Apprenticeships: An Opinion Piece


When it came to university, *__of course__* I was going.

Throughout school, I was always top of my class and was on the ‘gifted and talented’ lists for both the academic and creative subjects I studied. It was always expected that I would go on to achieve the same brilliance at university, pass with flying colours and be able to ‘cherry pick’ my dream career in any field I put my mind to.

School taught me that university is what __clever people__ do.

I remember the immense pressure on university success it like it was yesterday.

My headteacher paced the stage of the assembly hall. “This”, she said, pointing to the UCAS application form, “will be the most important piece of writing you’ll ever complete”.

With a car filled to the brim, I headed west to Bristol, studying BA Animation at University of the West of England. Just 18, I was intimidated by this new world without rules and it took me a while to gain confidence.

As freshers do, I made friends quickly and indulged in the £9,000 a year party I’d heard so much about. University granted me the freedom to discover myself, and gain independence away from my turbulent family life.

However, I got into the rhythm of student life almost as quickly as I fell out of love with it. I liked the course but was overwhelmed by friendship drama and the demands of the assignments. In fact, I lost motivation to continue after my lecturer told me I would only ever be a ‘mediocre’ animator and isolated myself into a deep depression.

Completely lost and now a year behind, I didn’t want to give up education or be a drop-out statistic. I chose to change courses but even then I soon found the course uninspiring and began to wonder  what my accumulation of debt would really amount to when it came to career prospects.

After a year and a half of antidepressants I’d had enough. Having a degree for the sake of having that glorified bit of paper had taken its toll on my mental health and I finally dropped out of university in December 2017, with no idea what my next steps were except that I had to move back home to London.

I was conditioned to believe that getting a job or an apprenticeship was what the kids in the lower sets were destined for. In my mind, vocational courses such as childcare and Cisco Networking were geared only at those who couldn’t make the grade in Maths and English. This hypothesis was damaging, as I believed at the time that I had truly failed myself by not following uni through to the cap and gown.

For 4 months, I searched aimlessly for a ‘real job’ so I could start living life again. I ended up working as a Supervisor in a waffle shop whilst I searched for a job description that would take a drop-out like me with little work experience or direction. Whilst looking on Indeed one afternoon, my life changed when I discovered the apprenticeship provider WhiteHat | Best Career-focused Apprenticeships in London.

I don’t think I knew the gravity of my discovery until I was at WhiteHat’s London offices to start the interview process. A group of hopefuls and I set up our online profiles that would be shared with potential employers. I had chosen digital marketing due to its analytical and creative aspects tying in with my artistic experience.

A month later, I aced my first interview with consultancy firm Action Sustainability and started 1st October 2018.

Over a year later, and I laugh in embarrassment at how I used to perceive alternatives to university. With my knowledge now, I actually feel that apprentices are the cleverest of us all.

Apprenticeships invest in young people and can kick-start your career, whereas I felt that university was self-directed and out-of-touch with the workplace. I graduate my apprenticeship in February and I can’t believe how much I have grown in a year.

The apprentice community is very social, open-minded and ambitious. Training events, personal development opportunities and seasonal social events are abundant at WhiteHat. I quickly got involved with the ‘Editorial Squad’ due to my love of writing and wanting to make new friends after moving back to London. I participate in the squad as part of my 20% ‘off-the-job’ training and produce blog pieces destined to be published on CareerHacker | Career advice and quizzes for students content hub for young people), giving advice to future apprentices.

You also don’t have to sacrifice education or compromise your finances. You ‘earn and learn’ as they say; 20% of your time at work goes toward your apprenticeship training, with a paid-for qualification at the end of it. In fact, I earn the London Living Wage, so I now have been able to move into my own flat with my boyfriend. I also feel ahead of my peers in terms of experience and confidence in the working world.

Looking back, I wish I had  considered the different options available to young people and not simply taken the conventional route just because it was expected or easy. I invite you to open your mind about what apprenticeships could do for you and your future if you are unsure about university.

I am now working to raise awareness of the workplace’s best-kept secret for under 25s looking to break into a new career. I encourage you to be brave, unafraid to break barriers and go where your happiness takes you.

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Alex Dyer

Alex is the founder and director of Tutor House and has a degree in Psychology. He has worked in the educational industry for 14 years; teaching Psychology for 8 years at a school in London. He now runs Tutor House, after setting it up in 2012. Alex still tutors every week, he writes for the Huffington Post and has appeared on the BBC and ITV to discuss educational topics. Alex is an educational consultant and UCAS expert, he’s worked with hundreds of students over the years. He’s obsessed with squash, but is distinctly average.

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