My apprentice experience

Joe joined the data consultancy team at Cluttons in 2019. As the first apprentice to join the company it was unknown territory for all but he quickly became part of the team and, in fact, it went so well Joe is now a permanent employee. We asked him about his experience and to see what advice he had for others thinking about applying for an apprenticeship.

Why did you choose to complete an apprenticeship?

The idea of university didn’t really appeal to me after I had completed my A-Levels, as I didn’t particularly want to study a specific subject for a few years and also be burdened with the debt of going to university, so I looked into apprenticeships. The next step was trying to find the right one, so I considered what I had enjoyed during my A-Levels as a starting point. In Economics, I had to analyse datasets, such as the Great Recession, and the ripple effects it had throughout different economies and then come up with solutions for the problems I discovered, such as how to increase consumer and business confidence after the recession. Taking a closer look at the data and using it to inform improvements was something I really enjoyed and wanted to use these skills in a more practical environment. Similarly, I’ve always loved working with numbers and maths was a great way to enhance my problem-solving skills, by discovering patterns within complex equations and using these to help reach a logical conclusion.

Taking these factors into consideration, I signed up with Arch Apprentices who sent through details of the Data Analyst apprenticeship role at Cluttons, which was focused around data, decision making and problem solving. After reading up on the history of the company, their eco-friendly approach to the work they carry out and resonating with their long-term goals, I knew that this was the company I wanted to work for!

What were your main duties as an apprentice?

At the beginning of my apprenticeship, my main duties were focused around learning the processes of how data is entered into the system via the change note process, and how this data is then input and structured within our property management system. I was also tasked with learning Power BI, a data visualisation software, and how I could use this tool to better present the data and highlight any inconsistencies with the data. Using this tool, I was then able to help the team maintain good data quality within our property portal, as well as through the use of exception reporting, which are reports that can highlight erroneous data and any inconsistencies based on certain rules. Once the data was as up to date as it could be, I then took on the responsibility of creating and distributing monthly reports for our key corporate clients.

Towards the end of my apprenticeship, I was involved with some data consultancy work for a confidential client where I created numerous power BI dashboards, using data from their property management system, which successfully highlighted how their data is structured and the errors that reside within.

What was your most rewarding assignment?

My most rewarding assignment would be redesigning the change note form. This is filled out whenever a data change is requested by our clients, such as adding a new property to our portal or changing landlord details. Once the relevant form is filled in, it is sent to our finance team who then enter the data into the system. Within this assignment I managed to refine the change note forms, which were originally saved down as separate workbooks, i.e. a separate property form, a separate lease form, etc. I appended them all together in one workbook and used Excel’s programming language, VBA, to create some code which would hide/unhide certain parts of the appended form, so if a surveyor wanted to fill out a new property form and the lease form at once, all they had to do was click the checkbox that was titled ‘Property’ and ‘Lease’, and this would filter the appended form to just these sections. This was the most rewarding assignment as it significantly reduced the time spent to complete a change note form for one of the surveyors and the overall feedback received was extremely positive.

What was your biggest challenge?

When I first started my apprenticeship, the biggest challenge for me was understanding the terminology in the property world. With no previous knowledge of the property industry, it was hard for me to understand key data fields and to know what should be included in Power BI dashboards/reports, and what shouldn’t be. This was also true for the property management system terminology and trying to understand how the data is structured and linked. Cluttons have been great at helping me throughout my time here - I spent time with our database administrator and my manager to go through how all the systems work and how different data tables are joined (via unique references). The wider team also played a big part in helping me with the definitions of certain lease terminology and understanding the processes that they follow.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt at Cluttons is to ask questions, whether they sound silly or not. This is one of the most important things to do and as a data analyst this essentially ties back to everything you do. When creating dashboards for customers or colleagues, you will need to ask for requirements so you can include everything they need, and when putting reports together, you will need to ask questions to yourself as well as colleagues relating to the data, i.e why has this rent figure changed? Is there a logical reason such as a rent review or is this wrong and needs to be checked? When this data is visualised, there is no place for erroneous data to hide and it will make you ask a key question: is the core data right?

What advice would you give anyone considering an apprenticeship at Cluttons in the future?

Cluttons is a great place to work and being the first ever apprentice, I have always felt included and welcomed by all teams, not just my own. HR, my line manager, and my Arch Apprentice coach have all been extremely supportive throughout the whole process, helping me reach the targets and goals needed. There are also many opportunities available for you at Cluttons.

During my time here I have been nominated as an ambassador and have also joined the social committee, where I am able to express the importance of data and ways of getting this message across to the business, as well as help organise events throughout the year for colleagues to take part in. I recently hosted the Cluttons bake off which was a big success! In terms of the apprenticeship itself, I’d say during the early stages, really focus on the goals and criteria that you need to meet in order to pass, plan your apprenticeship journey beforehand and have a rough idea of projects/work that you need to be exposed to.

Joe was supported throughout his apprenticeship by Rob Stokes, a partner in our Data Consultancy team. He shares his thoughts on the great work Joe has done.

"For me the apprenticeship scheme has worked fantastically well for us here at Cluttons. Joe was a standout candidate when he was first interviewed back in 2018. It wasn’t just his skillset that he had on his CV, but we could see that he had great desire for wanting the job, a hunger to learn more about data and a personality that would fit naturally into our Team. I really wanted someone who was willing to learn the basic principles of data management before going straight into the analytical visuals, wanted to develop new skills and have that eye for identifying where underlying data is incorrect.

Passing on my experience and knowledge to Joe has given me enormous satisfaction and seeing the outputs 24 months on has made every minute so worthwhile. What Joe has been great at is asking questions, challenging me on how we can do things better and making sure our Clients’ data is of good quality at all times. As I always say Data Quality is paramount to our service offering to our Clients’ here at Cluttons, and having people like Joe in the business who fully gets that gives us a very firm platform to deliver all the other services we provide."