Back to advice hub
What to expect from your apprenticeship

School vs apprenticeship: The differences between classroom and workplace

Digital Marketing apprentice

I know what you’re thinking: getting a real job is scary.

Myths of the oh-so-mysterious office environment are considered an adult’s domain; it’s a world of people sat at computers, tea rounds and leaving at 5 instead of 3. Most school leavers usually only undertake one week of compulsory work experience before heading into the workplace, so it’s understandable it can feel scary. Unless you’re heading off to university this September, the next steps into the world of work can feel overwhelming.

Apprenticeships are a perfect way of breaking young people, just like you, into a career pathway in the corporate world. They are aimed at those who want to learn on the job and can demonstrate dedication and a passion for the qualification they have chosen to pursue. 

Whilst apprenticeships are a great bridge between the classroom and a full time job without learning, there are still differences when compared with school. In this piece I will aim to shed light on the key differences, but also the similarities to help prepare you for the transition. You will discover that workplaces and apprenticeships aren’t too far from what you are already familiar with at school.

Environment: The classroom vs the office

The workplace has many faces. Depending on many factors including the size of the organisation, the type of company, flexible working arrangements and social culture, offices can look and feel very different across the board. 

A large company may have an entire building with several floors and lots of break-out meeting areas, much like at school. Like school where you move between classrooms, you may not sit at the same desk every day or with the same people (at work that’s called hot-desking). 

Smaller companies, such as mine, can be housed in a single room rented out in a co-working space (a building with lots of different companies in one place). In this sense, your work space feels a lot more personal and more like studying in a library (where you can talk!) or sitting in an IT classroom amongst all the computers.

Teaching & Management: Your teachers vs your manager & coach

When undertaking an apprenticeship, you’ll have a line manager who’s responsible for overseeing you at work, and a coach, teacher or assessor from your apprenticeship provider who is responsible for delivering teaching and overseeing your learning and assessment for your qualification. 

Your line manager will essentially become your boss, teacher and colleague whilst at work. They are the ones who monitor your progress in the organisation, have meetings with you to discuss your work and generally assign you tasks each week. You won’t be prompted to get on with your tasks in the same way you are in school; it tends to be more self-directed as to how much time you dedicate to a task and how to choose to arrange your work week.

Depending on your apprenticeship provider, you will then either be assigned a coach. teacher or assessor. At WhiteHat, you have a coach who is an expert in your subject area and responsible for both your personal and professional development. They take on much more of a teacher-come-mentor role. They have experience working in your industry, and can offer tangible context to the practical applications of your skills. Coaches assign you coursework, teach you theory and prepare you for exams as well as putting together your portfolio in order to finish your apprenticeship.

Through undertaking an apprenticeship, and with the support of your line manager and coach (or equivalent), you will become independent, productive and proactive in completing your work. But much like in school, you will not be expected to know everything, and you will be guided in your learning both in and outside of work.

Learning: Homework vs coursework & off-the-job training

Good news: you don’t get homework as an apprentice! 

Aside from your day-to-day work set by your company, you get 20% ‘off-the-job’ training which equates to one day a week. During this time, you are expected to complete any assignments from your coach, work on your final portfolio and attend any training sessions which your manager deems fit for your professional development. This time is monitored via a log which you update weekly. It’s the time allotted for you to focus on what you feel is important and to further your knowledge.

Social life: Friends vs colleagues

They tell you after school ends that you get to ‘pick your friends’. However, the reality is that when entering your company, people can be just as diverse as they were at school.

With colleagues, I think the main difference is that your friendships take a much more professional form than you may be accustomed to. That’s not to say that people don’t have a laugh, because of course no-one wants to have a miserable time at work. Depending on the social culture established within your new company, you may be asked out to drinks after work, theatre trips, training sessions outside of work and even just lunch.

Making friends may not come straight away, but in time when you warm up to your new work mates, they can brighten up your day. I find my WhiteHat apprentice peers easier to relate to, since they run regular socials and training workshops in which to mingle.

In conclusion

We must all eventually move on from school, but that doesn’t mean that your education should end there if you decide against university. If you do choose to seek out an apprenticeship, I congratulate you on taking this incredible first step into your career.

Even if you are nervous at first, remember: it’s in your control, and an apprenticeship provider’s job, to evaluate if a role is right for you during the recruitment process. I’d advise that you go with your gut instinct and accept a role based on whether you feel it’s a place you see yourself being able to grow, learn and make mistakes in a safe space.

The world is a classroom, and we never stop learning. Getting out into the world of work can be a great teacher, and apprenticeships are the ideal gap between school and the workplace.

Related Articles