For Belfast’s Nikita Brijpaul a conversation with his line manager led here to the Boardroom Apprentice programme, and the challenges now see him hold three boardroom roles.
“The programme is designed to support those aspiring develop corporate responsibility by offering placements and training days so that applicants can increase their chances of sitting on boards across Northern Ireland.”
During a performance review with my then line manager I reflected upon the fact that I wanted to make a step change, challenge myself and understand strategy at a board level,” explained Nikita. “She immediately signposted me to the Boardroom Apprentice Programme.”
While the goings on in boardrooms remain shrouded behind closed doors the programme shattered misconceptions for Nikita.
“The programme demystified the boardroom experience and taught me to trust in my instinctive leadership abilities,” he said. “It has given me the confidence to believe that with time, an open mind and practise I have what it takes to be successful in the boardroom environment.”
The 46-year-old discovered that while he wanted to acquire strategic management skills it enabled him to reflect on his own life.
“The Boardroom Apprentice programme application process caused me to delve much deeper into my own personal experiences,” he said. “Being raised in the vibrant community of Toronto and the Caribbean has taught me that diversity creates value.
“I soon realised that the key reason for me pursuing a board opportunity was that the trajectory of my life experiences had led me to a place where I am passionate about serving one’s community and bringing value in terms of diversity.”
As well as the training and one-to-one support of the Boardroom Apprentice programme there is a placement.
“I was fortunate to be selected as a Boardroom Apprentice and placed with the Board of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission,” Nikita explained. “It was a pivotal time for the organisation as it sought out its new duties under the EU Withdrawal Act 2020.
“I had the privilege of observing first hand key principles of public life upheld to the highest standards.
“I have learnt the importance of expressing gratitude, the art of challenging and the importance of first principles. I sat through articulate discussions and witnessed courage and respectful dissent.”
That experience, as part of his development, led to further opportunities for Nikita.
“Since completing the programme I have gone on to take on three roles,” he said. “The first role I acquired soon after was the Boardroom Apprentice when I was appointed to the membership body of Mutual Energy. The second role I am currently in is as a member of the Governing Body for the Belfast Met with the third being a Director for Mediation NI.”
And that development was something Nikita had not expected.
“The most surprising thing about the programme was the realisation that this was just the start of the journey,” he explained. “It is uncommon for me to feel out of my depth; however the programme built my self-awareness. It made me realise that a real step change is needed to take a ‘helicopter view’ and that there is so much more to learn and integrate into practice.”
While recognising that wanting to serve on a board is not for everyone Nikita believes that it is rewarding, something coloured by his own family experience.
“If you are passionate about serving and unsure of your ability then this is a great place to start,” he explained “Passion is good to have but having a ‘why’ is of utmost importance.
“I think of my father who at the age of 12 was given his first pair of hand me down shoes to attend school with.
“He had to work tending rice paddies and cattle all year round. Education was a privilege and an opportunity to escape the life of a poor rural farmer in a third world country. I think about that every time I go into a board meeting at the Belfast Met.”
However, Nikita took on the challenge of the Boardroom Apprentice at a time that was personally very challenging.
“The application process was one of the most eloquent, honest and raw pieces of writing that I had ever attempted,” he said. “I applied for the programme during the onset of the pandemic.
“It was a particularly bad time for me as I was newly single and alienated from my children. Isolation was very real, especially as all of my family is in Canada. It’s safe to say that the Boardroom Apprentice programme gave me the opportunity to reflect upon my life and establish worthwhile goals to strive for. I’ve not looked back since.”
While boards are still perceived as male dominated, upper middle-class Nikita believes that Boardroom Apprentice is shattering that stereotype.
“It is exceptionally important in encouraging particularly women and ethnic minorities,” he said. “The programme acts as a springboard for those seeking to go on to serve on boards.
“It gives underrepresented groups the self-belief and self confidence that is integral. I think all boards wish to see more diversity however it’s exceedingly difficult to recruit, without the support and encouragement of the likes of Boardroom Apprentice.
“The programme has successfully demystified the goings on within the boardroom. I have concluded that I have what it takes to be in the boardroom.
“I will just need more time to learn via more exposure to the boardroom. After over 20 years of being steeped in operational roles within the corporate environment I do find it hard to grasp strategic concepts in practice. However, this is a known unknown I have identified, and will be moving forward in my journey towards leadership.”
Nikita urges anyone who wants to develop their skills and what they can contribute to take part in Boardroom Apprentice, as he feels that they will develop and begin, what for him is a positive stepping stone.
“The programme acts as a springboard,” he said. “It is just the beginning of a very long journey. I know I will feel intellectually uncomfortable for some time within the board environment. The public sector is very different from a boardroom view to what I’m used to. Once I understand the landscape I will be unstoppable.”
Learn more about Boardroom Apprentice and how to take part here: https://boardroomapprentice.com/
Applications are open until May 24th.
To get involved on social media use #GetOnBoard, and follow @BoardAppr on Twitter. You can also find Boardroom Apprentice on Linkedin, Instagram and Facebook.