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How to pursue the apprenticeship route

Don't let the silence from your school stop you from pursuing an apprenticeship

Digital Marketing apprentice

I still remember that moment so vividly.

It was during the last few months before I left Sixth Form. We were all looking ahead to the future - all equally nervous and excited about what would come. I walked into our study room that day, and there was something strangely different...

I looked up and there it was: a massive poster plastered all over the notice board. In bold it said, “The class of 2017”. Every single person in my year was on that poster, proud smiles all around, as everyone championed their chosen university and choice of degree. I was there too… amongst the crowd, but I was on the brink of entering the unknown, the obscure and uttering the unspoken word - I said to myself that I wanted to do an apprenticeship.

Crossing this shaky bridge without a torchlight or map in sight, the silence from my school was painfully deafening.

For months, the UCAS deadline day would become our day of reckoning. For months, the art of writing the perfect personal statement would be drilled into our heads. For months, our school would insist the only route worth taking was the tried and tested - the university route.

I am here to say No.

So what led me to divert my route?

It was fear.

I feared working in a field completely different to what I would have studied for three years, or worse, being stuck in a job I completely hated!

University was presented to me as a safe pair of hands, a way for me to immerse myself wholeheartedly into a subject and have access to thought-provoking experts who are filled with insight and knowledge.

Quite the contrary. With a mountain of debt looking straight at you and no real job security, and seemingly out-of-touch professors regurgitating archaic and mundane concepts - I was tired of simply learning theory and wanted to try it for myself - to get my hands dirty and experience some raw and real situations where I can actually apply my knowledge.

I had to find a way to parachute myself to safety and jumpstart my career...

Enter the apprentice route.

Apprenticeships present a way for you to act and learn in the ‘present’. Any newfound knowledge you acquire is then directly applied in a real-life context - and with that comes great responsibility and accountability, as you are given a platform to express your ideas and make a valuable contribution to the workplace.

So let me summarise three reasons why you can benefit from an apprenticeship:

  1. Chucked into the deep end

It’s all about execution and action. The workplace runs at an extremely fast pace, as you move from various different tasks and are put into uncomfortable situations that really test your skills.

For sure, you will make a lot of mistakes, you will drown at times, but that’s the point. It’s a step away from the spoon-fed bubble that’s been created in schools. It’s raw, tough and cold at times.

But, everything you do has a commercial driver. Ultimately, the aim of the company is to make money - so your decisions, ideas and execution of work have weight and pressure, but there’s also a great level of excitement. You can present a plan of action and if the business likes and applies it: you get all the credit!

  1. Learn from the best

Your colleagues could be ten, fifteen or even twenty years ahead in their careers compared to you. That’s a lot of knowledge and experience there for you tap right into: so ask as many questions as you can.

They can give you advice on how to succeed in your chosen industry, or on how to perform your job duties in the best way. It doesn’t always have to be work-related - you can ask about ways to develop yourself personally or share issues you struggle with.

  1. Money baby...

Not only do you learn in practical terms, but you get paid for your efforts, without gaining a single penny in debt.

With money comes big responsibility, as you will have to deal with your own finances: your travel costs, lunch fees and other expenses. There’s one thing I always hear amongst my uni friends, “Oh, I’m so skint”. With a decent wage, you can plan ahead, make financial goals and enjoy yourself during that process.

So how do you actually find an apprenticeship?

My journey was long. A year-long journey...

It took me nearly a year to find an apprenticeship: after months of applying, getting an interview terminated, making myself look like a fool at assessment centres, I finally found a place.

Don’t worry, I can save you a lot of time and headache... There are many avenues out there that can steady the ship and help you find a place quickly:

  • Government site. You are open to a wide range of apprenticeships in various fields and there’s a handy tool to filter vacancies by location/mile radius. It can feel a bit overwhelming, as there’s not much support or advice on how to be a successful candidate or do well when applying for roles.
  • Apprenticeship providers. Going through providers offers a much more supported journey, you get access to a lot of resources and are guided on how to do well in interviews, or on how to make it as an apprentice. My personal recommendation is definitely Whitehat, and trust me… I applied to nearly every provider out there in London and there’s a lot of time-wasters, so be wary…  
  • Company’s own apprenticeship scheme. Some companies have their own dedicated apprenticeship programme - I myself applied for TFL’s degree-apprenticeship scheme, which was incredibly competitive, as I was competing against thousands of applicants. Not to mention the rigorous vetting process, which is usually a combination of phone interviews, assessment centres and aptitude tests. These programmes are a great way for you to get your foot in the door inside a massive organisation, and added to that you prove you've got the stomach to fight your way through the tough recruitment process.
  • Recruitment sites. A lot of apprentice vacancies are advertised on career sites like Milkround. These sites are a good way for you to diversify your search plan. Add it to your arsenal, alongside all these other platforms mentioned above, and make sure you stay-up-to-date with the email job alerts these sites offer you.

I say choose the unthinkable and try the apprenticeship route. Cross that bridge and find your way through with this newfound knowledge, a torchlight for your travels.

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