When I first heard about apprenticeships at Vauxhall I was in my first year of 6th form. Like the majority of people studying with me I was doing four subjects at A-Level but, unlike them, I did not aspire towards a university higher education. I appreciated that going to university would be an expensive undertaking, and I had already decided that I would pursue my chosen degree (Business Studies) through the Open University. I hoped that option would allow me to find an entry level HR job. However, I could not access the OU until I was eighteen and so felt compelled to remain at school.
My teachers were aware that I wanted to undertake a degree through the OU and noticeably offered me far less support and guidance than my fellow students, who wanted to go to conventional universities. I accepted that but felt very aggrieved by the resentment and hostility that I was shown when I announced that I was leaving 6th form to begin an apprenticeship with Vauxhall motors.
Throughout my time in education, apprenticeships were perceived to be for people who were not academic or motivated enough to go to university; they were and still are perceived to be second rate.
I have been with Vauxhall for a year and a half now and, in that time, the company has both fully supported me and funded my successful participation in a Level 3 Diploma in Business Administration and a Level 3 NVQ. As a result of the company's continuing funding and support, I am now undertaking a degree in Business Management.
I have a number of friends who have started their university degrees and they're finding it difficult to cope with the expense. In contrast, I have been able to buy myself a brand new car and pay for summer holidays, while still receiving the same level of higher education. Furthermore, and as equally important, is the fact that unlike my friends I am also gaining invaluable workplace experience.
This year I have been lucky enough to be selected as one of the 13 industry apprentices to sit on the Industry Apprentice Council, funded by awarding organisations EAL and IMI Awards. The IAC enables apprentices to speak with government ministers, policy makers and other influential organisations, to put forward our views and ideas and help to better promote apprenticeships.
The IAC has visited parliament twice already, to meet with the All Party Parliamentary Apprenticeships Group (APPAG), which consists of MPs and Peers from all mainstream political parties. Prior to those meetings, we gathered to prepare and ensure we have a consensus to present to the APPAG.
As a team we have specified that our mission is to change the perception of apprenticeships. It was shocking to find that, of the thirteen IAC members, only one was given encouragement from their careers advisor in regard to pursuing an apprenticeship.
This is a common theme emanating from the apprentices that we have spoken to; careers advice in school, the main place of impact, is not what we would expect or like to see.
Skills Minster Matthew Hancock has agreed to hear our campaign ideas to raise awareness and generate interest in apprenticeships and has been very complimentary towards the initiatives we have already discussed with him in the APPAG.
The IAC has provided my colleagues and I with an amazing opportunity to influence decision making at the highest level and, as a consequence, bring about a positive change. We can only thank EAL and IMI Awards for the opportunity and do our best to promote apprenticeships, be the best role models we can be, and help to establish the vocational route as equal to higher education.