Blazing a trail: Melanie’s Journey from Apprentice to Director
National Apprenticeship Week is just around the corner, and this year’s theme ‘Blaze a Trail’ focuses on encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to choose an apprenticeship as a pathway into their career. The week, running 4-8 March, will showcase the high-quality apprenticeship opportunities available across a wide variety of sectors.
Blazing her own trail for women in leadership, Melanie Nicholson started her career as a dental nursing apprentice and has since risen to become Seetec’s Executive Director of Excellence, Apprenticeships and Skills.
Melanie was only 18 when she signed up for her apprenticeship in surgical dental nursing at Warrington Hospital, where she worked in the Maximillia facial unit. After the three years working as an apprentice, Melanie was awarded a distinction upon the completion of her apprenticeship programme. This was swiftly followed by a job offer to teach the next generation of dental nurse apprentices.
This marked the start of Melanie’s journey within the skills industry, and after becoming a senior manager by 25 she had achieved director status at just 31.
Melanie said: “I absolutely loved my apprenticeship from day one. My friends who had gone to college had the same knowledge and qualifications at the end of three years’ study, but they did not have the same hands-on experience of working in a surgical or theatre environment. In addition to all this experience I was gaining, I was also being paid a salary.”
Melanie progressed quickly from tutoring and assessing apprentices and moved into quality-assurance and national management roles within large training providers. She was later promoted into the director position, heading up training and apprenticeships divisions within large corporate employers, many of which were male-dominated.
In one management role, Melanie admits she faced sexism from her peers. “I had a male colleague who was in a similar role once say to me: ‘You shouldn’t be on the same salary as me because you’re a woman.’
“I calmly pointed out to him that my performance and my team’s performance were continually higher than his, which meant that maybe I was better at the job than he was, and I should probably be paid more regardless of whether I was a woman or not.”
The challenges Melanie faced when she later became a director of a large corporate company were compounded by the fact she was also a single mum. This meant she would rely on her family and support network when her job frequently involved travel away and overnight stays away from home.
“I asked myself why I can’t have it all. It was very difficult at times, trying to juggle being the best mum I could be while balancing my career and the expectations from both my team and my employer,” Melanie recalls. “I was the only woman in the senior team and regularly the only woman in directors’ meetings. My male colleagues would regularly go to the pub after work to bond and talk shop and I would head off home to be with my son and relieve the childminder.
“Although at home with my son was where I wanted to be after work, it did make me feel slightly alienated from my peers. I was fortunate to have an extremely supportive managing director who taught me that success is earned and there is no such thing as short cuts, leadership is not a person or position, it’s a relationship built on trust and respect that leads to a shared vision.”
Throughout her career Melanie has trained, quality-assured or managed the training for tens of thousands of apprentices. Melanie’s son, now 23, also chose the apprenticeship route, signing up for an IT apprenticeship and progressing into a role within the training sector.
“When I was at school, our career guidance was limited and pushed the girls towards apprenticeships in hair and beauty and the boys into construction,” Melanie said. “Those who wanted to go on to university saw apprenticeships as a lower class of education.
“Thankfully people’s attitudes towards apprenticeships have become much more positive, especially with the recent reforms. Apprenticeships have been aligned to specific job roles with an emphasis on the skills, knowledge and behaviours required to do the job.
“Apprenticeships are now seen as a serious career path, especially with the introduction of degree apprenticeships which enable individuals to progress their learning while being employed.”
Melanie joined Seetec two years ago and takes national responsibility for the apprenticeship and skills delivery across the Group.
She said: “When I am working with young women, I really encourage them to think about being independent, what career they want for themselves, what they will enjoy doing.
“My message is don’t get up every morning just to do a job, get up to do something you really enjoy. Be yourself, believe in yourself and aspire to be the best you can be.”
For more information about our apprenticeship opportunities, contact a member of our team or telephone 01702 208270.