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From Care Home To The Boardroom: Harry Robinson’s Journey With Boardroom Apprentice

By Zahra Baz


Childhood experience of being in the care system has played an important role in the career path for Harry Robinson, giving him a strong desire to give back to his local community.


Currently employed as Head of School at Belfast Metropolitan College, Harry has spent 20 years working in further education helping to provide opportunities for those facing barriers to education.


A passionate advocate for education and lifelong learning, last year the Belfast native took another important step on his own journey from the care home to the boardroom by applying for the Boardroom Apprentice programme.


It is Harry’s hope that in sharing his own experience he may encourage others who have had similar challenges to do the same.

He explained: “Before applying, I had spoken to a few colleagues that had taken part in previous years and they were very enthusiastic about their experience of Boardroom Apprentice, which got me interested in finding out more.


“When I saw what was involved in the programme, I knew that I wanted to apply for both professional and personal reasons. Professionally, I knew that the experience gained from Boardroom Apprentice would help me to develop skills and confidence.


Personally, I’ve always wanted to be able to contribute to Northern Ireland’s society in areas that are important to me.


“I could tell board work was the way forward and the best way for me to achieve this, but I was conscious that while I have relevant work based experience, I didn’t have any direct experience at board level.”


Created in 2017 by Eileen Mullan, the Boardroom Apprentice offers a unique opportunity spanning over the course of a year.


The programme provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals interested in serving on public or third sector boards to gain hands-on experience and develop their skills.


By blending board training, personal growth, and practical placements, participants are offered an exciting and transformative journey, equipping them with the knowledge and confidence to thrive on a board.


During his Boardroom Apprentice experience, the 51-year-old was placed with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, based in central Belfast; a non-departmental public body that works to promote and enforce equality laws in Northern Ireland.


“When applying for Boardroom Apprentice you get the opportunity to list three potential boards that you’re interested in. I was particularly keen to be matched with the Equality Commission and was absolutely delighted to be placed there.”


Despite knowing that he wanted to be with the Equality Commission board, Harry reiterated the importance of having your ‘why’ as he found it to fuel his drive and commitment throughout the programme.


He explained: “It’s really important to understand why you want to take part in Boardroom Apprentice and to understand that it will involve hard work and dedication.


“It’s really important to pick a host board that sits well with your own interests and values.”


After reflecting on his Boardroom Apprentice experience over the last year, Harry felt that working alongside like minded individuals on the Equality Commission board was invaluable to his personal and professional development.


“I have learnt an enormous amount about being part of an effective boardroom from being placed with the Equality Commission” he said.


“During the past year as a Boardroom Apprentice I have been given the opportunity to attend board and committee meetings, seeing first hand what it really meant to be within the boardroom environment. I’ve also been able to attend events and work as a partner to support the work of the Equality Commission.


“There has been so much that I’ve been able to take away from my time in the boardroom, however the biggest lesson I’ve learnt from this is to be supportive but to not shy away from asking the difficult questions.


“It’s been an incredible experience.”


Acknowledging the significance of equipping aspiring board members with the necessary tools, the Boardroom Apprentice places great value on delivering formal training and support. With a strong emphasis on upskilling, the programme recognises that continuous learning is key to personal and professional growth.


As part of the programme, each participant is required to actively engage in a series of structured learning days meticulously designed to enhance skills and broaden knowledge; empowering individuals to excel and flourish in their board service aspirations.


“Honestly, the knowledge and experiences that I have gained from the learning days alongside being a member of a host board exceeded my expectations, and helped me to develop skills that I’m now able to use in my current leadership role.

“There are a lot of personal skills that are related to becoming an effective board member that you get the opportunity to practise in a safe environment.


“The peer-to-peer learning is an important aspect of the programme and I learnt a great deal from those around me.”

As the programme unfolded, Harry often found himself surprised by unexpected learnings.


“The biggest surprise for me was what I gained from being part of a Boardroom Apprentice team overall. I’ve met some fantastic people who have been hugely supportive of one another throughout the programme.


“It’s been a great opportunity to meet incredible people and engage with so many like minded individuals.


“Although, there is a lot more to being a board member than I had previously thought. I’ve really been struck by the passion and dedication of those that give their time to service on boards, and to support the work of Eileen and the other Boardroom Apprentice participants.


For those considering applying to this year’s Boardroom Apprentice, Harry offers some words of encouragement and support: “It’s easy to think of a boardroom and think that you don’t belong there, but this programme is about challenging that and breaking down barriers.


“I urge everyone to simply go for it – we all suffer from a degree of imposter syndrome but don’t let that stand in your way.


“Taking part in Boardroom Apprentice has been the most engaging and rewarding programme that I’ve had the pleasure to take part in. Not only has it greatly improved my understanding of the boardroom and what it takes to be an effective board member, but I’m much more likely to voice my opinion or to ask a challenging question than I was before and being able to see that growth within myself is invaluable.”


Applications for the 2023/2024 Boardroom Apprentice programme open on Monday June 5 and close at 3pm on Monday June 19.


To apply go the Boardroom Apprentice programme go to boardroomapprentice.com/how-to-apply


For more information on Boardroom Apprentice go to boardroomapprentice.com

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