From Apprentice to Project Manager

Hi I’m Tom, a Junior Project Manager here at AO and this is my journey.

I have worked at AO for just under 3 years now, and can safely say I am cemented into the AO family. I started my time here as an apprentice and I’ve been on quite a journey to get where I am today…

I bring up the importance of having a ‘purpose’ quite a lot when I speak to people who are unsure of what to do career wise. I learnt the hard way how difficult it is when you have no plan of action, and are completely lost on what to do with yourself.

Having a purpose is key

After leaving college with an Engineering BTEC, I started a Civil Engineering course at University with high hopes for my future in that field. I was, to my surprise, completely underwhelmed by the subject and the course. Even the intense drinking and the many nights out couldn’t quite make it feel like the correct decision. My motivation had reached its limits.

It took an hour long lecture on the importance of soil (yes you are reading that correct) to finally push me over the edge and decide that the Civil Engineering life was not for me. I found it incredibly tough mentally to admit defeat and to leave uni – where all my mates were and where I had imagined myself spending the next 3 years.

My journey into AO

After uni I had no money, and no idea of what I wanted to do and at the time that was the main thing on my mind. I spoke to one of my good friends who suggested that I should come and work with her. She managed to get me a part time job so that I could start getting a bit of money together and get back into a routine.

I worked there for around 10months before noticing the AO recruitment advertisement online. At this point I was applying to all sorts of jobs, going to career advisors, and genuinely reaching desperation with the hunt for a meaningful career. I had set a standard for myself (not entirely sure what the standard was based on), but was finding it extremely difficult to find an opening or an initial stepping stone into the right direction.

It was actually my Mum, super Susan Hodges, who showed me the application for an apprenticeship at AO – she had high recommendation of the company due to recently receiving a well fitted dishwasher.


I originally applied for a digital marketing apprenticeship at AO, which to cut a long story short, ended up being unsuccessful after the final interview stage. This was not all bad news though…

The recruiter at the time mentioned another role opportunity, at the end of what could have been a very disappointing conversation. She mentioned that the managers who I interviewed with really liked my attitude and recommended that I should go for the Project Coordinator apprenticeship, based solely on my character and willingness to learn.

Whether this was truth or just to soften the blow, it was all the positivity I needed to keep my head up and to go through the whole interview process again. This really highlighted to me the sort of company and culture that AO has, recruiting people who share the same values and believing that the right people will learn and develop into the role. I had finally broken the deadlock and had been gifted an incredible opportunity.

AO’s culture

Since starting at AO, I have always been blown away with the culture and ‘family feel’ of the place. From day one I was encouraged to ask questions and to approach anyone if I needed anything. This took a while to get used to as having such helpful people around was such a nice, but frankly peculiar thing to adapt to. I mean this in the nicest possible way as this was genuinely a new experience for me to get my head around.

Another thing that I take for granted now, is the fact that everyone in the IT department seemed to speak in a language that was completely alien to me. I spent most of the first month trying to translate the many acronyms which software developers and quality engineers have in their vocabulary. I’d never even opened Microsoft Outlook before, this truly was my first rodeo…

My willingness to absorb information and to understand the topics of conversations really sped up my understanding of all things IT. Before I had chance to reflect on how I had adapted, I was able to interpret and challenge conversations in order to take away and process the relevant details.

AO Apprenticeship

Being an apprentice at AO is not what you would class as a stereotypical apprenticeship role…

Working in the Projects team within IT as a Project Coordinator apprentice, I was thrown into the deep-end and I have learned incredible amounts. I made many mistakes (and still do now) and always asked for feedback from those around me. I’d also like to add that I was never judged when I failed or made to feel judged, which is something I deem as incredibly important in a working culture.

I’ve learnt a lot about fear and that the fear of failing is what can hold back individuals from reaching their potential. It took me a while to adapt to this mind-set, but once I grasped that failing and learning from those failures was healthy, I really noticed a difference in my development.


As the first Project Coordinator apprentice to join the Projects team, I was truly the guinea pig in regards to training and qualifications. I had great support from my team, who allowed me to study alongside my day job. I managed to complete a level 3 IT Business consultant course, level 4 Associate Project Management course and the APM Associate Project Management PMQ qualification and accreditation. I am incredible grateful of AO for the opportunities I’ve had to further my knowledge and to gain qualifications.

Apprentices at AO are given the opportunity to complete the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. Over 18 months, myself and the other apprentices around the business went on two residentials, volunteered at various charities, developed a skill of our choice, took part in various physical activities and presented our learnings and growth as individuals back to an audience, including AO’s CEO John Roberts. This process taught me a lot about myself and gave me the stepping stones to push myself out of my comfort zone, and then reap the reward of confidence.

AO have also sponsored me through all sorts of physical challenges:

  • Tough Mudder (2016)
  • Manchester Half Marathon (2017)
  • Yorkshire 3 Peaks (2018)
  • Won a corporate 5aside football tournament (2018).

And finally…

It’s been quite the journey for me since joining AO. I’ve matured and my confidence and belief in myself has grown and continues to. I really hope this blog highlights the fact that a healthy desire to learn and develop as a person can lead to all sorts of opportunities, and the most exciting opportunities can be those that you are completely unaware of.