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Apprenticeships are a great opportunity for young people to take their first step on the career ladder. For a young person in care whose journey to independence and adulthood happens a lot earlier than a young person living with their parents, an apprenticeship can make a huge difference to their life in more ways than one.
Here are five things young people in care should know about apprenticeships.
One of the main draws of an apprenticeship is that you can earn a wage. While wages vary depending on the employer, there are many apprenticeships like the ones WhiteHat offer, which pay a starting salary of at least £14k per year. For young people who are living in a semi-independent home, or their own flat, this wage can be extremely helpful to cover the cost of living independently. For those who receive a weekly allowance from the local authority, you’re allowed to continue receiving it whilst earning your wage - although they may want you to make a contribution towards the bills. Advice from someone who has been there - stash it away in savings if you can. You will no longer be entitled to claim JSA if you work over sixteen hours a week but you may still be entitled to benefits such as housing benefit, council tax benefit and universal credits, alongside your wage if you meet certain criteria.
From the age of four, we are in education which is typically made up of sitting in a classroom, with a teacher up front, teaching, as they do. Apprenticeships allow you to get stuck in with the actual doing, whilst the actual sitting down 'traditional' style of learning, takes up just 20% of your time. It's amazing how much you can learn over the course of an apprenticeship.
While you can get a job and earn a decent wage, a good apprenticeship also awards you a qualification that is recognised in the industry. This can help increase your chances of getting the job you want, after your apprenticeship. It can also enable you to complete a higher level apprentice or another educational route.
Apprenticeships are a fantastic way of launching your career with both a great company and in a field specific to your area of learning. If you compare an apprenticeship to an undergraduate degree at university, many university graduates find that they still have a skills gap once they have graduated and while they may have a qualification specific to the field they work in, they may still have to start from the bottom and work their way up in role.
Apprentices on the other hand, start working straight away and are taught through a combination of learning while actually doing the job, and undertaking work specific learning with coaches alongside this.
A typical undergrad degree takes around three years to complete, then they must find a job or graduate scheme placement. In this time, an apprentice can start their apprenticeship with an employer, complete their apprenticeship which takes around 18 months to complete then either progress on the next level of apprenticeship or be ready to apply for jobs in the industry. You already have 18 months of work experience with an actual employer and a reference.
When in care, the types of people you’re surrounded may not be the most positive or inspiring. You may not have many people to look up to and act as role models.
Being an apprentice means you’re surrounded by a range of different people. You’ll come across people who have hobbies you’ve never heard of, have travelled to places you’ve maybe always dreamt of visiting. Your network is your net worth - create connections, build your network and expand your horizons. When you start to hang around positive go-getters, the energy is contagious and you’ll naturally level-up.
From someone who began their career at 16 as an apprentice and was also in care, I am a massive advocate for how life changing, lifesaving even, apprenticeships can be. If I had my way, every single young person in care at 16 would be offered one as standard.
If you're in care or a care leaver and are looking at your next steps after school and are unsure of what you want to do with your life, want to earn money but not in a dead end job,an apprenticeship could be for you.
To get onto an apprenticeship scheme you do need to have GCSEs but if you don't have any or didn’t do as well as you hoped, don’t worry. Some apprenticeship providers can support you to get the qualifications to get onto an apprenticeship scheme. Catch22 and Drive Forward are two organisations which specifically support young people in care into apprenticeships.
Now, here’s the secret on how to set yourself apart from every other candidate..volunteer. Or get work experience, either one. Real life experience will add to your skills and shows that you will be able to make the adjustment from pupil to employee. If you don’t know where to find a placement, talk to your social worker and ask them how you can volunteer within the children's rights team at the same council you are under the care of - not only will you gain valuable work experience, you’ll also learn about your rights in care - double win.
It’s never too late to get your education on track - the sooner the better. There are more opportunities and free education opportunities when you are younger. Your past doesn’t matter - your ambition and focus does.
Ultimately, if you want a better life for yourself, an apprenticeship is a route which can change the whole direction of your life for the better. If any part of this article reached out to you, pick up the phone and call WhiteHat or one of the supporting organisations today - I guarantee your future self will thank you for it.
A bit about me: I was in care as a child and also went to a Pupil Referral Unit throughout years 10 and 11, after getting excluded from mainstream school - it was all a big misunderstanding, I assure you. At 16, I was adamant I didn’t want to go to college, I wanted a job where I could earn money and as I was going to be moving into a semi-independent home, I knew I’d need the income to survive on. I also wanted to be around mature people, intelligent people. I didn’t want a dead-end job and someone mentioned that I should look into an apprenticeship with my local council. I asked my social worker about it and it turned out, there was an open day about Southwark Council apprenticeships the next day. Being an apprentice has made such a difference to my life because of that, I’m a big advocate of apprenticeships - particularly for young people in the care system as I know first hand what it can do to your life.