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Belong, Believe, Achieve: UEL IT Manager Ionel Ursu is a mentor who makes a difference

Ionel is a mentor to a growing group of UEL apprentices

'Belong, Believe, Achieve' is a series of profiles showcasing inspiring students and staff at the University of East London (UEL). Each week, we bring you a new story about someone achieving great things in our amazing community.

Ionel Ursu is a manager who makes a difference. A married father of two, he worked full-time in the IT Department at the University of East London (UEL) while studying for a BSc in Computing, which he obtained last year. 

He said, “Once the kids were asleep, I’d be awake from 10pm-4am, working on essays, projects and finally my dissertation. I’d then grab a few more hours sleep, then go off to work.”

If that wasn’t enough, Ionel recently took on the additional role of mentor to a growing group of degree apprentices at UEL. 

Degree apprentices straddle the worlds of study and work. At UEL, they work four days a week, with a fifth day to attend lectures, seminars, and practical sessions which give them the theoretical underpinning needed for their professional work. Apprentices are usually new to university-level studies, and new to a 9-5 workday. Most are in their early twenties or younger.

Step forward Ionel. He left college with a qualification in accountancy and no plan to go to university – he wanted a job and wanted to earn a living. He started as a temporary administrative officer in UEL’s IT Services more than 10 years ago, which was followed by a permanent junior role in UEL’s business school. 

He said, “I was very much an office junior at the bottom of the ladder, but I was keen, so I was there extra early, stayed late, put in those extra hours. I wanted to get noticed.” 

Fast forward and Ionel is now the manager of UEL’s IT Services’ Business Support Team and Digital Training Services. He is also the team’s first apprenticeship mentor.  

He said, “When we first launched the programme in 2016 we only had three apprentices. Now we’ve got 50, including six employed at UEL.

“The ones who work at UEL are based in academic schools as IT analysts, study one full day a week, and have real responsibilities in their professional work.

He continued, “Talking to line-managers and listening to what our apprentices were telling us, it became clear that we as the employer had an opportunity that needed to be met with this new segment of our staff, our ‘millennials’.” 

UEL already had a number of mentoring schemes in place for staff and students – if you’re a member of staff or a student. But what about those who are both, as with the apprentices? 

Ionel and Greg Price, senior HR Manager for Organisational Effectiveness at UEL, found a solution:

“I’m their mentor rather than their line manager or lecturer, so my relationship with them is somewhat unique, Ionel said.

“They really needed someone they could relate to and talk openly with, and who had experienced what it’s like working more or less full-time, while taking on a heavy academic load.”

Unlike coaching, which tends to be short-term, session based, and one-way, mentoring is long-term, relationship based, and a two-way street. 

The apprentices spend regular time each month with Ionel and their apprentice peers, with time allocated for group discussion and the sharing of experiences. There is one-to-one time available with

Ionel, who offers them technical and workplace advice, and acts as something of a mediator between apprentices and line mangers when issues arise. 

Ionel said, “I help their department-based line managers communicate issues in a way that is intelligible for them, and I’m there for the line managers when they want advice.

“Our apprenticeship mentoring will develop and grow as we take on more and more apprentices. Having a specific mentoring scheme for workplace apprentices has definitely been a good move for us and, importantly, for our millennials.”

Visit here to find out more about UEL’s degree apprenticeships: https://www.uel.ac.uk/apprenticeships