How Martina Bradley Got Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable During Her Time At Boardroom Apprentice

By Maisie Laughton

Stepping out of our comfort zone can cover a range of both somewhat small and inexplicably large tasks, with Martina Bradley choosing to leap head-first rather than walk into a new environment, an experience she certainly does not regret grabbing by the horns.

46-year-old Martina was born in Magherafelt and remains based in nearby Castledawson, County Derry, but home comforts are definitely not holding her back from embracing every opportunity she can, including being a Boardroom Apprentice with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board.

As part of Boardroom Apprentice, Martina undertook a twelve-month placement on the programme where she added to her life as a solicitor and business owner to make her stamp on Northern Ireland.

A first of its kind in the UK, the Boardroom Apprentice is a 12-month unique board learning, development and placement programme which enables those who would like to serve on a public or third sector board to gain invaluable experience through in-depth training and support.

Founded by Eileen Mullan in 2017, the programme is now in its sixth year and has helped many candidates across Northern Ireland to begin their Boardroom journey. 

Participating in the scheme in 2022 and becoming a Boardroom Apprentice, Martina initially applied as a way of using the expertise she gained from her successful career.

She explained she wanted to utilise “the skills developed in my career to contribute to public life by way of sitting on a public sector board”, with the premise of the programme offering to do exactly that.

Seeing the experience as “an opportunity to expand skills and contribute to public life”, she applied to the scheme in the hope of developing her experience whilst also making meaningful contributions in the industry.

She explained: “I had limited knowledge of the programme beforehand, but when I saw it advertised on Twitter it appealed to me as I had taken a temporary step away from my main career as a solicitor to help develop a family business and was seeking some way that I could utilise the skills I had developed in a meaningful way.

“The programme seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain practical experience and knowledge but I did not expect to gain the high level of insight that I have.”

Martina’s hopes to expand on her “skill set and continue working in a professional capacity” were not only met but exceeded during Boardroom Apprentice, with the accomplished mother of four completing a wide array of tasks that she believes have positively impacted her outlook on not only the industry but her professional career as a whole.

Having “practised as a family and divorce lawyer for over 20 years”, Martina was used to working on solo projects rather than in a larger team, finding that the opportunities for group exercises were useful for her to understand the ways in which a board functioned and how it differed from her previous professional experience.

“Aside from the formal learning, the programme was confidence building and supportive and very much encouraged teamwork” she said. 

“As a Solicitor, I often worked alone or with a smaller legal team, therefore the experience of being part of a larger team of people with varying professional backgrounds and skill sets was a fabulous experience and despite at times encountering difficulties we were able to come together to ensure we represented ourselves in the best possible fashion.”

Martina’s involvement with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust encompassed a range of different daily activities, many of which she had not undertaken before and widely contributed to her newfound tailored skill set.

Alongside “in depth learning about governance, financial, communication and partnership issues affecting Public Boards and how to apply these to any role I may assume on a Board going forward,” she cites a variety of other key skills as benefits of the programme too.

“I learnt communication and confidence, assertiveness and taking action in a timely and responsible fashion, teamwork and cooperation, how to ask the right questions, and, arguably the most poignant, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable!” she said.

The programme also provided her with a supportive network to turn to, with Boardroom Apprentice providing a safe haven for anyone aiming to try their hand at appearing on a board for the first time.

Martina explained: “No-one is there to catch you out on things you do not know but rather to encourage each participant to see that they have the skills to act on a public board and to contribute to public life.”

Despite her confidence not being a trait she deemed herself as lacking in, Martina believes the scheme has improved her belief in herself when it comes to being on a board, asking questions and succeeding.

“It certainly reinforced with me that I do have the skills to sit on a Board. The programme has given me the confidence to do so” she said.

“I now have direct experience of sitting on a Public Board which, coming from the private sector, I did not have and has shown me that I have transferable skills. 

“I have greater insight into the public appointments application process and feel I have developed team working skills that will be useful for any Board.

Speaking on the extended timeline it takes to complete the programme, Martina explained that the twelve month period ensures you are fully versed in all areas of sitting on a public board and fully embrace the opportunity as well as its benefits.

She said: “I feel it takes at least a year to fully appreciate the varied and wide range of the host Boards activities. Most of my non executive colleagues say longer!

“Whilst it takes commitment to fit the programme in around other responsibilities, you will ultimately reap the benefits of all the advice, experience and connections.”

Reflecting on her time within Boardroom Apprentice, Martina identified that despite acknowledging the positive impacts the programme had on her as she progressed through the programme, she was ultimately pleasantly surprised by just how quantifiable the success she achieved as a result of it was.

She explained: “I was surprised by how much I had learned from my Host Board and was able to apply and contribute to my team in a way I would not have anticipated at the beginning of the programme.”

Her time on the year-long scheme was unlike anything she could have predicted, with the hands-on approach to her involvement offering unrivalled experiences that she will most definitely be using in the future. 

“The programme was more than I expected and gave more than expected,” she said.

“Not only did I learn all about the Governance and other topics [on the scheme], I gained excellent experience sitting on a very formal Board and was able to see my learning in action with each subsequent Board and Sub-Committee meeting and perusal of board papers.”

Martina encourages everyone to apply for Boardroom Apprentice, regardless of their prior career path, identifying it as an incredible way to boost your insights and skill set for all sectors.

She said: “If you’re thinking about doing it, go for it! You will gain so much.”

Martina also believes it is an invaluable opportunity for anyone looking to become a board member in the future, explaining that the skills each participant gains will help them stand out.

She said: “I believe that having completed the programme any application to become a Board member will be assisted as a result, as apprentices now have a much greater understanding of the expectations of a Board member and also practical experience.”

Overall, Martina’s time as part of Boardroom Apprentice has been nothing short of “excellence”, offering her “practical, real life Board experience combined with a wealth of knowledge imparted in a supportive and enhancing manner.”

Applications for the Boardroom Apprentice 2023 programme open on Monday June 5 and close at 3pm on Monday June 19.

To apply go the Boardroom Apprentice programme go to

For more information on Boardroom Apprentice go to 

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