So, you’re thinking about completing an apprenticeship? It is a great way of earning money, gaining experience whilst still receiving formal education. I’m really trying to avoid using the term “earn while you learn”, albeit true, I just cringe every time I hear it (sorry to the marketing department who created it, it’s nothing personal). Although I can only speak on behalf of myself as a Civil Engineering Degree Apprentice, I’m sure the points I’ll make in this article can be applied to any industry and at any level.
Before I launch into the trial and tribulations of apprenticeships, I should mention, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my journey or the path that I’ve taken to get to this point. Just like most things in life, there are positives and negatives, but I believe there is a certain power in accepting the bad as well as the good. I want this article to be rounded and seen from both sides, so you can make an informed, confident decision in your career.
1 - Long Term Commitment
Nothing worthwhile will ever come quickly, apprenticeships are a long-term commitment that needs some serious consideration and research – they are not something that can be dropped off and picked back up. An apprenticeship is a typical example of “You will only get out what you put in”, the benefits may not be apparent immediately, but I promise, they will come. Also, remember an apprenticeship is a two-way street (three-way including the education provider – but that’s starting to get complicated). It is an investment for your employer as well as yourself, if you are not committed to such an endeavour then maybe it’s worthwhile to not waste your own time as well as your (potential) employers.
2 - Summer Exams = Just Keep Studyin’
I absolutely love summer, it’s my favourite time of the year; the long nights, the actual possibility of sunshine and maybe if I’m lucky a tan – what’s not to love? Well, summer exams to be exact.
My university course is structured in a way where ALL my exams for the academic year are in the summer, roughly June/July time – I would love nothing more to spend my evenings and weekends in the garden or in the great outdoors, but I’m afraid during June that is a mere fantasy. Every possible moment is spent finalising assignments or revising for that exam that seems to be getting closer and closer but no matter how much I revise; I can’t seem to remember anything about the subject. Although this seasonal timing will not apply to every course out there though, there will always be times where I’ll close my work laptop and immediately open my personal laptop for university work. These times are relentless, but I can guarantee with a bit of grit and determination, these days will eventually pass.
3 - The Salary May Not Make You a Millionaire (not anytime soon)
This will not apply to all apprenticeships, but it is worth bearing in mind. The salary of an apprentice can massively vary depending on several factors like the industry, the type of role, and position within the business. I know some apprentices who would earn more money working a zero-hour contract at *insert favourite supermarket here*. I also know some 20-year-olds who could happily afford a 3-bedroom semi-detached house in the suburbs with two children, two cats, and a dog with money to waste on the most expensive, non-essential, completely over-the-top Gucci belt (roughly £345, yes, I checked). Ultimately though, at this point in your career, I don’t believe in fixating on a number with a pound sign. Instead appreciate the salary, its benefits, and the experience you are gaining. I know this is easier said than done but enjoying your job and career is a lot more important than the monthly paycheck, so please don’t let it be the deciding factor.
4 - Know Or Have An Idea About The Industry
A little research never hurt anyone, and it can go a long way in an application process, it’s especially true in early career interviews. Take some time to contact companies of interest, introduce yourself and your interests – you never know where it might take you! Think about how your personal values and interests match the company/industry, try to show this when speaking to company representatives. Having a one-week/two-week work placement at a company is even better, although it won’t be an exact replica, it can bring a brilliant insight and gives a feel for the industry. Even if you decide it’s not quite right for you, nothing ventured is nothing gained! When I was deciding my career path, I took work placements in Marine, Aerospace, Civil, and Manufacturing engineering, so don't be afraid to try new sectors. The more research and experience you have about the industry can help to make an informed decision, remember it is a long-term commitment.
5 - The Hard Work Isn’t Getting The Apprenticeship, It’s Doing The Apprenticeship
Sounds obvious right? Remember the job is every day, rain or shine. This is where the hard work actually starts. Starting an apprenticeship is a MASSIVE learning curve, and I often found, when I was starting to think I understood something, that was only the beginning. There were times where I was getting more things wrong than right, and for the people that know me, you’ll know I hate it (and hate is a strong word). However, you will be relieved to hear that it does get better, and with every mistake, I became a little more confident – there is such power in learning from mistakes and this needs to be appreciated (again, another learning curve). Looking back now, thinking about the first year in my apprenticeship, I laugh at some of the things I did, but that is okay, and I learnt to appreciate how far I’ve come. I’ll often see the “I’ve finished my apprenticeship” photo on social media with smiles and happiness, celebrating their success. Which of course is well deserved and quite rightfully should be celebrated. However, what is rarely advertised or seen are the days during their apprenticeship, when they’ll wake up struggling to keep their eyes open looking like a cast-extra from the Shaun of the Dead film, and trust me, it will happen.
I could write for hours about this topic but it’s best not to bore you too much so I’m going to keep it reasonably short and sweet. If I could tell you one point to take away from this article: apprenticeships are hard work. I cannot deny that there are some days I wish I did a full-time degree (turns out that’s completely normal for apprentices), but for the majority of the time, I love the process I’ve been through and how I’ve developed as a person. In the words of Elton John, “I’m still standing”, well just about any way.
Check out my apprenticeship course with University of Warwick, or if you’re interested in delving into the world of apprenticeships, this link here will take you to the National Apprenticeship Service website!
If you have any questions or want to speak to me personally, get in touch!
Stay busy, Be curious.