This time last year, I would have never pictured that I would now be five months into an apprenticeship in Public Relations (PR). It has been the best decision that I could have made, but one that had never even entered my mind before, being so adamant that university was the right choice for me.
My whole life I had always planned on attending university; it seemed - and I had been taught - that it was the most natural and appropriate next step to a "successful" career, so I applied along with the rest of my peers during my last year of A-Levels and got an offer from a good university. However when I returned home from a gap year working and travelling in Australia, I finally realised that I didn't want to go back into full-time education.
It was actually my Mum who thought an apprenticeship would be the right thing for me when she found the advert. PR has such a wide variety; from writing to events to liaising with journalists, so there is so much scope for me to try out new things and develop different skills.
Not one of my friends or family had ever done anything like an apprenticeship. The only apprenticeships I'd heard of were in things like hairdressing and car mechanics. Regardless, I made the decision to go for it and try something different and am now five months into my apprenticeship, it still being one of the best decisions I've made.
Working for such a huge organisation like the University of Sheffield, I am able to learn from lots of different professionals with different skills, expertise, experience and guidance. Everyday I am applying what I learn to the work I am doing and the career I am building. I experience real industry challenges, achievements and day-to-day roles that are preparing me for the rest of my career.
I've loved been able to work on big events and recently worked on the huge announcement of McLaren Automotive opening a new factory in partnership with the University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. At the launch event, I got to meet national journalists and build my contacts, something I wouldn't have got to do studying for a degree.
There is also a huge student element to apprenticeships, something I was worried I might miss out on by by not attending university. Once a week I have a study day, which brings a whole new dimension to my role, where I can be a student and learn why I am doing what I am doing everyday at work. For me, this is the best way to learn - by actually trying it out for myself. I'm also really lucky as I work at a university so get the full benefits of the Students' Union and student culture on campus. I get the best of both worlds!
The government is introducing a new apprenticeship levy next month which means big companies will have to pay to fund apprenticeship training. However, they can get some of this money back if they take on apprentices. Hopefully this will lead to more opportunities in varied industries like banking, engineering and even online security.
I think the perception of apprenticeships is changing, which is a great thing. More and more young people who had never considered one before, like me, are now becoming more open to these new possibilities and are challenging the traditional stereotypes of an apprenticeship.
Being paid to learn, gain experience, and ultimately receive a qualification, is one of the best things I've done. I've been able to grow in confidence and, at only 19, kick-start my career with 15 months of real industry experience as well as a qualification in PR.
One major thing I've realised is that in going into an apprenticeship, you don't have to be a qualified, finished product. You just need to be willing to learn and be up for developing your talents and making the most out of a great opportunity.