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'I spent two weeks reasoning with my family'

At school, there was no discussion about other opportunities or different paths, university was the next step for everyone, writes apprentice Zahra Ahmed

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At school, there was no discussion about other opportunities or different paths, university was the next step for everyone, writes apprentice Zahra Ahmed

Like all parents, mine want what’s best for their children. Our best chance to get a good education, to go to a good university, to get a good job: to live a good life. I’m sure that’s what many people think, as it’s what we’ve always been told.

From a young age I decided I wanted to be a dentist. I took all the necessary steps to ensure that was a possibility. I attained great GCSE results and selected the necessary A levels I would need to pursue dentistry. From the start of Year 12, like all my peers, I was instructed to go onto the Ucas website and research what universities were looking for in students who wanted to take my chosen course.

At my school, there was no discussion about other opportunities or different paths, such as apprenticeships. University was the next step for everyone. From the beginning of my A levels, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end and never got the chance to take a breath before I had to start swimming. I wasn’t enjoying the work, but I knew I had to push through if I wanted to become a dentist. As a student that had always obtained A grades across all subjects, it was extremely discouraging to hear.

Fate stepped in

Eventually, after receiving results at the end of the first year that were nowhere near as good as I needed, I decided to move school. I chose new A levels, based upon what I enjoyed most: English literature, Spanish and drama. The complete opposite of the science subjects I had previously taken. Then fate stepped in: during an assembly at my new school, the head of careers advice spoke of next steps after college and what the future had to offer. He explained that university isn’t for everyone and talked about apprenticeships. It was unexpected for me to hear an alternative route to university. It piqued my interest.

Having researched what an apprenticeship could offer me, I was confused why anyone wouldn’t want to take this path. I spent close to two weeks reasoning with my family, trying to get them to understand what a great opportunity this was for me. They argued that I should finish my A levels before considering other options, but I knew I didn’t want to stay for two more years before pursuing a future.

I left school, still needing to convince my parents an apprenticeship was a good idea. I immediately started applying for as many apprenticeships as I could in PR and HR, because they were what most interested me most. By December I was waiting to hear back from two positions within charities. I went through a long assessment process for both and went in for an assessment day on my 18th birthday for the PR apprentice position at City & Guilds. I received a call the next day saying I got the position and my mother cried with pride, overjoyed by my accomplishment.

Amazed by the opportunities

Since starting my apprenticeship, everyone who originally discouraged me is now fully supportive and amazed by the new opportunities I’m offered every day. The skills I have acquired so quickly haven’t failed to impress my family, friends and myself. My mother is also now a self-proclaimed ambassador for apprenticeships and is promoting them to all of her friends with younger children.

The responsibility I've been given from the start, the projects I have been involved in and that I’ve been trusted with dispels the rumour that apprentices get dumped with making the tea and photocopying. I immediately felt like a member of the team and have been met with open arms by everyone in the company. I feel motivated and inspired to work – and I look forward to the challenges to come.

I don’t regret my decision, but the battles I had to fight to take an apprenticeship would have been a lot easier without the current stigma society has attached to an apprenticeship. If I had been told at a younger age that there were other routes besides university, I wouldn’t have felt so scared when my career plans changed and I wasn’t sure what to do. My parents would have also been a lot more supportive from the start if they were more aware of the benefits of an apprenticeship and the experience that comes with it.

Zahra Ahmed is a PR apprentice at City & Guilds

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