Could a degree apprenticeship work for you? One man’s story

After a career in the armed forces, Martyn Carroll is now working for South Western Railway whilst studying for the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship with The Open University.

degree apprenticeship


Martyn Carroll has dyslexia and found school difficult, leaving aged 16. But proving a learning difference and age should not be a barrier to higher education, he is currently undertaking a degree apprenticeship with the Open University at South Western Railway. We asked him all about it.

What sparked you to go back and retrain?

Having worked in companies with limited potential for supported continuing personal development, I was quickly alerted to SWR’s REACh initiative (the Railway Employee Apprenticeship Challenge). The opportunity to formally learn and expand my knowledge, ultimately leading to a degree apprenticeship through The Open University, was a no brainer for me.

I am an Army veteran and from day one of my 24 years in service I was taught to believe it is my responsibility to improve and demonstrate my ambition and readiness to advance. SWR is providing the support and opportunity for me to continue to drive towards that belief.

How did you juggle that with a family?

There is no easy answer or shortcut to maintaining the commitment to learn and being there for your family as well. But studying with the OU allowed me the flexibility to juggle family and my studies to the best of my abilities.

For me, having them as part of the learning process stops me from feeling adrift and/or inattentive. Being dyslexic brings certain extra challenges to my learning experience, but once I found the confidence to share the need for proactive support, the family became like a collective apprentice, who get to celebrate my positive results and who share the desire to work to improve when required.

Ultimately, being organised, having a flexible study plan and communicating the learning requirement with my family ensures I get their support, patience and engagement while managing expectations of my availability. Beyond that, ensuring that when I am with them, I am with them in body and mind.

How do degree apprenticeships work at your company?

The SWR REACh initiative provides a suite of apprenticeships at various levels and in varying disciplines. This translates to an ever-improving employee community, constantly engaging in new ideas and equipped with the awareness of potential technological advancement. In addition to my day job, I study for the degree element of my apprenticeship which is delivered by The Open University.

What do you think they offer to other people?

An employee community that enhances its core knowledge, thinking and proficiency of application. It subconsciously supplants the ‘we have always done it this way’ mantra, which can be pervasive in an industry like rail, with an acceptance of the need to evolve and learn. It’s important that learning doesn’t discriminate, so I think it’s fantastic that companies like SWR and learning providers such as the OU are giving people like me the opportunity to still achieve my ambitions despite my age and background. Apprenticeships are typically promoted to be for school leavers, so I think more employers should look into hiring older apprentices to offer equal opportunity and to diversify their workforce.

How will this impact your family life moving forward?

I see my journey forward as having an overwhelmingly positive impact on my family. The ability to be able to progress in my career has clear, beneficial implications for my family, and I really draw great joy from making them proud as they hopefully see me as a greater role model. Engaging in this level of learning at my age was seen by my family as a big and brave commitment, but I believe it is one that will benefit all of us.

What kind of family-friendly policies are there at your company and how have you participated in them?

I joined SWR in July 2020 and Covid-19 meant that much of my interaction with the wider business has been primarily virtual, so I haven’t needed to engage with or seek family friendly policies as such.

What I can say is that my experiences so far have demonstrated to me that SWR has an engaging and inclusive approach to the balance between work life and home life. The business invests in wellness awareness and assistance which transcends the workplace, not just working on the employee’s professional performance, but also offering personal support and development.

Read more:

How the pandemic changed one man’s idea of how to work

Sandwich care: caught between a rock and a hard place

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