things differently was also central in the creation of Virgin Atlantic. “I took the same approach: I knew nothing about air travel, but as I’d flown back and forth from Britain to the United States on business for Virgin Records, I’d become convinced that there had to be a better way. The prices were high and the service was dreadful,” Branson recalls.

Again, with no knowledge of the industry but plenty of ideas as to how the customer experience could be improved, Virgin Atlantic was born and proved its critics wrong.

We succeeded because we didn’t just create another “me too” airline

“We succeeded because we didn’t just create another “me too” airline, but took the same creative, customer-focused approach we had with our music businesses. We added all kinds of little service extras, the greatest of which was hiring cabin crew members who were actually nice to passengers – a detail that our competitors had overlooked!”

It was this same thinking that lead to Virgin Mobile allowing customers to buy SIM cards without a phone. “We believed that we could improve the service and the value offered to mobile customers in Britain, so we did.”

Creating a business with no experience in that field needn’t hold you back, there’s always the opportunity to hire those who know more about an area than you explains Branson

“These days, when we sail into uncharted waters, we try to hire CEOs and management team members who have worked in the industry and who know what to avoid. Such people frequently join us from a dominant player in the sector, where their ideas and ambitions were stifled by practices that are hierarchical, blinkered and focused on the bottom line.

“We look for people who want to bring radical change to an industry, give them the freedom to get creative and the backing of our brand, and then we step back and watch them fly. People often remark to me that it’s great how Virgin thinks outside the box. They are genuinely surprised when I tell them, “Actually we don’t! We just never let the box get built in the first place.”

This article was originally posted on Virgin.co.uk