THE BLOG

Why the Business Giants Are Failing Our Apprentices

23/02/2015 13:08 GMT | Updated 21/04/2015 10:59 BST

Anyone not wanting to attend university is often force-fed the idea that apprenticeships are the way forward. Nearly half a million people started an apprenticeship in the 2013/14 academic year, including, surprisingly, more than 80,000 people aged over 35.

Yet it is still a common trend that apprenticeships are offered by smaller companies with less than 50 employees, as government statistics show - 41% of roles being created are by small and start up businesses (compared to 43% of businesses with over 50 employees.) The benefits of these kind of apprenticeships are that smaller companies often have more time to invest into these starting roles. As young companies, they may not be able to afford a full wage, but can use government funding to offer a start for the right people. Young people can gain huge experience from working within a smaller company, picking up skills from all areas of the business and really developing within a business that needs a young and enthusiastic employer.

But what about the big companies? What about the multinational corporations offering apprenticeships as the 'perfect foot-in-the-door' of the worldwide business industry?

I was lucky enough to be offered apprenticeships with the two biggest television channels in the country. Both huge media companies offering the perfect chance to break into the industry, with bags of experience and networking available - right?

With one organisation, I was offered a "Broadcast Technology Apprenticeship", which included a secure role for 3 years, a starting salary of £12,000 (rising to £15,000 after the first year), and a funded degree, meaning I would finish my apprenticeship with a good salary, a full university qualification and 3 years experience with the biggest broadcaster in the country. It sounds like a dream come true, and is a perfect example of how these organisations can provide ideal starting positions for young people wanting to enter the media industry.


Regrettably, the chance to work for another TV channel was not greeted with the same level of dedication.

Instead, their apprenticeships included a £90 a week pay-cheque (that's less than £5,000 a year), an NVQ provided by an off site company, and a role that filled a void within an office.

In my particular example, the apprenticeship I 'tried out' for was simply filling a role that a full time employee was leaving - a grown woman taking maternity leave, earning an adults wage and working in the office as an assistant and runner. Yet the exact role was being offered to me for a mere 20% of their salary, with a free 'qualification' thrown in as well. I was even told by the team that they "couldn't really afford" to replace her full time, hence their quest for a cheap and enthusiastic labourer like me.

While she was treated as a full and worthwhile member of the team, as an apprentice I would have only ever been a student; a trainee; a member of the team only looked on to make tea and sort out the post. Which, within such a huge and international company, rendered me as a lost and insignificant number that wasn't even worth the minimum wage.

When I politely declined the final role as an apprentice, instead they offered me 6 weeks work experience - unpaid work experience - so I could temporarily fill the aforementioned role for free. While I'll happily admit I enjoyed the experience and met some interesting people, my 6 weeks involved reorganising the video cupboard and creating a spreadsheet of available DVDs. Hardly an insight into the world of broadcast I was hoping for. Plus, in my opinion, a solid year of real world training would speak volumes more than a 'Business and Administration NVQ Level 3' certificate on my CV.

I'm not saying that apprenticeships aren't worth it. The first one would have offered the perfect introduction to the industry. Within small companies that have the time to nurture you and teach you the skills you need, they can offer whole ranges of training that you'd never get from a classroom.

But when such a huge and influential company offers their trainees so little as a way of avoiding paying for a full time employee, you have to question the integrity of the scheme.