From education to employment

The impact of Covid-19 on the England Apprenticeship scheme

Shola West, B2B Marketer, WhiteHat & Founder of Youth Unlocked Podcast

#FoA2020 – The Future Of Apprenticeships 2020 

I remember at age 13 attending secondary school open days and noticing a common trend across them all, every headteacher would brag about the number of students they had who had gone on to attend University, but not one headteacher had mentioned the number of their students who went on to complete an Apprenticeship.

Similarly, during college, I remember being told to write a UCAS personal statement to attend University. This was said to be compulsory however researching or conversation about Apprenticeships was not.

The message from college was confusing to me because I never wanted to go to University. I know that is something you don’t hear often, but for me doing an apprenticeship was always my first choice, it was never a backup route and neither did I consider it an alternative option.

While others focused on achieving their highest A-level results to get into University, I was outdoors getting work experience at 16 to ensure I could land one of the best Apprenticeships available to me. Education has not always been enjoyable to me but I had drive and I had ambition, therefore, I wanted to operate in an environment where that would be rewarded. An environment that would allow me to thrive and grow in the areas that nurtured my natural strengths which were Apprenticeships.

When I started researching Apprenticeships that were available I was met with stereotypical comments from people such as “Apprenticeships are for those who can’t get into uni” or “Apprenticeships are the ‘BTEC’ version of University.”

People could not understand why I did not want to go to University, they had a very linear way of looking at life and their future career but I knew the value of Apprenticeships. I knew it would enhance my natural strengths, build my network which is very important, get my foot in the door with a great organisation providing practical knowledge, and get paid without accumulating debt.

Those points helped me to stay focused when those negative comments made me doubt myself and question if I was doing the right thing. I kept on going and bagged myself a Digital Marketing level 3 Apprenticeship at 18 with WhiteHat.

At 20 I can honestly say that my Apprenticeship changed my life.

I achieved a distinction in my Digital Marketing Qualification. I have been able to work for one of the fastest startups in the UK and take on a wealth of responsibility at a young age.

My Apprenticeship journey has also allowed me to build up my personal brand by speaking about my journey with organisations such as BBC News, The Guardian, Skills World Live and others.

Black women are shamefully underrepresented in the Tech industry which makes me proud to be making a difference and inspiring others to follow. As a young girl growing up in South London, Croydon these are accomplishments I never imagined possible but by not going with the crowd and taking a risk to some with an Apprenticeship new opportunities keep on opening up.

Now, I hope that I can be a role model for those wanting to do the same, giving them the strength and confidence to go through with their decision to do an Apprenticeship. I am now in a great position within the B2B marketing sector telling other companies about how great Apprenticeships can be for their organisations having first-hand experience.

I would love to see more companies choosing to take on just as many Apprentices as they do Graduates for grad schemes. After all, by taking on Apprentices, companies will be making use of the Levy pot, increasing diversity and helping with retention.

In the next few years, I want Apprenticeships to be normalised at all levels of society across a wide spread of careers. Not just in Hairdressing and Engineering but also careers within the non-conventional industries such as Technology and Finance.

I have seen some change recently, but I still find myself in those situations when I met some new and they automatically ask ‘so what did you study at uni then?

I reply ‘I actually did an apprenticeship’, the conversation dies after that because there is still a stigma attached.

As Euan Blair, Founder & CEO of WhiteHat says:

“In the next few years I want to see a group of young adults in the pub talking about their career journeys, but instead of asking each other what Universities did you attend, they ask, where did you do your Apprenticeship?”

To truly see change in the next few years it will take 2 things:

1. The government to produce more data surrounding the England Apprenticeship scheme.

This will help young people to make more informed decisions when choosing to progress onto an apprenticeship.

For example data about expected salaries for different programmes.

2. A change of the schooling system

Parents most likely use a school league table to pick out the best secondary schools for their children. These school league tables include inputs such as what University the students went on to and the types of universities. What I want to see is a school league that showcases the outputs such as how many students went on to securing jobs or further development.

I am hopeful that individuals like me are helping to spark that change and what I mentioned will come into play sooner than later.

When I was asked to be a Co-Anchor for the Future Of Apprenticeships, I was super thrilled as all things Apprenticeships and youth culture are right up my street. For the Apprentice stage, I am co-hosting alongside Samuel Oksaga, and we are able to interview a group of very incredible apprentices / ex-apprentices.

We discuss the recent Apprentices IFSA Survey Report covering themes around the impact of Covid-19 on the England Apprenticeship scheme, the challenges of being an Apprentice and the future of what we would like to see.

Shola West, B2B Marketer, WhiteHat & Founder of Youth Unlocked Podcast

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