Mark Norman-Ball, Deputy OnShore Manager, provides an insight into his involvement in Bond Dickinson's apprenticeship scheme and what's next for this exciting pathway.

Mark Norman Ball

At school I excelled in art. I was a classical straight-A student and had a clear pathway ahead of me – I wanted to be an architect or graphic designer. Careers advice was limited and finishing my A Levels and transitioning to university was all I knew and all had in mind. At the time, funding for my studies was provided by the government and student loans, although minimal, would be all I'd need to help me move towards my career choice.

In the same way I now (occasionally) struggle with my 10 year old daughters maths homework, my parents (although incredibly supportive) had a very limited understanding of the career options and opportunities available to me. What they did know, was based only on their own education and career choices. I had a single, unmemorable meeting with a careers adviser in Sixth Form College and if asked at that stage of my life whether I'd have considered an apprenticeship, I'm confident my young mind would have drawn unfavourable comparisons with manual labour or aspiring sportsmen on Youth Training Scheme's with lower league, professional football teams.

At the age of 18 my role models were Alan Shearer, Liam Gallagher and Pixar's Toy Story was the big show in town but I'd lost the enjoyment I once derived from cubist interpretations of still life objects and landscapes. I gave greater focus to traditional academic subjects - albeit only with moderate success. With no 'Plan B', with no significant life experience, work experience or careers advice, I'd concluded the best choice for me was to study a subject my friends valued more than I did (Economics) at university because there was no other way, as far as I knew, to pursue the professional career I now wanted.

Post-graduation and after 16 years of working my way up the career ladder in the financial services sector, I'd developed a strong sense of enjoyment supporting the development of my colleagues. I'd been a Team Manager for a diverse group of colourful characters and despite being part of a high performing team, felt I needed a new challenge and was fortunate to be offered a management role in the OnShore team. At the time, I wasn't aware Bond Dickinson had started its first legal apprenticeship programme and somewhat by chance, was offered the opportunity to work with apprentices (one incumbent mentor was moving from the Plymouth office to the Bristol office and another was shortly starting her maternity leave). Armed with only my earlier preconceptions and an employer handbook, I met each apprentice weekly to learn more about them as individuals and the work they were involved with. I soon realised that having all apprentices under the same umbrella of support was going to be more effective for their individual and collective progress and agreed with management to work with our third apprentice also.

This small change was effective from January 2015 however throughout the preceding Christmas period, I'd also started to consider what more could be done to help drive our programme from good to great. I actively decided to establish a relationship with the administrative team at CILEx Law School (our delivery programme provider) which during the following 2 years would become very productive. If any of our apprentices experience problems I now know where to go to get this fixed quickly and have a good relationship with their assessors who visit the office regularly. Meeting our apprentices to discuss their progress wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity, so I arranged to have access to their learning profiles not only to see their progress, but also to anticipate where we could add value and plan in advance for outstanding competencies. This is also important when I review and sign their personal statements which summarise how they have demonstrated their individual competencies.

We've done a lot to make our programme function smoothly and what you've read so far may cast an image of 'process' and 'results'. Let's be clear, these are important. Meaningful data and effective frameworks (in any business or any role) allows us to manage our progress and we should all be well informed when making decisions. But there is so much more to what we have at Bond Dickinson. So, so much more.

Alan Shearer has now hung up his boots, Liam Gallagher hasn’t gone onto much since Oasis split and the biggest show in town was hosted by Chris Achiampong, Daisy Coombes and Dave Gooden, all very inspiring apprentices, at the National Apprenticeship Awards in January where Bond Dickinson won the prestigious Large Newcomer of the Year award. I now look up to the likes of Jack, Casey, Florence, Courtney, Sian, James, Issie, Alice and Maggie, OnShore's own apprentices. I appreciate how hard the choice may have been to pursue a relatively new apprenticeship pathway, possibly under the questioning gaze of their parents and teachers, to study and work all at the same time. I feel very comfortable saying our apprenticeship isn’t an 'easy option' but it can be an exceptional opportunity for all involved.  

So how would I summarise my involvement? Interested (very). Enthused. Engaged. Immersed. Given my age and that of the apprentices who join, I suppose parental wouldn’t be out of place. For those of us with children who play sports, rooting for your son or daughter to do well can be an emotional experience and I'll feel no differently when CILEx release their next series of results in March. James earned a distinction last week for his Contract Law Unit and we all felt delighted for him. Happily, good grades aren't uncommon to our group of legal apprentices. We're confident these grades are directly proportional not only to their individual talent (and they are very talented), but also the time and opportunity invested in each, every day, during a two year process.

We'll start shortlisting candidates during this year's recruitment process in a few months ahead of work placements in June and enrolment in September. We've seen unprecedented interest this year and no doubt we'll break a few hearts when finalising successful candidates. I strongly believe an apprenticeship role with Bond Dickinson is the legal equivalent of Willy Wonka's golden ticket and can't wait to not only meet our new joiners, but also celebrate our Year 2 apprentices graduating!

In many ways our win at the National Apprenticeship Awards can be viewed as the end of a chapter. I'd like to believe it's actually the beginning of another.