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Opinion15th March 2018

‘Hired’ or ‘Fired’? Ideas for running an Apprentice Day at your school

Tom Ding

Tom Ding is Head of Year 13 at Ark Academy in Wembley. He studied maths at the University of Cambridge before taking a graduate role at a marketing service firm. In 2013 he realised his future lay in teaching, and joined the Ark Teacher Training programme, training and working at Ark Academy. Every student from his year 13 further maths group from the last academic year is currently at university studying maths, physics, computer science or engineering.

At Ark, we’ve been watching closely as the number of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships for school leavers has been rapidly increasing in recent years. We’ve read The Sutton Trust’s research about the ‘access gap’ that exists for the best programmes. We also know from speaking to our students that prejudiced views about the value of apprenticeships are widespread.

That’s what led me to develop a new project for my sixth form students. The objectives of ‘The Apprentice, Ark-style’ were two-fold: to challenge any preconceptions our students and their parents may have about apprenticeships; and to give them all practical experience in the kinds of tasks and interviews they are likely to face whenever they enter the workforce.

Every sixth former at Ark Academy attended our inaugural Apprentice Day. It was a big commitment; over the course of the day, 180 students were put through a full-scale recruitment process for an apprenticeship, experiencing a one-on-one interview, taking part in a group task and completing an online skills assessment. To make the day possible, we partnered with three top apprenticeship providers, Lloyds Banking Group, Transport for London and The Civil Service, who all generously made their employees available to interview the students.

Ark Academy

How did it work?

The students were split into three streams, with 50-60 students competing for each of the three ‘imaginary’ apprenticeships: software development at TfL, business administration at The Civil Service, and project management at Lloyds.

The students were given a briefing on the role they were applying for and plenty of advice and time to prepare themselves. The guest interviewers were especially impressed with the research many of the students had done into their companies and the depth of the experiences many of them were able to draw upon when giving examples.

One of our students, Shahir, said, “The most inspirational thing I took from the day was that I now understand that I can end up in the same place whether I do a degree or an apprenticeship”. Another student, Medan, said, “The best bit of the day was getting feedback on my interview technique”.

At the end of the day the students gathered together in the hall to hear who had been ‘hired’. Whilst only three of our students could be the successful apprentices, the employers all agreed that what stood out most was the tight competition.

Our first networking event

By 5pm the pressure of the application process had subsided, but we weren’t finished yet. It is commonly accepted that the lack of a ready-made network of contacts to draw upon for career advice is one of the biggest barriers to social mobility.

For this reason we finished the day with our first sixth form networking event, at which our students rubbed shoulders with and sought advice and inspiration from 64 special guests, representing the broadest possible range of careers.

John, a geologist who works for Shell International commented, “I thoroughly enjoyed it. The students were really serious and professional, I genuinely enjoyed talking with them.” Student Suchita said, “The networking event was really informative and such a great chance for us to meet some incredible people.”

Ark Academy

Challenges along the way

There are always challenges when you run an event like this, and I definitely learnt a few things along the way.

It’s key to get in touch with as many different organisations as possible, as early as possible (we wrote letters to six companies in order to secure our three major partners and emailed over 100 firms about the networking event). We were grateful to the charity Education & Employers, which aims to build links between the two sectors and was very helpful in providing contacts, resources and delivering an introduction to apprenticeships on the day.

Our Apprentice Day also came at the end of a five week PSHE unit in which we had been exploring different interview and assessment methods one by one, meaning the experience didn’t come as a surprise to the students. Before the event some grumbles could be heard in the sixth form study room (including, “Why do we have to do this the week before the mocks?!”). However there was a palpable buzz in the air throughout our first ‘Apprentice Day’ and by the end of the networking event, many of the students were visibly energised.

If you’re interested in organising something similar, please feel free to get in touch with me to discuss on

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