Meet Marzena Bujalska, Whitehall’s first apprentice
How has Whitehall’s first modern-era apprentice fared since she joined the civil service in 2008 via a jobcentre advert? CSW meets Marzena Bujalska to find out
How did you come to apply for the apprenticeship?
It sounded quite interesting, the learning element was important to me because I didn’t finish university – working and learning was very tempting. I had spent some time working in the National Archives but the centre was closed, so I signed up to the job centre. That is when I came across the apprenticeship job advert. What was it like joining the civil service?
I already had a little experience of the civil service because of my brief time in the National Archives centre but the apprenticeship position was a proper, full-time civil service job with some additional learning opportunity and it was very exciting. I felt really privileged to be able to work in the centre of government and also having the chance to learn something new. I was also very lucky to start my civil service career in Ian Watmore’s private office. I could learn leadership and team working skills from the best. I started doing basic things but nothing felt unimportant for anyone in the team, everyone appreciated my effort. No task was too small to say thank you. I felt very grateful for the opportunity.
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How do you think this shaped the rest of your civil service career?
It helped me have a positive experience and it made me want to stay. Sitting in the same room with people who make decisions about important things got me interested in the wider context but also showed a good example of inclusive leadership qualities.
It was really good to feel part of a team and work as a team; we had some fun, we knew about each other’s interests, we had a good partnership and support network within the team; we still meet on regular occasions. First impressions are so important – perhaps I was lucky, I’ve worked in different teams in the last nine years, and I can’t say every team has been as influential on me as my first team so I am very grateful to them for that.
What has your career journey been since?
After working in Ian Watmore’s private office, I was an assistant to the diary manager and was later promoted to diary manager role. During the merger between DIUS and Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) the new permanent secretary asked me to stay as his assistant in the transition team. Following the merger, I worked in a ministerial private office – again, I had a positive experience and after some time was allowed to take on some assistant private secretary duties. I started to look for new jobs at higher executive officer level and I was successful in my application to the Europe Strategy Unit in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2012. I worked mainly on parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation. After a few years I applied for grade 7 jobs, I was unsuccessful for some time and then was offered two. I accepted the one in the Department for Exiting the European Union. I now lead a small team of very talented people; we work on strategy and handling of ongoing EU business. The job means I travel to Luxembourg and Brussels and work closely with devolved administrations officials. I very much enjoy the engagement element of my job.
What advice do you have for apprentices and their managers on making the most of the opportunity?
The advice I give to line managers is that it’s vital to create a safe environment with a little bit of fun and a friendly workplace. To apprentices I say go beyond the job description, it shouldn’t be limiting, try to see what you really like about the job and become the expert – you can get help from your team on this. It’s really good to understand what you do but also to see the big picture. Go to team meetings, go to board meetings if possible, understand how your job fits into the wider organisation. I believe this will give you motivation and satisfaction – seeing how your brick fits into the big wall.
Reunion: Ian Watmore’s private office team welcomed Bujalska to the civil service. From left Jonathan Duff, Sarah Evered, Jacqui Charlesworth, Ian Watmore, Karen Lucas and Marzena Bujalska.
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