Grace Cullen, Defra Communications Public Relations And Communications Apprentice
1 year ago

“I could talk for ages about how beneficial apprenticeships are! I recently went back to my old school and spoke to them about it”

Hi, I am Grace Cullen and I work in Defra Communications. I started as an apprentice in the External Affairs team just over two years ago in October 2020 and am now a Higher Executive Officer

I am currently doing a secondment into the Press Office where even though I am no longer an apprentice, I am continuing my learning of all things communications!  

Which apprenticeship have you completed?

Public relations and communications Apprenticeship  

I used this as my entry role into the Civil Service, coming straight from school after completing my A Levels. 

I was a little nervous, but mostly excited to take the first step in my career. I was warmly welcomed into my team and the Department which pushed me to grow throughout my apprenticeship. 

When I was in school approaching the next steps post sixth form, I knew I didn’t want to go to university. My main reasons for this were that I felt I had had enough of studying in the typical academic way. I was very studious at school and my teachers were surprised when I said I didn’t want to go to university, and many persuaded me to reconsider. However, I knew I wanted to try a different type of education. Frankly, I was tired of cramming for exams, taking them, and then forgetting what I had revised to prep for my next test! 

I took Politics as one of my A-Levels and loved it! I also did work experience in a PR firm during the summer and loved that. So, I started googling ‘Current Affairs PR apprenticeships’ and I stumbled across the apprenticeship I took.  

What did the apprenticeship involve?

The apprenticeship involved twice monthly online seminars on PR and communications. It also required 20% ‘off-the-job learning’ which included written tasks, research, and my favourite – shadowing. 

One of the most invaluable things I got to do as an apprentice was shadowing stints in each of the different communications teams. External Affairs remained my base, but I spent some time in Press Office, Digital, Campaigns, and Internal Comms. I can’t articulate how great it was to have those experiences and widen my network across communications and get my name and face out there. I also got to try lots of different communications activities and see what I enjoyed the most., 

In terms of support, I had wonderful line managers who mentored me, sought countless opportunities, and often pushed me out of my comfort zone. They also made sure that I was able to balance my apprenticeship requirements alongside my busy day job. 

I was also so grateful for the support of the other apprentices in my cohort. As it was a cross-government apprenticeship, I was able to meet people from across Whitehall and further widen my network. 

How have you been able to apply the skills gained in your apprenticeship?  

As an apprentice, I got to take part in and lead some really exciting work. This included co-chairing an all-staff call with the Permanent Secretary, communications planning for landmark animal welfare legislation, attending and organising ministerial visits, and much more! 

For my final assessment, I organised a stakeholder reception which took place at 2 Marsham Street. This included planning the event and seeking approval from the Permanent Secretary, organising logistics and finance, developing communications for the event, and conducting an evaluation.

The event was attended by 50 external stakeholders, and 30 staff and included a stakeholder panel on sustainability. 

Organising this event was not something I would have done without my apprenticeship and was a real learning curve and a moment to be proud of what I had achieved. 


How beneficial is the Apprenticeship? 

I could talk for ages about how beneficial apprenticeships are! I recently went back to my old school and spoke to them about it! I think the best thing about being an apprentice is simply the fact that you have that label attached to you. 

Because of the nature of the role, you are just given so many opportunities to learn and grow. I have found that people are always willing to lend their time, advice, and expertise to apprentices. There is also an understanding that you are still learning, and you can capitalise on that by asking all the questions, seeking out shadowing opportunities, and prioritising your development. 

What advice would you give to someone considering an apprenticeship?

If you are considering an apprenticeship I would say go for it! It is hard work, but it is also incredibly rewarding. You will find that you come out the other end as a new person, with more professional experience but also more confidence and self-assurance. 

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