There’s been a lot of debate in recent years about the value of apprenticeships. Historically viewed as a second-class educational attainment, significantly substandard to university schooling, apprenticeships have been the domain of those who can’t. The people for whom academia is just too hard. For whom manual, hands-on work is probably more suited. Always said with a certain degree of disdain. And despite recent developments that have seen some big industry names, across specialisms, offering apprenticeships, that snobbery still lingers. The thing is, in my view, it is ill-founded.
In 2015 I began working as an apprentice at Google. Three years later, I left to start my own agency and began offering apprenticeships myself, using my business to help others to find their career path – and benefiting from some incredible talent along the way. And more than anything else, these experiences have taught me that it’s time to stop depreciating the alternative pathways in education. And to help young people – all people – to find their best route into work.
The argument for apprenticeships
For some people, the archetypal education system just doesn’t work. Learning through theory does nothing to spark the imagination, or even hold the attention. In contrast, a hands-on approach, where an individual can be given the trust and responsibility to work on projects and learn through practice, can provide the fastest and most enjoyable way to learn.
And that’s how it was for me. Every day of my apprenticeship, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I made mistakes, but that was part of the learning process, and with feedback and direction, I was able to use those mistakes to grow. And I gained real life experience that has helped me – is still helping me – in my career. When I presented my first project, just a month into my apprenticeship, it wasn’t to a classroom or lecture hall full of my peers, it was to 50 of the top Google salespeople in the UK. And it didn’t just result in good grades and appreciation, but in a new way for Google to pitch their projects, used by teams across EMEA. A Think with Google article about customer journeys in advertising also followed. Giving me a bigger confidence boost than any university experience I can imagine I could ever have achieved. It also kick-started my relationship with a lot of very well-connected people, which has been wonderful on both a business and a social level.
And the social part of an apprenticeship is important to note too. Many people head to university, drawn by ‘the experience’. People mythologise Freshers’ week, and the intensity of the relationships that you can form there. The connections that you can make. But an apprenticeship provided that for me too. OK, so I didn’t join a rock climbing or knitting club. But I connected with so many people on both a work and a personal level. My ex-line manager, who now happens to be the Head of YouTube Sales in the UK, is one example. I view her, as well as many of the others who were working on the apprenticeship alongside me, and the 30+ team members at Google at that time, as close friends. As well as important business connections.
That’s one of the reasons why I am driven to offer apprenticeships at RCCO. The experience was so worthwhile for me. And more people should be given the opportunity to experience that pathway.
The argument for working with apprentices
As a business owner, it doesn’t take long to learn the importance of finding the right people. Working with apprentices helps to create those people.
The thing that has driven my success more than anything else, is the number of incredible people that I was exposed to throughout my apprenticeship. I was able to work alongside some of the top people in the industry, and learn how they approach different situations. Through them, I was able to learn key business skills – the ones that you simply can’t learn from a textbook. As well as how to communicate, how to deal with very tough and stressful situations, how to build rapport, how to manage people effectively. And through building long-lasting relationships with those people, I’ve been able to access so many opportunities for work, collaborations, and hires.
These are all things that I have brought to my business – and would have brought to someone else’s business had I not pursued my own path. Providing the opportunity for the next generation of learners and workers to do the same, simply makes sense. If I’m lucky, an apprentice will bring something big to my business. If I’m luckier still, they’ll bring something bigger to the world.
Why it’s OK to encourage students to take alternative pathways away from higher education
University can be amazing. I have no doubt about that. But it also consumes a HUGE chunk of your younger motivated years. Unless you 10,000% know what you want to study and specialise in, there’s a real chance that you’ll come to regret it. An apprenticeship is not only a shorter way to get into the industry, but it allows you to truly get a feel for the job and working environment, to see if you are ready and if you are in the right industry for you. If things don’t work out, it is much easier to pivot. And if they do work out, you are already embedded in a company, role, and industry that you love.
So, don’t take the road most-travelled simply because it’s what you’re expected to do. Look around. See what’s available. Explore your options. Then make the choice that is right for you.
By Jordan Richards, founder and CEO of RCCO.
Jordan was one of the youngest Google apprentices, starting at just 18 and stayed on for three years to become a creative lead. He has since become founder of digital design agency RCCO, a 20-person team working with tech giants like Google globally, and exciting start-ups with investment. He is also co-founder of WILD, a video production studio working with PureGym and Revolut, and owner of FounderSphere, a community for young entrepreneurs.