When I was at school, careers education was non-existent. When I then went into teaching, after 20 years in industry in various roles at Barclays Bank, I was saddened to find that not much had moved on. Staﬀ, students and parents knew no other routes; apprenticeships were for car mechanics and if you didn't want to go to university you had failed.
I was determined to change that, so when I was asked to develop the careers leader role at my current school, I made sure it focused on a comprehensive understanding of apprenticeships as well as the traditional focus on universities.
Background: School careers leaders: who are they?
Inspiring apprentices: 'Having four GCSEs made me feel like I had no options'
On the job
I feel strongly that an apprenticeship is an absolutely excellent qualification that anyone should be proud of going for and achieving. I’ve seen so many people come through the school that are extremely talented, but not necessarily academic, and university is not for them. Many people learn far better "on the job", and it’s a wonderful way for young people to open their eyes to different roles they might like to look into and explore. Many employers rotate their apprentices around a few different teams to give them the opportunity to learn different skills from different people. That really is invaluable when you’re taking your first steps in your career.
To effectively promote apprenticeships in schools, you have to take a holistic view of educating and informing the teachers and parents, as well as the students themselves. In fact, the first step on my journey was to get buy in from the senior leadership team and governors, to ensure they had a shared vision of the value of promoting a broader range of routes into work.
I’ve also worked really closely with a wider group of teachers within the school, to equip and empower them to feel confident talking to students about apprenticeships linked to their specialist topics. I also help to make them aware of apprenticeship vacancies in these areas amongst both local and large employers. Part of the challenge for teachers is understanding the application and recruitment process for apprenticeships – which is different to the more familiar UCAS route. Building understanding and sharing experience of this is key.
Each year, I give one to one coaching to all students who are applying for apprenticeships, including help on writing their initial application, what to expect in the online tests, how to approach the various types of interviews, and what’s involved in the assessment centres. I have also turned my attention to educating parents in year 11 and 12 – a critical advisory audience for young people – and spreading the message to other schools via presentations at local schools in the Bexley Borough and in national workshops.
One of the most powerful tactics I can recommend to other teachers looking to raise awareness and understanding of apprenticeships within their schools is to encourage ex-students to come back in and talk about what they’re doing, and how good it is.
It’s so rewarding to read messages and emails from students who I’ve helped and seeing them go on to enjoy exciting apprenticeships and fulfilling careers. If we are to tap into all the varied and wonderful talent that sits with our young people, we need alternative qualification routes to the traditionally narrow view of university. Apprenticeships are that vital and rigorous alternative.
Helen Everett is careers leader at Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar School.