The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Shauni O'Neill Headshot

Why I Swapped A-Levels for an Apprenticeship

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

I started as an apprentice in September 2009 and I think that a lot of people have this idea that people only do Apprenticeships if they don't have any other options. Well, I left school with 11 very good GCSEs, I'm ambitious, motivated and have taken full advantage of the opportunities that the London Underground apprenticeship has offered.

I chose an apprenticeship because I wanted to get started on a good career and be successful in a very short time. Getting on to the apprenticeship programme has been a great opportunity and has opened doors for me, but I have been giving 110% to get where I am.

I'm proud to be an apprentice and I think I have earned recognition through my willingness to work hard, be helpful and because of my enthusiasm. My parents have supported me from day one and are really proud of me, especially when I won the National Apprentice of the Year Award 2011. It's incredible to think that a normal London teenager like me was judged to be the best apprentice across all of England by The National Apprenticeship Service.

I am also proud to be a positive role model and an ambassador for London Underground and apprenticeships, by helping the business appreciate what apprentices can offer. I love my job. I think it shows in everything I do. I also really like the fact that I am part of a service that keeps London moving.

My apprenticeship gave me the chance to get real hands-on experience in many areas of the business, working as a Customer Service Assistant, Station Assistant, Station Supervisor, Signal Operator and Train Operator.

If I had gone to college to take my 'A' Levels I wouldn't have these opportunities and I would be looking to get a loan to go to uni or find a job. As it is I already have a permanent job, have been earning rather than getting into debt and I know that if I continue to apply myself I will progress further at London Underground.

Most of my friends have taken the university route. Some now wish they had known more about apprenticeships so they could have completed one.

I came in as an apprentice and a female in a male dominated environment, but the apprenticeship offered me the chance to learn new skills and develop myself professionally in a structured way while also gaining a nationally recognised qualification. It hasn't been a soft option! All apprentices have to reach the same qualifying promotional assessment standard as employees applying for these positions. I received training from LU's Network Operational Learning Team and passed the promotional assessments in every operational grade and they could take anything up to 4 weeks.

One of the good things about the London Underground Apprenticeship is that apprentices get to use the Transport for London's e-Learning website. This meant that I could carry out work related learning and development courses in my own time. After each course, usually lasting four hours, we complete an online assessment and the pass mark is eighty percent.

During my apprenticeship I have met many interesting characters at various work locations, for me it was something I really enjoyed, and I learnt how to develop successful relationships with colleagues of all ages.

A personal highlight for me was when I met London's Mayor Boris Johnson. It showed me that anything is possible if you strive for it.

Part of my Apprenticeship programme was a course on the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People". This showed me the power of taking control of my own career and having an "end in mind". This has helped me focus on what I want to achieve. My future career is an open book I can personally author thanks to my time as an apprentice.

I've just completed my Rail Transport Operation Apprenticeship.

Thanks to the apprenticeship programme and my own efforts, I feel I've gained a unique insight into the business, making me a valuable, pro-active and productive asset. I mentor others when required.

If anyone is interested in becoming an apprentice I would recommend that they go to the Apprenticeships website run by the National Apprenticeship Service. It gives all sorts of information on the different types of apprenticeships. It even lets you register and apply for Apprenticeships online. I know that a lot of employers go there to recruit apprentices and to advertise their vacancies.

London Underground and Transport for London (TfL)

Transport for London (TfL) operates the Capital's transport system on behalf of the Mayor of London. This includes London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, buses, trams and river services. It also manages the city's major roads, the Congestion Charge, Oyster ticketing, regulates taxi and private hire trade, and promotes walking and cycling initiatives, such as Barclays Cycle Hire.

TfL works to keep London moving and make transport accessible for all.