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Apprentice to Director, Q&A with Kelly Bailey

08 Mar 2024

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke to Kelly Bailey, Business Development Director at GC Education and Skills, about her inspirational career journey as a woman in a leadership position.

She shared her journey from starting as an apprentice to becoming a director and the obstacles she had to overcome to achieve this, as well as some advice for young women aspiring to progress in their careers.

Tell us about your career journey.

I left school in 1996 and started a business studies course at college. I remember thinking that I could be learning the same things with a company instead, so I got an apprenticeship with an IT company. I started as a receptionist and quickly progressed to a customer service advisor and during this time I completed three different apprenticeships, Business Administration level 2 & 3 and level 3 Customer Service.

I then started to mentor other apprentices and was offered a position with a training company as a Trainee Assessor. My role was to go out to new apprentices and work with them on their journey. I also got to do a lot of school visits which is how I found out that I loved the recruitment side and that’s when I went into Business Development as a learner engagement officer, working with employers and learners.

I later joined another organisation in Learner Engagement, and I worked there for 12 years and worked my way up to Deputy Sales Manager. Following that I then went to work for a different company as Regional Sales manager and within four years I was promoted to Head of Sales and worked there for 7 years and then became Business Development Director. Most recently I joined the Growth Company in 2020, as Business Development Director.

How did an apprenticeship support your career development?

Over the last 25 years I have worked my way up and done every role from business administration apprentice right up to being a director today, which has helped me get the respect from my team. If they’re stuck with something there’s a chance that I’ll be able to help because I’ve done the job. My team have told me that they find that quite refreshing.

I’m still passionate today about apprenticeships and even at the weekend when I’m watching my son play football, I’m talking to other parents that don’t know anything about apprenticeships, and I’ve encouraged my son to go into an apprenticeship. I think it’s important for people to know that they don’t have to have a degree to progress in their career, you can be just as successful by going down the vocational route.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

I remember a few years ago there was an opportunity for a promotion but I knew that the role would involve a lot of national travel, so I was thinking about how I’d be able to balance that with nursery runs and also the cost. Luckily for me as soon as I went home my husband said ‘go for it, we'll make it work’.

I think women just have more to work out and there are more obstacles trying to balance family life and it can be a real challenge. Being able to have flexibility from your employer is important and I’m lucky to have worked with a number of supportive managers. Having a supportive team has also helped over the years, knowing that there are people around me who understand the challenges.

Having mentors really helps as well, other women in senior roles that you can see have been able to manage having children and having a career, because I think especially when I was younger it was either you’d have to choose between one or the other.

I think now that there are more opportunities to work remotely it definitely evens out the playing field and allows employers to build a more diverse workforce.

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to leadership roles?

I think definitely look for a mentor. A lot of people in senior positions are always happy, as I am, to talk to younger women who need advice on how to balance their careers with their other commitments and make it work.

Don’t hold back, if you see an opportunity, go for it.

If you would like to find out more about the apprenticeship vacancies we currently have available to help kickstart your career, click here.