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We spoke to former apprentice Gary Macdonald to hear about his career journey to becoming Group Director of Finance and Resources at Tees Valley Combined Authority.

What’s your name, where are you from, and where do you work?

I’m Gary Macdonald from Stockton-on-Tees and I’m Group Director of Finance and Resources at Tees Valley Combined Authority.

What does your day-to-day role involve?

Overall responsibility for the financial administration of the Tees Valley Combined Authority Group.

This includes Teesworks, best known for being the location of the former steelworks Teesworks is now the UK’s largest and most connected industrial zone, Teesside International Airport and the Combined Authority, which exists to secure investment, create jobs and transform the Tees Valley.

I work as part of the senior Director team alongside the Group CEO to provide financial leadership, advice and guidance on all aspects of the Group activities.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The difference we are making for the people of the Tees Valley. We dedicate ourselves to delivering key strategic projects that will make a difference not only now, but for future generations. I have lived here almost all of my life and can think of nothing better than trying to make a difference for your local area.

Where did you do your apprenticeship?

Cleveland County Council (as it was then before local government reorganisation in 1996) as an apprentice in their Trading Standards and Contract Management Unit.  This involved business administration tasks supporting these departments and learning core skills and experience, including my first work in an office environment.

Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

I liked the idea of combining “on the job” training and development with an academic qualification (BTEC in Business and Finance NVQ Level 3). The independence of managing myself and having a wage also appealed to me.

Did you always know what you wanted to do before starting your apprenticeship?

Yes! I had always wanted to be an Accountant (I know not a rocket scientist or an astronaut! It’s on my career folder from school believe it or not!).

I always liked working with numbers and always liked working in teams and with other people. I always saw being an accountant as more than just numbers but also the opportunity to work with organisations and as part of wider teams.  At the time I always felt like most organisations need someone to support them with finances so it felt like this type of job would provide me with opportunities to get involved with all sorts of projects/work.

I thought doing an apprenticeship would give me a start in understanding how business and administration services worked.  My apprenticeship provided me with key skills and experience, as well as opportunities towards the end of my apprenticeship to move into Finance related roles.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

There have been a few areas where I have really enjoyed working with people on projects across my career to date. I would have to say there are two highlights of my career so far.

The first is in my current role leading on the financial aspects to successfully acquire the Teesworks site and working with partners and colleagues to transform that site from what it was to what is now as a fantastic development opportunity to create thousands of jobs for local people.

The second is seeing the small part I have had to play in the development of people that I have worked with throughout my career who have gone onto fantastic roles and are leaders in their own right.

What would you say to someone thinking about starting an apprenticeship?

Don’t worry too much about having a precise picture in your mind of where you want to end up. An apprenticeship is not the end of your journey, it’s just the beginning!

The most important aspect for me is getting work experience alongside the opportunity to study for a qualification that will hopefully be a platform to progress onto other things. You will meet lots of people whilst you are working on an apprenticeship who are willing to help, share their experience, and offer valuable feedback.

Is there one myth you’d like to bust about apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are not a form of “cheap labour” for organisations.  Whilst other people in an organisation will naturally be on more money than you to begin with, you are getting access not only to work experience and key qualifications. You are also getting access to a variety of skilled and experienced work colleagues who can help you develop on your journey and this is invaluable in your working life.

Feeling inspired by Gary’s story? Click here to find out more about apprenticeships.