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Opinion21st March 2019

“On the job” with apprenticeships

Emily Kay is currently leading the coordination of the Professional Pathways Foundation Year at Ark 6th Form East Sussex and Ark Globe Academy. The programme gives year 12 students further opportunities to succeed in English and Maths GCSEs while working towards a Level 3 Tech Level.

My sister has always wanted to work with animals. When we were children, she managed to convince my parents to let her take home: two guinea-pigs, three mice, 18 fish, 25 tropical birds and – to my horror – one giant African land snail. When she finished her A levels, she couldn’t wait to apply her pet-rearing skills to the world of work. In 2013, my sister took what she thought was the only “acceptable” path, and went to university to study animal behaviour. Nothing is more frustrating for someone who is itching to get stuck into their dream job than reading a textbook about it. Today she would have more options. With this in mind, it delights me to see the huge rise in apprenticeships available to those who can’t wait to start their careers.

At Ark, we work with an array of top apprenticeship providers like WhiteHat, who support our students with their applications and help them to secure their perfect apprenticeship using tools like Career Hacker. During National Career and Apprenticeships Week, I attended a WhiteHat breakfast with employers and apprentices who share our enthusiasm for apprenticeships. There are too many reasons to champion apprenticeships to list in a short blog, but I have chosen my favourites below.

There is an apprenticeship for everyone.

Apprenticeships are available from level 1-7, spanning entry-level to master’s degree equivalent. Whether our students are leaving year 11 with a disappointing set of GCSEs, or finishing their sixth form qualifications with top marks, there is an apprenticeship level to suit them. There are apprenticeships in every job sector you could imagine. At WhiteHat, we heard about apprenticeships in the tech, finance, business, legal, healthcare and many other sectors.

They develop skills and behaviour, as well as knowledge

Academic qualifications like A-levels are great for assessing what students know. But they cannot tell us if a student can confidently share their thoughts in a meeting, compose a legible email or use Excel. Because apprenticeships develop and assess knowledge, skills and behaviour, apprentices develop the skills to become well-rounded, employable individuals. At the WhiteHat event, Sioban explained, ‘20% of an apprentice’s time is used for their off-the-job training which includes professional & personal development… Current apprentice Jamilla, spoke on the panel today to develop her public speaking skills, for example’

Employers love them

Part of Ark’s mission is to help students access a ‘career of their choice’. Employers are consistently telling us they want to hire young people with work experience. Jennie Stone, Apprenticeship Relationship Manager for Health Education England, explained how the NHS (the largest employer in the country) offers ‘apprenticeship pathways, which can lead to lifelong careers in healthcare’. Nicola Stafford, from law firm Ashurst, remarked that their apprentices ‘will qualify as solicitors with much more experience in a legal environment than the trainees, and so will likely have more in-depth knowledge’.

They promote social mobility and diversify workforces

Whilst Ark is fortunate to be able to offer financial support, via bursaries, to some students choosing to go on to university, the reality for many of our young people is that they often need to work and earn money from a young age. Apprenticeships allow you to earn whilst you learn, always matching minimum wage, with many offering opportunities for regular pay rises throughout.

‘Employers are realising that the way they have traditionally recruited is not diversifying their workforce. They are looking to apprenticeships to bring in new experience, skills & ideas’ said Siobhan from WhiteHat.

Nicola Stafford, who spoke at Whitehat, says her law firm has noticed apprenticeships diversifying its intake of employees: ‘Approximately 80% of applications for our legal apprenticeship have come from state school educated young people. This is really encouraging as social mobility is a strong focus for the firm’. WhiteHat have seen similar results, with 65% of their applicants coming from Non-white British backgrounds and 49% having claimed free school meals in their educational history

I’ve met hundreds of students since joining Ark, many of whom have excitedly told me of their plans to own businesses, design clothing lines or, like my sister, work with exotic animals. I am delighted that these bright, enthusiastic, ambitious young people can choose to pursue their own dreams through apprenticeships. My sister, Laura, is now a Recruiter and Assessor at Support Dogs. She is also the owner of two very chubby rats but thankfully, no giant African land snails.

Ark is working strategically with a range of partners to increase the number of students accessing high quality apprenticeships with companies such as Capgemini, WhiteHat, Google, EY, NHS, Civil Service, PwC and many more. If you are interested in working with us to promote your apprenticeship offer please get in touch with Emma Thomson, Partnerships Manager on