Oh you’re an apprentice? So when are you getting a real job?

 9 March 2015

During a discussion panel I took part in at the Creative & Cultural Skills conference, I was asked by Skills Minister Nick Boles about the perceptions of apprenticeships among my family and friends.

Taking part in a discussion about the future of creative industries at the Creative & Cultural Skills Conference (Image © James Fletcher)
Taking part in a discussion about the future of creative industries at the Creative & Cultural Skills Conference (Image © James Fletcher)

Instinctively I laughed. Where do I even start? With my nan: “but when you get a real job...” Or my friends: “you’re an apprentice, why do they pay you so much?” Or the sector professionals: “you’re an apprentice, you can’t do my job” (when actually we had similar jobs).

Challenging apprenticeship stereotypes

During my 12 months as an apprentice at London Transport Museum (LTM) I have been on the receiving end of many stereotypes and preconceptions, but I have watched these perceptions slowly start to change.

The more conversation we create around apprenticeships, the more perceptions we can change.

I have seen surprise in the faces of others – young people, peers and experienced professionals – when I explain what I have done as part of my apprenticeship. Values are shifting, but we still have a long journey ahead of us.

How do we continue to challenge perceptions and ensure that the value of apprenticeships keeps rising?

In my opinion there are two ways we, as a sector, can continue to create the change we need.

  1. Keep delivering accessible, authentic, beneficial and fit-for-purpose apprenticeships
  2. Keep on talking about them everywhere!

What makes an authentic apprenticeship?

From my experience at LTM, a good apprenticeship has been about a supported exchange of ideas, learning and benefit between apprentice, other staff and museum audiences.

There are a few areas that I've found to have been particularly important:

  • Accessibility means levelling the playing field. It’s about being flexible and honest. Employers should make sure an apprentice job description is clear and the young people involved get a chance to experience what the job will really be like. We need to be creating opportunities for young people to talk to staff and ask questions during the recruitment process.
  • Importantly, a liveable wage, wide recruitment and actual entry-level positions ensure that a diverse and large range of young people can apply for the opportunity.
  • Clarity and transparency ensures that everyone has an understanding of what is expected of them and what they should expect of each other. This is vital.
  • Support is crucial and takes many forms. First ensuring apprentices are provided with the training, skills, tools and support to fulfil their job role. Learn how to explore and tailor these for their futures. Secondly, encourage a strong pastoral approach through self-reflection, regular one to ones, having a mentoring or buddy scheme and by ensuring that staff are open to be approached if and when needed.
  • Responsibility: handing this to apprentices as soon as possible gives them ownership, belonging and ensures that they feel valued. Keep expectations high and with the right support they will not disappoint. In fact they’ll do a ruddy good job!
  • Networks, networks, networks. Support your apprentice to form beneficial partnerships to support both their role and future progression. This will develop the apprentice into a valuable resource, which is good for their future career, and also as inspiring advocates and assets to the sector.
  • Recognising their achievements and communicating this with other staff and the wider sector is so important. This helps the apprentice to feel valued in their work place, but also acts as positive communication, demonstrating the true value of apprenticeships to the organisation and sector.

Winning Apprentice of the Year Award, alongside my colleague Hannah, has been the icing on the cake. This has been the most fantastic way to be recognised for the hard work we, and our employer LTM, have invested over the last 12 months. What a way to finish a truly life-changing year, and a wonderful outcome for all who played a part in such a valuable scheme.

Let's spread the word about apprenticeships

Authentic apprenticeships are core, but we MUST talk about them EVERYWHERE.

I see it as my responsibility to talk more openly about apprentices and I encourage you to do the same.

Let’s shout it from the roof tops! In the office, at meetings, in seminars, drinking coffee at conferences, over social media and even down the pub. The more conversation we create around apprenticeships, their value and benefits and how to embed them, the more perceptions we can change.

At the start of my journey I was faced daily by sceptical people who just did not see, nor understand, the point or benefit. Now with amazing achievements and experiences behind me, I cannot and will not shut up about my apprenticeship. I now understand that I had a job from day one, but I have also been supported to start a career. Do you see that too? I see it as my responsibility to talk more openly, everywhere, about apprentices and I encourage you to do the same.

The only people that have the power to make this change is us, so I have a challenge for you:

  • Talk to one person about apprenticeships today
  • Tell them something you have learnt
  • And highlight something you see as a benefit

The change starts now, but we must work together to ensure that everyone understands the value of apprenticeships. How will you make a difference?

If you have any questions you can find me on Twitter and on my blog educateeli.