Are you apprenticeship material? #NAW2108

“I didn’t come in expecting this to be easy,” says Haleema Baker-Mir, now 20, who began a degree apprenticeship in management at 18.


She’s on the three year scheme with Nestlé and spends six weeks a year studying at Sheffield Hallam University. She’ll qualify with a chartered manager degree which was designed by employers and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)

“It’s definitely hard work. It’s making that transition into working life. I’m glad I did this at 18 rather than at 21.” 

But an apprenticeship is an abrupt change. Suddenly, you are due at work all day, every day, with limited holidays. You need to behave professionally, while your former schoolmates might be out on the razzle at college or university. You’ll still need to find the will power to study outside of working hours.

“It’s hard to make decisions that you feel will affect the rest of your life when you’re not sure what direction you want to take,” says former teacher and careers expert Karen Holmes, author of “What Employers Want”. “Don’t feel pressured, nothing is set in stone.”

Apprentices report that schemes, particularly at higher levels, are undeniably hard work, says Chris Webb, a careers adviser at the Ruth Gorse Academy in Leeds. “You’re not only doing a full time job, you’ve got to study outside work too,” he says. Not every 16 or 18 year old is ready.

Until now, you’ve been measured by exams and assessments. But employers also look for aptitude and enthusiasm and some don’t even require specific academic grades. If you’ve had work experience, or can show how you’ve held down a regular job, it could help you stand out. Some of the qualities employers look for are those you’ve probably been told about but might not be quite sure how to show them: team work, creativity, motivation, logical thinking, initiative and so on.

“Start by trying to understand more about yourself - what you enjoy doing and importantly your strengths,” says Maggie Stilwell, managing partner for talent at EY, which offers apprenticeships in professional services.

“Think about how you like to learn, your style of learning and what type of environment you learn best in – independent study or on-the-job experience.”

Don’t panic – employers, particularly those used to hiring apprentices, will have friendly employees and systems in place to support you. They don’t expect you to be perfect on day one.

Before you rush in, get as much information as you can, suggests Ms Holmes – but check your sources.

Government sites and, or have advice.

Other sites with commercial backing might present a relentlessly rosy picture, but still give a good idea of the opportunities out there. Try speaking to careers advisers at school or college too, says Ms Holmes. And take your time. “There are four levels of apprenticeship so if you’re not sure you’re ready at 16, you could apply later at 18.”

There are three main things to look at – what level apprenticeship is right, what type or sector or industry you’d like to work in and what type of employer to work for. 

There are hundreds of different apprenticeships in many different sectors, from media through to marketing, HR, accountancy business and engineering. You’ll probably want to stay local too, so that may limit your choice. You can find more information on individual company websites, where you can also register your interest.

Multinationals down to small businesses all offer apprenticeships, but the experience will differ hugely. Bigger companies are more likely to hire more apprentices at once and might chunk together training time into weekly or fortnightly blocks. But you might be the only one at a smaller company and perhaps attend college one day a week – some new apprentices prefer the intimacy of a small company where they often get more responsibility, faster.

“Do your own research – there is a breadth of apprenticeships now available, for example EY recently launched a degree apprenticeship in digital innovation,” says Ms Stillwell. “You can also take advantage of ‘taster’ days, internships, or work experience offered by many firms, to help you decide.” 

Most apprentices find their colleagues supportive, helpful and friendly – even if they’re new to the scheme as well. Think of an apprenticeship as a leg up on to a career rather than a permanent choice, say careers advisers.

You can now apply for any number of apprenticeships, whilst applying for other options at the same time. “It’s a time of change in your life,” says Ms Holmes. “Don’t’ be surprised if your ideas about your career adjust accordingly.”