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Apprenticeships: An Alternative for School Leavers

Higher-Level Apprenticeships are an increasingly popular choice amongst School Leavers. A quarter of a million undergraduates are considering an apprenticeship route, as an alternative to a traditional university pathway.  SEO London are on a mission to ensure School Leavers from underrepresented backgrounds get access to the most competitive apprenticeships.  

We spoke to Trinnity, a Analytics and Sales Finance Degree Apprentice at Bloomberg about her journey into apprenticeships and some of the challenges students from minority like herself, are facing. 


Firstly, what made you choose the apprenticeship route? 

The route that was encouraged by my college was University.  University for me didn't really align with what I wanted to do. In the future, I thought it would be great to get the knowledge and to be able to learn things at a higher level, but what I was looking for was more skills and work experience that I could use within industry.  Eventually, when I spoke to our careers advisor, apprenticeships came up and particularly Degree apprenticeships which aligned with both where I wanted to get a higher education but also to be able to get hands-on experience where I could apply that knowledge in the industry.  So, apprenticeships is what my focus came on and eventually it led me down the correct route. 


Sadly one in four young people find the application process too difficult to navigate. What were the main challenges you found when applying for an apprenticeship?  

What I struggled with most and what I didn't have experience with was interviews and assessment centres. I had not applied for a corporate position before, so I didn't know how I should speak in an interview. I didn't know the kinds of questions they would ask me, so it felt like I was going through it blindly at points in time, and I didn't really get support through College. 

I applied to roughly 20 apprenticeships. Over time the process did get easier with applying for applications, what didn't get easier was that I was still studying for my A levels.  I remember a time where I was applying for Degree Apprenticeships, which is a long process, but I was also studying for my mock exams - I did have to choose which one I wanted to put more of a focus on, and I saw the importance of Apprenticeships, so I chose to put my attention rather than studying because once you have a lot of applications such as 20, it's a lot to take care of - It's a lot of emails that you're monitoring, preparing for interviews and researching the company.  


Did you have any network connections such as family or friends that were able to give you that insight? 

No, I only had my mum, she did help me a lot through the interview process but she works a middle-working class job, so she also didn't have that experience of going through a particular corporate interview process. 

My family don't work in corporate environments or higher level jobs, so I didn't have any networks and I also didn't know what LinkedIn was, so I didn't think I could go to reach out to people and see if I can find help that way because I didn't know about that. I didn't have any network there to support me, apart from my mum. 

 

How do you think employers and charities like SEO London could better help School Leavers during the decision-making and application process? 

I think when I was going through applying for apprenticeships, I had the same amount of knowledge as the careers advisor or the careers team at my college, which wasn't really a lot. So what I would advise is that the way that we can go about helping schools is to increase their knowledge about apprenticeships, how the students apply for apprenticeships, but also the benefits as well. When it came to my college specifically, there was a strong focus on University and not so much the benefits of doing an apprenticeship. So a stronger focus on interviews or assessment centres and then also just the benefits of apprenticeships over the typical and high higher education route. 


Finally, what piece of advice would you give to employers who are trying to attract and retain diverse talent? 

I think first understand the backgrounds that you're trying to advertise to or support because especially when it comes to minority backgrounds, support is what is most key, and it's what people overlook as well.  Sometimes people assume that we have this network of family or other students, older brothers, siblings that have done degrees or have gone to higher education or have done things such as apprenticeships, which is often not the case.  

The audience that you're trying to look at is probably taking on more responsibility. They're probably working jobs during their studies, focusing on supporting their family or taking care of younger siblings whilst their parents work, which is what I felt. So I think really understanding the challenges that minority backgrounds would be taking on, which is not always focused on when it comes to interview processes, which is long. It's a long process that takes time to prepare for, and not every person in a minority background might have that time to sufficiently apply for those kind of apprenticeships because it's a privilege to be able to sit down for an hour or two and be able to just focus on researching a company or having the resources to be able to, you know, accessing information about a company, or just even having a computer for example.  

I think it's really being able to understand the audience or the backgrounds that you're trying to direct apprenticeships towards so that you can better understand the process that they might be taking on as well. 

 

In 2023 Trinnity successfully secured a role at Bloomberg as an Analytics and Sales Finance Apprentice (Level 6, Degree Apprenticeship). 

In September 2024 SEO London are launching Plan A, a programme to tackle barriers of access and success into the most competitive School Leaver apprenticeships. If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved, please contact us on apprenticeships@seo-london.org.

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