Apprenticeships: '90% of my friends took the uni route'

#InspiringApprentice Tom Anders expected an apprenticeship to be easier as school had labelled it a 'second-best' option

Apprenticeships: Tom Anders, a digital marketing apprentice with Southampton City Council, says his school did not promote apprenticeships

My name is Tom Anders, I am 22 and from Salisbury, Wiltshire. I am undertaking a digital marketing level 3 apprenticeship with Southampton City Council, working predominantly on the Solent Apprenticeship Hub Project. I am 12 months into my apprenticeship with just a few months left on the programme until completion.

I first discovered apprenticeships after being forced to leave university in the Netherlands due to a lack of available student accommodation. After coming back, I had decided that I wanted a more “hands-on” approach to learning and gaining experience rather than more years sitting in a classroom. I did some research on junior marketing positions in my area, as I wasn’t aware that apprenticeships existed for anything other than vocational courses, so had not even considered apprenticeships as an option for me. I came across an advert for a digital marketing apprenticeship and immediately applied.


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Schools need to promote apprenticeships

I did not find the careers advice on apprenticeships at all relevant to me while I was at school or sixth form, as the only apprenticeships promoted to us were apprenticeships such as construction, hair and beauty or engineering – and with none of these being strengths of mine, I was led to believe that I should be following the university route or else I was not living up to my potential.

I could not disagree with this more now and definitely feel that schools need to promote all the different kinds of apprenticeship opportunities available.

I expected the apprenticeship to perhaps be a little easier than it has been, due to the fact that school had always labelled an apprenticeship as being a "second-best" option suitable for those who struggled academically, which I had not. The reality is that I have definitely found aspects of it difficult, especially balancing the work you are set with your working life. However, my apprenticeship has far exceeded my expectations in terms of what I have learned, the boost to my self-confidence and the experience I now have.

A few of my general day-to-day activities include: updating all of our social media platforms and keeping up with any questions we get on there; creating exciting content that appeals to our target audience such as articles and videos; upkeep of our website, including optimisation for SEO to make sure we rank highly on search engines; and responding to questions we get from potential clients about our services and referring them on to the relevant member of our team, then updating reports regularly to share with the team on the progress of increasing the awareness of our project. I find this work enjoyable, interesting, challenging and fulfilling, and I definitely want to pursue this as my career.

Treated with respect in the workplace

My manager is extremely accommodating and helpful in setting me tasks that will help me to fulfil criteria necessary to complete my apprenticeship, as well as being very supportive generally of my ideas and proposals, too. Prior to starting my apprenticeship, I was concerned that I might be just used to conduct menial tasks such as photocopying, but this has been far from the case and I am genuinely respected and treated as an equal in the workplace, with people often asking for my input on ideas.

I’d say that probably 90 per cent of my close friends took the university route after finishing sixth form and college and are now coming to the end of their time there. While most of them have thoroughly enjoyed their experience, they do envy the fact that I’ve had over a year of experience in a workplace and am being paid to do so. I think that a lot of them expected it would be very easy to walk straight into a job once they finished but they are quickly realising that it’s not always that simple.

A number of my friends have even asked about what my experience as an apprentice has been like as they are considering this as an option to get into the world of work after university.

Both of my parents attended university, as did my eldest brother, and I could tell they were definitely uncertain if this would be a wise decision for me, particularly as my mother is a teacher who generally promotes university to students. However, I think they have seen that this has been a success for me.

I am pleased that upon finishing my apprenticeship my manager would like me to stay and complete my degree apprenticeship with an organisation that makes me feel valued and part of the team. In 10 years’ time, I would like to have earned my degree through an apprenticeship, and gained as much experience as possible in marketing in a handful of industries, and then perhaps I will start my own marketing agency or my own business.

I would definitely tell young people coming to the end of their time at school to research and consider apprenticeships. I definitely would say that you know yourself best, and what is right for you is not right for everyone else.

For me personally, an apprenticeship has been fantastic. I feel like I have learned more in this past one year than in the rest of my whole life. But this won’t be the same for everyone; a number of my friends, for example, have done exceptionally well at university and that was definitely the best route for them.

So what it comes down to is you and your learning style. If you think you learn best in a hands-on, practical environment, which allows you to put into practice what you are learning, then apprenticeships might be the best way forward for you, so do your own research on them beyond what you are being told about them at school.

Tom Anders is a digital marketing apprentice with Southampton City Council. He tells his story as part of the Tes #InspiringApprentices campaign

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