Zoe Smith, 20, is completing a food science and technology degree apprenticeship at Tesco—gaining a degree without accumulating student debt
Why did you choose to do a degree apprenticeship, rather than going to university?
I’ve always been more of a ‘learn through experience’ kind of person, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to learn on the job while still getting a degree. Plus, I’m not accumulating student debt—I’m earning a salary instead!
What does your apprenticeship involve?
Life as a technical apprentice is extremely varied—no two days are the same! I’m helping to ensure customers are provided with exciting and enjoyable products that are safe, high-quality and legally compliant.
What experience have you gained?
The question should really be, what experience haven’t I gained!? These past two years have been packed full of new experiences, interacting with suppliers, collaborating with various teams and learning how to communicate in the most effective way. The most useful thing I’ve learned is that no question is a stupid question. The more questions you ask, the more knowledge you gain.
How does Tesco help you with your personal development?
My team and my line manager regularly encourage me to discuss and review my personal development plan, keeping it up to date and detailed, to ensure I get as much out of it as possible. We discuss upcoming development opportunities and training courses I could attend. When I first started at Tesco, I completed training on the five leadership behaviours—resilience, empathy, collaboration, responsiveness and innovation. I’ve also completed technical training related to my role.
What has been the steepest learning curve?
Time management. Of course, completing a degree while working full time was going to be demanding, so learning to manage my time has been key. Assigning set time to my studies, and not wandering between Tesco work and university work, has been essential for me to meet my university deadlines.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
My whole life I have dreaded being asked to do a presentation. Two months into my apprenticeship, I was asked to do a talk on Tesco apprenticeships at a careers fair, and I went for it! The sense of achievement I got from doing that talk made me eager to do more presentations. The next few I did, I was still nervous, but my confidence grew until I didn’t dread them anymore.
How have you been supported by your colleagues?
My line manager, category manager and team have all been amazing. They’re always encouraging and supportive, taking a keen interest in what I’m learning at university. They’re happy to help me with my assignments, upskilling me in specific areas and proof-reading drafts with me. The other apprentices at Tesco are also a great support, both socially and from a work perspective.
What’s the culture like at Tesco?
Tesco has such a friendly and welcoming culture, mixed with the perfect combination of fun, enthusiasm and determination. Not once have I felt that I was being a hindrance or that there was no one to support me if I felt unsure of something—everyone is always so eager to lend a hand.
How does Tesco make you feel welcome?
Starting at Tesco as an 18-year-old girl, I felt pretty nervous entering what I thought would be this big corporate world, but I have never felt out of place in the slightest. There’s such a variety of people at Tesco, so everyone fits in! My team has always made me feel welcome by inviting me down to the canteen for a group lunch, going for regular coffees and catch-ups, and just general chit-chat about weekends and home life.
What is your advice for someone who is thinking about applying?
As long as you have a passion for what you do, you’ll do great! All the experience and knowledge you need will be provided throughout your apprenticeship. Providing you’re eager to learn and get stuck in, you’ll be absolutely fine.
Check out Tesco’s new business management degree apprenticeship: tesco-careers.com/programmes