National Apprenticeship Week: From an IT apprentice 15 years on

This is a guest blog from Matthew Bell, education programme manager at Autodesk Education Europe.


This week celebrates the seventh year of National Apprenticeship Week, helping to raise the profile of apprenticeships in the UK at a time when many young people are potentially struggling to get onto the career ladder.


It’s of particular significance to me too. While I currently head up the European Secondary Education team at Autodesk in Europe, I started out my career nearly 15 years ago in 1996, as an engineering apprentice at UCB Films. By one of those strange quirks of fate, I actually broke my leg at an early stage of the apprenticeship scheme, and the only room they could find that would accommodate my wheelchair was the drawing office.


As I couldn’t reach the manual drawing boards that were being used at the time, I was put in front of the only computer in the building running AutoCAD – which sowed the seeds for my current role.


For any young person considering what to do with their lives, they should seriously look at apprenticeship schemes. While this shouldn’t be the main motivator, I was earning substantially more in my late teens than many of my friends, at the same time as I was learning – in essence I was getting paid to be at college.


Another key consideration is that you are almost guaranteed a job at the end of your scheme, especially in the field of Engineering and Manufacturing where we see significant skills gaps in the UK. Anyone looking at doing a degree will have been told of the difficulties of securing a job once you’ve finished your education.


The relationship between degrees and apprenticeships is an interesting question, and has resulted in some stigma being attached to becoming an apprentice. It is still often seen as a choice for those that don’t have what it takes to do a degree, yet in reality you can continue your apprentice training up to degree level; it never did me any harm.  Vocational Education across the globe is raising its profile, especially through organisations such as WorldSkills which allow young people to compete on an Olympic stage in areas such as Engineering, Construction, Creative Arts and many more, and the continued support for Apprenticeships in the UK shows that this will only increase.


The main advice I’d give is that you have to be open to the opportunities that apprenticeship schemes present. They provide much needed industry experience, allow you to earn while you learn, and provide qualifications for you to work in STEM-based industries, which are crying out for qualified people at the moment.


We’re still in a mindset where it is “A-level/Degree/Job”, whereas the apprentice route is just as valid, and still more needs to be done by the government and education institutions for pupils to see these schemes as a worthy choice for their future career.

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