Saying no to the status quo: why I chose an apprenticeship over university

Thursday 6 February 2020, UCAS advice


Saying no to the status quo: why I chose an apprenticeship over university


As I advanced through my teenage years, I always knew university wasn’t for me. I wanted something more practical and hands-on. So, when I left sixth form and watched all my friends move cities to the likes of Nottingham, Leeds, and Manchester, I didn’t feel left out. Because I was moving to a new city too – London.

I was lucky enough to gain a place on the M&S Retail Management Apprenticeship, one of 14, from nearly 1,000 applicants. I felt incredibly privileged and excited to embark on a new challenge and join a massive company that’s going through a period of radical transformation.

Fast-forward eighteen months and I'm a few weeks into my seventh and final placement – this time at the Kings Road store – armed with the invaluable experience and knowledge I've picked up from the very first day of starting at M&S. And I'm loving it!

I was thrown in at the deep end right away, working in the Clothing & Home departments at two stores, before learning all about our Food business across four busy London stores.

On the shop floor at our renewal store

I was drafted in to help at Clapham Junction on opening day and got to meet CEO Steve Rowe and Food MD Stuart Machin. They were keen to hear from those of us on the frontline with customers about how the new format was working and how our customers were reacting. It was great to get their perspective on how the work we were doing contributed to driving change across the entire food business. Having seen my huge enthusiasm for the store and our renewal ‘test and learn’ concept, the leadership team even recommended I do my next placement there – which was music to my ears!

There has always been a lot of interest in the store – both internally and externally – so as you might expect, standards are very high. As a young apprentice, this was quite nerve-wracking for me, but I saw it as an opportunity to prove myself. I'm happy to say I passed my placement there and moved on to my next challenge! 

Changing at pace

I think the best thing about my apprenticeship is how fast-paced it is. Just as you get comfortable at one store, boom, it's time to move onto the next – and the next set of challenges. I guess you could see this as a bad thing, but there really is no better way to learn about the business and build up your experience. 

And given how much is going on right now – at both M&S and across the whole industry – I don’t think there’s a more exciting place to be than retail. The competition is fierce which means there’s a constant churn of innovation and fresh ideas – it’s a really interesting industry to work in.

Once I've completed my final placement, I'll hopefully qualify as a commercial manager and pursue my goal of becoming a store manager.

Grace Morris is nearing completion of M&S’ Level 4 retail management apprenticeship. The course teaches apprentices every aspect of what it takes to manage an M&S store, readying them to take on the role of commercial manager upon successful completion of the programme. Grace is passionate about her apprenticeship and has her sights set on becoming a store manager in the next few years.