‘Being successful is about skills’: why apprenticeships are taking off as a career path

Sue George
Photograph: Thomas_EyeDesign/Getty Images

Schools are increasingly realising that apprenticeships are an exciting and valuable opportunity for a significant number of their students. Jo Moles, from the John Henry Newman Catholic school in Stevenage, is one of many teachers acknowledging the advantages of apprenticeships.

“There have been big changes in apprenticeships over the past five years and they are available in many more sectors,” she says. “We need parents and students to understand their amazing benefits.”

As deputy director of the school’s sixth form and its apprenticeship coordinator, Moles has had great success in raising awareness within John Henry Newman about apprenticeships. The school had been very university-driven – now, all pupils in year 12 visit an apprenticeship fair and the school hosts a careers day where they can meet local employers, many of whom take on apprentices themselves. These employers have included GSK, Barclays and Airbus. Moles also guides her students to websites and other sources where they can see some of the huge range of employers, from the Arts Council to the army, who are offering apprenticeships now or in the near future.

“We have lots more students doing apprenticeships now – and there are lots of success stories,” says Moles.

Helen Everett, careers leader at Chislehurst and Sidcup grammar school, has also had great success in focusing her school on the wide range of career opportunities available via apprenticeships. “The first step was to make teachers aware of apprenticeships when most of them had taken the university route,” she says.

Like Moles, Everett was a regional winner in the apprentice champion of the year category of the 2019 National Apprenticeship Awards.

“The whole school approach has changed. We now talk about apprenticeships as early as key stage 3. [Students] understand that being successful is not just about academic qualifications but about skills,” says Everett.

But that was not a message that Dani Arney heard while she was at school. When Arney, now 19, was thinking about what to do when she left school, she knew she wanted to go into business and marketing. But a full-time university course did not appeal to her.

“The lecturers said that you needed to have a master’s degree and then a year in industry to stand out in a really competitive market. I started to think about what options were available,” she says.

Arney is now a degree apprentice at IBM, working in external and internal communications. “This last week, I have been writing [IBM’s] internal newsletter, carrying out a research project on competitor analysis, and helping out a colleague with some broadcasting,” she says.

Many apprentices choose to stay with their employers after their apprenticeship period has ended. Photograph: Morsa Images/Getty Images

Apprenticeships at IBM cover many different areas, ranging from software development to pensions, from level 3 (equivalent to A-levels) to level 6 (degree apprenticeships). “They are predominantly technical, as you would expect, but we also offer more business-oriented apprenticeships,” says Jenny Taylor, IBM UK foundation lead.

British Airways is another organisation that takes on a wide range of apprentices, in customer-facing, operational and business support roles. “British Airways offers something for everyone with a drive or passion to succeed,” says Karen Hewitt, apprenticeships and emerging talent manager for BA’s Global Learning Academy. “Aviation is really exciting and no two days are the same.”

British Airways and IBM both offer extensive support to their apprentices. “We have a continuous support package in place,” says Hewitt. “For example, our cabin crew apprentices have a dedicated mobile app to track their progress because they are out flying. We want to capture their on-board learning,” she says.

The range of apprenticeships offered by large and small employers around the country means that potential apprentices have a great choice as to the type of work they can undertake. Apprenticeships are real jobs with a competitive wage, where all the training is paid for; they cover sectors from agriculture to cybersecurity, HR support to warehousing and storage, floristry to insurance. And many people choose to stay with their employers after their apprenticeship period has ended. “We want our apprentices to be long-term IBMers,” says Taylor. “We want to develop future leaders.”

Apprenticeships have to involve 20% training and 80% on-the-job experience. This training could be at their employer’s premises, a training partner or a university.

Many apprentices will undertake their training with external providers, such as Fareham college in south Hampshire. Its dedicated apprenticeship department, Business Plus, delivers apprenticeships across a huge range of subject areas, ranging from accounting to team leadership, beauty therapy and operations management.

Related: ‘We love the energy that apprentices bring to our business’: top tips for employing an apprentice

Andrew Kaye, its CEO, says they anticipate numbers of apprentices to equal the numbers of full-time students over the next two to three years. One of the college’s new projects is the new, £4.2m Civil Engineering Training Centre. “It was developed as a result of civil engineering contractors citing a massive shortfall in civil engineering operatives and their businesses unable to fulfil their order books,” says Kaye. “The programme is creating a new generation of civil engineering in the region.”

So how does Arney feel her apprenticeship at IBM is preparing her for the future? “It has gone above expectations,” she says. “There is a stereotype around apprentices that you don’t get the same amount of opportunities as in a normal job, but I am learning new skills all the time.”

Fire it up
Engineering, food, fashion – if you can think of it, there’s probably an apprenticeship available. From large corporations to agile startups, everyone’s getting involved. Excited? Visit apprenticeships.gov.uk