Boardroom Apprentice - Rossa Keown

Rossa Keown NI Audit Office Boardroom Apprentice

The Boardroom Apprentice is a development programme providing excellent training in key areas whilst simultaneously providing applicants with a 12 month placement on a host board. The aim of this programme is to allow those without board experience, to gain this experience and enhance their skills, ultimately helping to create more diverse boards across Northern Ireland.

I applied as I wanted to gain the experience, skills and above all the confidence to feel like I could work within the boardroom environment. I also wanted to be paired to a board where I thought I would be able to share some of the skills and knowledge I have gained from working in NIAO.

To date, the programme has involved six brilliant training days, covering areas such as communications, financial information, governance, culminating in an intense final day. The final day included a presentation of a detailed case study and being recorded for future social media content. Running parallel to this I have been sitting on the board of Groundwork NI, which is an amazing community organisation. I have attended a number of board meetings, engaging with other members from a range of different backgrounds and so far it has been enlightening experience.

At first I had my reservations about applying as I thought board experience wasn’t for someone my age, that it was an opportunity I wouldn’t get until I was older and had more life experience under my belt. I thought I would be out of my depth and too self-conscious to ask questions out of fear of asking something stupid but it was refreshing to find that the boardroom was nowhere near as daunting as expected. Obviously there were nerves at the first meeting but all the members were friendly and welcoming and I felt comfortable in the situation. The training I had received stood me in good stead to feel confident in querying information that was presented.

The Boardroom Apprentice really showed me that the role of a board is essential in the governance process within an organisation and they should be setting the tone across the organisation showing strong leadership and strategic direction. A good governance structure in terms of sub-committees and a strong senior management team is also essential in supporting the strategic vision of the board.

The key point I have taken away from my experience is that you have as much right sitting in a boardroom as anyone else and your views are just as valuable to the organisation.

I would definitely encourage others to apply, I have already mentioned it to a number of colleagues to consider it. The experience of sitting at a strategic level is one you don’t get every day and the opportunities for networking and exposure to senior members within various organisations, including the Head of the Civil Service, is really beneficial. It is an intense programme that requires significant commitment but the Boardroom Apprentice is definitely a fantastic opportunity for people of all backgrounds to develop experience, skills, and confidence.