Why Apprenticeships Work

With this week being National Apprenticeship Week #NAW2024, I have had a great opportunity to reflect on myself and my journey through education and my career. To set my agenda here, I am not writing to sell myself, or say ‘look at me’, however my journey has been interesting (at least I think it has) and worth sharing.

For context, I grew up in middle class, rural Hampshire in a small village on the edge of the New Forest. I was more than capable at school, and in honesty was able to cruise through my GCSEs scoring good grades, with what in honesty was minimal effort (I think my teachers must have hated me – in fact my Geography teacher did actually tell me that she was glad I didn’t choose Geography as an option because she would have refused to accept me due to my lack of effort). By the time I hit A-Levels I was a little out of my depth as I had not developed good study habits, embarrassing to admit, but it was not till I was halfway through my A-Level studies that it clicked that I should probably write down what I was being taught in class.

As I reflect back, truthfully, I was not engaged with classroom learning… now practical activity I was all in. Both emotionally and as a learning tool. I learned so much being hands on. However, education in the early 90s really did not look to the individual, identify how people learn best and then take them on a learning journey. My experience of education was very much, ‘pass your exams, go to University’. Other pathways were not presented to me, there really was only one option.

Skills training in the late 80’s/early 90’s was very much focused around the old YTS schemes, and I am not sure, but I think my classmates who were not on the University track were very much let down at the time.

1993 – I complete my A-Levels (1 B, 1 C and 2 Es) and secured my place studying Molecular Biology at the University of Aberdeen. Aberdeen is a great city, and the University is fantastic. I had three great years living in the Scottish northeast, made some good friends and enjoyed the student life. However, if I was out of my depth at A-Level, University was always destined to be a disaster from an academic point of view. Basic Uni 101 – if you want to pass, go to your lectures!

Thing is, that style of learning did not engage me. Could I do it, yes. Was I engaged and all in not really. I ended up dropping out of university in 1996 without passing my degree, getting married with a small child on the way.

What do I wish looking back?

1. That I had taken time out before university so that I was coming at it fresh.

2. That my teachers and mentors as a youth had really seen me. Seen a young person that intellectually was more than capable, but that would better be suited to skills-based learning and earning money.

3. That learning programmes existed that provided real, genuine alternatives to learning that had the credibility as an alternative to university and provided the ability to progress to similar levels of education and qualification that I could have achieved academically.

1996: I was a university dropout with a family to provide for and no careers guidance on what to do next.

Over the next few years, I worked hard. Never without a job and was committed to progressing my career. Funny to think this was the same person who couldn’t engage fully with the traditional academic pathways but when earning money was hard working, grafted and engaged. My early CV includes working for McDonalds, Bendicks of Mayfair (packing chocolates in boxes – painful) Burger King and Blockbuster video before a move into IT initially on a temporary role with Cap Gemini and

then working for Dixons Group supporting customers with their computers. The rest is history, so they say. I flew in the IT environment I was passionate about and discovered my other passion, ironically, of learning as I moved into Training. September 2006 (I think) I was lucky enough to be offered a role as a Technical Trainer with an old provider called Zenos delivering on Digital IT Apprenticeships.

That was strange. I was suddenly an educator. Developed from the school of knocks, not traditional education providing exactly what I was missing back in the 90s. A career entry path that focused on someone’s skills first and foremost, developing some great young people. I look back at my past apprentices I can find my learners now working as IT Managers, Cyber security professionals, project management and in one case I am very proud to see an apprentice heading up IT Services for EMEA for a major international brand specialising in File transfer services. Real apprentices, real careers and real futures changed.

What about myself? I have progressed from that classroom trainer to Training Manager to Operations Director to leading the digital apprenticeship provision for a growing national provider here at BIT Training. I have worked for some of the biggest names in Digital Apprenticeships: Zenos, NiTP (became 3AAA), Estio, Baltic Apprenticeships, Impact Futures and now BIT Training.

Along the way I have completed two apprenticeships and currently working on a third. In 2016 I completed a Level 3 apprenticeship in Employment related services, and then last year completed my Level 5 Operations & Departmental Manager apprenticeship. I am currently undertaking my Level 7 Senior Leader apprenticeship with Plymouth University. Fingers crossed next year; this university dropout will achieve an MBA embedded into an apprenticeship programme.

I practice what I preach, both personally and with my team. Our small team at BIT Training includes our new Team Leader for Cyber Services who is completing a L4 cyber apprenticeship. We are recruiting currently for an IT Technical Sales apprentice to supplement our business development function. Several other key staff here are ex apprentices too.

A conclusion and an invitation:

There are always options for skills learning. The education landscape in the UK in 2024 is exciting even with the economic challenges we now face. More than ever there are educational pathways that are accessible to develop the skills that both individuals and UK PLC require in the workplace. Whether you aspire to a career in Cyber Security or fancy being a Nuclear Scientist of Doctor (yes, medical doctor – there is now an apprenticeship pathway here) there is likely an apprenticeship that matches your needs. Yesterday Gillian Keegan (Education Secretary) announced the imminent launch of a direct teacher’s apprenticeship. For the first time you can follow the apprenticeship route into teaching without having an undergraduate degree first.

So, what is the invitation. Actually, there are two.

1. Educators, teachers, and college lecturers. Understand your students. Spot what makes them tick and give honest careers advice. Help individuals find the pathway they need and deserve.

2. Employers, look back at your workforces. Apprenticeships are UK PLC’s way of investing in you. You have access to a wealth of good training providers, delivering revolutionary programmes that are designed to deliver the skills your workplace is lacking. And with stretched training budgets the training element is always at least 95% funded and, in many cases, free. Anyone can be an apprentice; they could already work for you or a new hire.

They could be 16 or 60. Think again. What are you missing out on that can change someone’s life and bring in skills you desperately need for your organisation.

Apprenticeships are for all, and we all (both individually and as employing organisations) have something special we can tap into. This National Apprenticeship Week, stop. Look again. Make a decision that you will never regret.