When I was 14 years old I ran away from home with my mother. I spent the next few years living with different families, sometimes with my dad, sometimes with friends, until I was eventually homeless at 16. Then I was taken in by some youth workers and church volunteers, and set on a path through an apprenticeship. Now I get to work with apprentices every day, I have a stable home and family and have the privilege of being the Mayor of the town I live in.
I never thought I would get the chance to boast when I was younger, but amazing things happen to ordinary people all the time. Like so many others I owe so much of my current contentment to my apprenticeship.
I can think of a dozen reasons why apprenticeships are so important in our society but I’m going to talk about my top three, because not only are apprenticeships beneficial to businesses and young people, they are a crucial mechanism for building a healthy society.
Not everyone gets a chance. You may have heard it said that some people are not “academic”, but I think this is sometimes an unfair statement to brand someone with. Not everyone gets a consistent education; consider the effects of foster parents, bullying, constant negative reinforcement and bad parenting that is a very real part of a lot of young people’s lives; the effects of this are most likely to manifest in school where they are most exposed and vulnerable.
I have observed time and again that when you take a young person with these issues out of this environment, and into a new one where they get a chance to be productive and do something positive, it is like seeing a whole new person.
Apprenticeship schemes give perfectly intelligent but undervalued or underprivileged young people this chance to start over and grow and to be something important and to know that they are important when they start to add real value.
Imagine being that person given that chance and then imagine them 3 years on and what they would give to those that gave them that chance…
Apprentices go much further than you might think. When you’re paid so little and work so hard it’s easy to think apprentices have little worth, and yet I have met hundreds of employers, managers and entrepreneurs who were an apprentice once themselves. A couple of years ago the Telegraph published this article about the top 40 richest former apprentices in the UK.
As an apprentice myself I remember thinking some days that I was just a dogsbody on a production line, a cog in the machine, and with many of my friends thinking about university it was easy to feel bad about it, but in reality that just isn’t the case. So much of every job I have ever had has been the daily graft and grind, and I’m sure that is the same for most people in the workplace.
I think the difference between an apprentice and other types of employees is that, when you experience the low wage, the rubbish jobs and constant “feedback” and still pull through at the end, you grow a determination in your heart that makes you want more for your own life. You learn from the very start to want more money, to want more responsibility and to want to be better; this is built into the entire process because by completing an apprenticeship, you experience success in a very real way and want to experience that again and again.
Imagine how this entrepreneurship and determination can be useful when it comes to solving problems, maintaining morale and building a better business…
An apprenticeship is all encompassing. An apprentice learns so much more than just how to do a job, or how to achieve a qualification; an apprenticeship is a lifestyle choice. A regular employee would often just learn how to do their own job role in that organisation alone, whereas an apprentice has to also learn how to do that entire role, and be prepared to do it in any situation. They will have to explore new ways of working, how to improve their organisation and learn how to progress through their career.
Often an apprentice will have to learn and explore a range of new people skills, problem solving skills and technical skills that other people don’t have. They have to learn to set their own boundaries and how to become self-sufficient and responsible. More importantly, they get to learn this their own way, through real life experience.
I have also observed that more often than not, apprentices find a mentor who can nurture them through this process and teach them what they need to know on a one to one basis, something that is rarely available to such a degree in a school environment. I remember my first workplace mentor, Trevor, who I had hours of what I now think of as quality time with. Not only this, I had my trainers and assessors from my old “college”, who between them, my mentor and my employer, turned me from a moaning talentless teenager, into a capable adult who contributed skills that few in the company had.
Imagine if people in your organisation could be moulded to suit it perfectly, whilst at the same time be able to bring more to the table and drive it forward, and then, later on, help mould more people in the same way…
There are dozens of other reasons why apprenticeships are important and beneficial, but the main point I want to drive home is that they are wholly good and worthwhile. To every person out there who has supported an apprentice, I want to say “Thank you!” And to every apprentice out there I want to say “Keep up the good work!”
To any former apprentice I would love for you to get in touch and tell me honestly how it’s going now, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.