The trials and tribulations of a trainer

Image of trainer and learners

As mentioned in my copywriting journey blog, I decided to branch out into training and coaching around 10 years into my freelancing career. Back in 2019 (or late 2018, I really can’t remember), I was faffing about on Indeed when an advert caught my eye. It was for a ‘Digital Marketing Mentor’ and the role was to work with apprentices on a freelance basis, through a training provider based in Leicestershire.

I applied and, to cut a long story short, became one of the company’s first mentors (often referred to in the industry as ‘development coaches’) for the new wave of apprenticeship standards. These had recently been introduced to replace the old framework system, so no one was very familiar with how they worked at this stage. I did some training on the company’s processes and e-portfolio – an IT system used to monitor the apprentice’s progress, set and mark assignments, keep an eye on Off The Job Training (OTJT), and much more.

In at the deep end

By April 2019, I’d been assigned my first three learners. One was studying Level 4 PR & Communications (foundation degree level) and two were doing Level 3 Junior Content Producer, now called Content Creator, which is A level standard. It’s fair to say I was absolutely terrified and felt completely out of my depth.

Over the next few months, I underwent something akin to a baptism of fire. I’d run workshops and team coaching sessions in the past, but never with a formal, potentially career-changing, qualification at the end. I took on a couple more learners and before long, I was spending nearly as much time teaching as I was writing. (At one point in 2019, I had seven learners and swore I’d never have that many again – only to end up with eight in 2022!)

When I first started teaching, I’ll be completely honest: I was crap. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and didn’t know how to download the contents of my brain cell into a properly structured teaching session that would actually benefit the apprentice. Quite early on, one of my newer learners wasn’t happy and asked for a different mentor; I wasn’t surprised!

Learning how to teach

What saved my bacon was a training session at the company’s HQ. These were held every few months and referred to as ‘standardisation sessions’. One of the other mentors, who was highly experienced, gave a teaching demo using a PowerPoint slide deck which gave structure, depth and meaning to the session. It was interactive with quick-fire quizzes, activities, video clips and discussions, as well as the mentor teaching verbally.

From that day on and to this day, every teaching session I deliver uses a similar slide deck. These take hours and hours to put together – not all of which are always billable – and really put my research skills to work. But the best thing is, I’ve learned and continue to learn, a huge amount about PR, communications, content production, digital marketing, and more. (I knew quite a lot when I started teaching, but I know a great deal more now!) I also became, and still am, something of a PowerPoint nerd.

Spreading my wings

By the time I’d been with the training provider for a couple of years, I’d added Level 4 Marketing Executive and Level 3 Business Administration to my teaching portfolio. Along with the other mentors, I was also delivering regular seminars on a wide range of topics, from Life as a Creative Freelancer to Crisis Communications.

In 2021, I was asked to help create and run two 12 week Digital Skills bootcamps as part of a Government initiative to upskill jobseekers, employees and budding entrepreneurs. The first set of bootcamps was a seriously tall order as each four hour session had to be prepared from scratch (a normal teaching session would only last one hour, although other agenda items made most meetings around two hours long). It was great fun, though, and very gratifying to get some amazing feedback from the learners afterwards.

At some point, I actually got quite good at teaching – something I never would have thought possible when I started out in 2019. The training provider had faith in me, which really boosted my confidence. So, I was very pleased when they asked me to help out in other areas, like doing quality audits for other mentors and creating Schemes of Work, Session Plans and teaching resources for some of the standards. I also completed a Level 3 in Education & Training, which I’m very grateful to them for funding.

End of an era…and a new beginning

Sadly, the training provider closed down in November 2022. I’m now working for a different company, but my focus has changed towards building a training and coaching business under the Black & Write name. My corporate clients already include Nottingham Trent University and the Builders Merchants Federation, and I hope to add more as 2023 goes on.

There’s a lot more I could say about my experiences with training, coaching and mentoring. Interviews with the dreaded Ofsted, for example. The frustrations of working with the (thankfully few) learners who just couldn’t be arsed and/or fibbed about completing assignments or OTJT. My pride in seeing the apprentices pass their courses, one with Merit and five with Distinction, with many working under very difficult circumstances during lockdown.

But I think that’s quite enough for now. All that’s left to say is a huge ‘thank you’ to my first training provider for opening the door to some fantastic experiences and an enormous learning curve that’s truly changed and diversified my career. And, most of all, thank you to the learners. I’ve learned as much from you as (I hope) you’ve learned from me.

If you’d like to know more about my training and coaching services, please get in touch.