It’s not often that a career in HR or L&D is inspired by a passion for cooking but that’s exactly what happened to Jennifer Cleverly-Jones. A Learning Support Coordinator with John Lewis Partnership (JLP), Jennifer recently successfully completed her Level 5 HR Consultant/Business Partner apprenticeship and became CIPD qualified with Watson Martin. Her story began when she was a branch cook at Waitrose and may give others thinking about joining the people profession as an apprentice some food for thought!
What is your current role?
I am a Learning Support Coordinator at John Lewis Partnership (JLP) where I am responsible for learning administration and support with training across the business. It’s a very varied role and every day looks different whether it’s training Waitrose Specialists to be able to advise customers or supporting JLP’s internal coaches and mentors with their work.
How did your apprenticeship come about?
I joined Waitrose in 2010 as a part-time supermarket assistant whilst I was still at Sixth Form. After completing my A-levels I decided university wasn’t the way I wanted to go. Cooking is my passion outside of work and an interest in food ethics was one of the main reasons I went for a job at Waitrose. I chose to stay on full-time and was a branch cook for four years. As part of that role I mentored and coached other cooks in the area which is when I realised that an HR or L&D career would be right for me. After studying for my CIPD Level 3 qualification outside of work, I applied for the Learning Support Coordinator role with JLP and after six months my manager encouraged me to start a Level 5 apprenticeship in HR.
What attracted you to HR/L&D?
I’m definitely a people person so I really enjoy the engagement and communication side of HR whether it’s with a sales assistant or a senior leader. I was a JLP forum representative so I was used to attending council meetings to present the views of partners from my branch. It was that engagement with my peers and projecting those views to senior leaders that really got me thinking about HR and L&D. Helping people to progress and develop is what I want to do for my career.
Was the CIPD qualification an important aspect of your apprenticeship?
The CIPD was a significant aspect but there were a number of areas of the apprenticeship that appealed. The Level 5 Diploma was attractive as I had just completed my Level 3 CIPD but the exposure to different areas of HR and L&D across JLP was of equal importance. The apprenticeship provides variety and exposure to different areas of HR which is valuable in terms of my future career progression.
How did you manage the off-the-job studying time and was your manager supportive?
Working out my study time was a little challenging at the start but I definitely felt that after the first couple of months I was able to carry on with my work in the usual way. We have peak times in retail but Watson Martin were really good at adjusting deadlines so I didn’t have to worry about handing in an assignment just before a busy period such as Christmas. I think it is about having that honest and open communication with your manager so you can speak up if you are struggling. I had a really good rapport with both of my managers who ensured I had the time for my studies. I always felt everything was managed well.
What has been your experience of studying for your apprenticeship with Watson Martin?
It’s been really good and I would definitely recommend other companies to use Watson Martin because I have had such a positive experience. I cannot rave enough about my adviser Marissa Bryan who was brilliant and really encouraging right from the start. She gave me some good feedback not only on my assignments but also opportunities for my development and what I might want to do in the future. She coached me through many different aspects of the apprenticeship and her support was invaluable. I cannot be anymore grateful for having her with me throughout my apprenticeship.
How did you work with your adviser?
Pre-Covid we did try and meet as often as we could face-to-face to discuss the assignment I was working on at the time. Then of course we went into the Covid virtual world but we still had regular contact. Marissa was always happy to talk over the phone or to meet virtually. We all had our challenges but all through that period of uncertainty Marissa always checked in to make sure I was alright. I felt she cared about my wellbeing, and I feel that is a testament to Watson Martin.
Did you find Watson Martin’s VLE and online resources useful?
Yes, I referenced it all the time! Everything was listed on the VLE for each module and there were helpful links and advice. Different media was used to make it more interesting so I wasn’t just reading through large amounts of information but listening to podcasts or watching a YouTube video which suited my learning style. There were webinars for each module which also supported my learning.
How has the apprenticeship and qualification improved your work?
Yes, definitely. Like others, my apprenticeship took longer to complete just because of Covid, but I’m now involved in more high level projects which I am really enjoying and which I didn’t have exposure to before. I am very happy in my role and the opportunities that are coming up.
What new skills and knowledge have you developed to support your role?
The apprenticeship enabled me to be confident about my knowledge and my strengths but also identifying things that I need to work on which I do think is a strength in itself. I can confidently speak to senior leaders of the business knowing I have the knowledge to back up what I’m saying. The main skill I took away from it was understanding the external market a little more. My career to date has revolved around JLP so I don’t have that external experience. Learning more about the sector I’m working in and how global issues affect the company has been useful. Just having that higher overview rather than being solely internal is helpful.
What are your ultimate career aims?
The apprenticeship has identified that L&D is what I want to do as a career so I am happy to stay in this area but would like to increase my exposure and climb the ladder. I am enjoying engaging in different projects and continuing to learn about the partnership and other opportunities.
Would you recommend Watson Martin to others?
Yes, absolutely. As I said, my adviser was brilliant and I had everything I needed to complete each assignment successfully.
Would you recommend an apprenticeship to others who want to progress their HR or L&D career?
Yes, I would. Completing my Level 5 apprenticeship with the support from both my company and Watson Martin was a really positive experience. Even though the 20% off the job training is initially difficult to get your head around when you work full time, it is easily achievable with a supportive manager. I am very proud to work for a retailer like JLP. I still love cooking but you won’t be seeing me on Bake Off just yet!
Jennifer’s adviser Marissa Bryan says:
From the outset, Jennifer embraced her HR apprenticeship with a willingness to learn and immerse herself in new projects. She showed great resilience and determination through challenging times and always adopted a ‘can-do’ attitude. Her portfolio of evidence was particularly well put together with many aspects that could be considered best practice, including reflective blogs. It was a pleasure to support Jennifer.”