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Life on the Fast Track - Francesca Jackson

Give us a little background about yourself

I joined the civil service Fast Track apprenticeship scheme in September 2014 in Cohort two, Finance Fast Track apprentice based in Blackpool, North West. I left college not really wanting to go onto university and incur all the debt to be left with no job guarantees. I also really wanted to be independent and not have to rely on my parents for anything without having to sacrifice my social life. I wanted to continue in my learning and development to become a qualified accountant when I came across the advert on Google for this scheme. I had applied for all the big four accountancy firms however unbeknown to me, this scheme offered a much better range of opportunities. When I was at college I managed to juggle two part time jobs whilst studying for my A-Levels in Maths, business studies and accounting. I worked at Starbucks on my weekends covering hours ranging from 6am to 11pm and at a doctors reception during the week after college. Moving into a full time job was a relief as I finally got my weekends back!

I am a keen gym goer and enjoy any social activities, especially outside.

What is your role?

My first placement involved producing Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) annual report and accounts. This involved me building relationships and networking with people throughout DWP to gauge a reason for their spending and reasons for and changes on last year’s spending. My team and I then report this to the secretary of state and finance director for their select committees and any other meeting where they are challenged.

My second placement involves me overviewing performance of a supplier and managing their contract. This is an exciting role and the contract is high profile and we have to ensure we are getting value for money out of our suppliers and only paying them for services they deliver. As well as the monthly performance reviews, I also deal with any urgent issues that arise. These could range from IT systems going down to contractual disputes. Through having these Ad-hoc issues, it keeps me on my toes, helping me develop and learn something new every day.

As well as my day job; I also take part in various schemes across government such as recruitment campaigns for senior civil servants, career fairs for students and fraud investigation. This scheme offers you so many opportunities that it’s hard to keep up!

I attended the launch of apprenticeship week in the House of Commons, where highly trained professionals from both the public and private sector spoke about the opportunities they offer and the benefits of apprenticeships.

My experience and skills have developed enormously through having the opportunity to join the Fast Track apprenticeship. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to progress up the career ladder and challenge themselves in every area.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

My day kicked off with the train into London and a few tube stops later, I arrived at CIMA’s headquarters. I picked my name badge up from the reception and made my way through to the events room. Chairs lined up pointing towards a stage upper level stage with reserve signs awaited me and my team. All nerves were calmed after watching motivational speeches from existing apprentices from firms such as jaguar land rover and Siemens; when the host announced ‘Civil Service Fast Track Apprenticeship’. We were up. Within my cohort/intake of North West Finance Apprentices, there the six of us stood in the spot light ready to grasp the audience’s attention with our enthusiasm and experiences. Our presentation showed the audience what a great opportunity the Fast Track apprenticeship was and how much we had all gained form the scheme to date, also discussing and promoting higher apprenticeships. Following the twenty minute presentation, a networking lunch was provided where we was able to speak with school leavers around their options in the future and the benefits of an apprenticeship. After a few triangular sandwiches and aspiring speeches to future leaders, I and my team headed towards the House of Commons where the security guard seemed puzzled by my eyelash curlers. A quick nip into the gift shop and a pen later, we joined the launch of professions week. This launch event was created to give young people the exciting opportunity to understand what the variety of professions can offer them and the importance of further education. This event provided an ideal forum for networking and a great opportunity to learn more about other professions, whilst raising the profile and increasing awareness, amongst students and professionals alike, of the Government Finance Profession. Guest speakers included Baroness Garden, the Government Whip, who enthusiastically communicated the value of pursuing a career within the professions. Alongside her was Dr Melanie Windridge, a physicist and communicator, who delivered an impassioned speech on the importance of education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths). If all that wasn’t enough excitement for one evening we were even treated to copious amounts of tea and cake! My evening came to a close after Dinner out with other apprentices and back to the hotel before my next big day ahead, feeling empowered and motivated to progress my career.

What do you like about the Fast Track?

The best characteristic about the Fast Track scheme is the amount of opportunity’s you get offered, and not just any opportunities, the most high profile, exciting and enjoyable opportunities. Being part of a cross government objective to promote diversity and inclusion led to me mentoring students on the schools outreach programme on employability and transferable skills. Opportunities like this have arisen with giving a presentation around the apprenticeship to career advisors in a London eye pod and taking part of a role playing exercise for recruitment of senior civil servants, etc.

Another fantastic point to make is the atmosphere; I am based in Blackpool and currently operate flexible working. You manage your own working hours and the work life balance is fantastic whilst also getting all my tasks done and being encouraged to challenge myself.

The third most important benefit to the scheme is the level 4 qualification. I will gain my CIMA certificate qualification which sets me up to complete my professional level; whilst also gaining two level four business diplomas in IT and Business Administration. Alongside these formal qualifications, the civil service is always pushing continuous improvements and offering you development learning opportunities.

How did you find out about the position?

I came across the scheme on Google just by chance as I was searching the big four accountancy firms. I am so grateful that I came across this opportunity and am excited about my future in the civil service.

How did you apply for the position? Was it easy, what was the process?

To apply for the Fast Track apprenticeship, I went onto and registered my interest. When I received the email to say the applications were open, I dived into the application form; completing any personal details and work experience. Following this, I received two online tests, numerical and verbal to be completed within a time frame. These tests take about a half hour each and test both your skills, working under pressure and time management. Once I passed these, I received a situational judgement test and a competency questionnaire. These tested my ability to respond to situations in the best way and my existing transferable skills. Following the completing and passing of these online tests, I received an invitation to a Fast Track assessment centre. I attended an assessment in Manchester which started at 1pm and finished around 4:30pm. This half day assessment consisted if a written assessment, group exercise and an interview. Following this assessment centre where everyone was very welcoming and settled my nerves, I received a successful email confirming the offer. I quickly confirmed the position. This process was very simple and well organised. Nothing to worry about, just prepare for the interview!

What advice would you give to someone that wanted to follow in your footsteps?

I would recommend being yourself, the best version of yourself. Motivation is key and I think on my assessment day my enthusiasm, motivation and drive for development came across. The interview panel seems intrigued at how much I pushed myself and was driven to be the best I could have been.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think this apprenticeship is one of the most rewarding and exciting schemes out there. All my friends are in low paid, small accountancy/business firms and while they understand their business well as its smaller, the depth of opportunities and range of job roles open to me is amazing. I recommend the civil service as a great place to work for anyone looking to improve and develop as an individual. The focus on self-development is huge and so many individuals I work with a continuously improving their skills and gaining qualifications. It’s such a great place to kick start your career.

What would you like to do next and how do you think this scheme will help?

I would like to apply for a promotion and move up on the career ladder as I think the skills and experience I have developed throughout my two years on the scheme have given me confidence and motivation to carry out a HEO grade job role. I have already received approval for my business on continuing my CIMA professional qualification which I will be completing for a few years before qualifying as a Chartered Management Accountant. After completing my finance qualification I shall be aiming on progressing my range of experience.

Visit the Fast Track homepage on GOV.UK for more information on who can apply, how to apply and the different apprenticeship schemes on offer. 

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