2020 applicants

My name is Joe Chell, I am Head of School Organisation and Place Planning at Essex County Council and I am currently studying for my MBA on the Degree Apprenticeship pathway at Essex Business School.

Tell us about yourself

So, I have a wife and three wonderful young daughters who I love spending my time with. I’ve just reignited my love of basketball and have started practising and playing again as well as catching NBA games when I can.

The headline part of my role at Essex County Council is to ensure there are enough school places in Essex, and then a whole lot more work with schools and others besides. It’s great to see new schools open as a result of what my team does. When you work in School Organisation you find you learn a lot about a lot.

Why did you want to do an MBA?

I joined Essex County Council on their fast track management Programme for graduates, this gave me a taste of various work projects and environments. Not long after completing the scheme I found myself working as an officer in the School Organisation Team and I have hung around and “worked my way up” since.

I take pride in what I do, and I can see the benefit of making sure everyone has a place to go to school, and the work we now do driving the sustainability agenda through our investment in school buildings. I figured that studying for an MBA would make me better at what I do and open up more opportunities for me to effect even greater change.

I had discussed on a couple of occasions with my line manager about going back to university to improve my professional skill set. I made a short business case of the benefits for Essex County Council and for me, and we discussed this. Once I had my boss's endorsement, I went about contacting the relevant people here at Essex County Council to arrange to use the apprenticeship levy for the MBA.

Why did your employer want you to do the MBA apprenticeship?

Essex County Council is always looking to develop its employees and particularly wants to build the business and commercial acumen of its leaders. The degree apprenticeship was the perfect format for me gaining and building skills that will improve the work of the council and our sustainability.

I was aware of the apprenticeship levy, but I was not aware of degree apprenticeships until I arranged to speak with staff here at the business school about doing an MBA.

My colleagues think it's great that I’m able to get formal learning and qualifications while still on the job. My team think it's quite amusing that I’m back at school (I am the youngest in my team of 10) but what I’m studying and learning really contributes to our work.

Essex County Council delivers a huge range of services and is a massive investor in infrastructure and business in Essex and the wider region. Obviously I benefit from gaining the qualification and business skills I need to develop professionally; at the same time Essex County Council gains the business and leadership capabilities it needs to evolve and grow to respond to the changing demands of Essex people.

How are you finding the MBA so far?

I have taken 3 modules so far, and I think I enjoyed Sustainable Operations the most. It was very applicable work, and I came away with real tangible things I could do to make improvements.

I’d swore I’d never go back to education, I completed my bachelors degree at Essex (BSc Sports and Exercise Science) and was firm in the view I did not want to have to write essays and take exams again. Turns out I quite enjoy it, and as I’m writing essays which are in fact based around improving what I and my Organisation do it’s much easier to get into. It’s really helpful being on the course with such a wide range of people with so much experience.

I find as long as I am disciplined and don’t leave assignments until the deadline is looming then this is all very achievable. You have to do your best to just leave work alone while your in lectures. My family are really supportive and doing the MBA does not get in the way of my previous time with them. Completing the course over two years is certainly a good timescale, something, either home or work would have to give if this was to be done over one year.

The other MBA students are fantastic. We have a great time, and even though I’m only part-time, I don’t feel isolated or left out, we all just get stuck in.

Would you recommend the MBA apprenticeship?

I would absolutely recommend the degree apprenticeship. It’s definitely of benefit to me professionally, and to my organisation too.