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‘We’re capable, just like any other employee, so we should be treated that way’ 

Monday 3 to Sunday 9 February marks National Apprenticeship Week, but there’s still a general lack of awareness around the benefits that apprenticeships bring. George Howard, learning and development apprentice at creative communication agency DRPG, explains what it’s like to be an apprentice, and why employers should make the most of them.

Between August 2018 and July 2019, there were 393,400 apprenticeships started in England. 
With higher education costing a small fortune and people increasingly changing professions later in their career, apprenticeships offer a viable option for a growing number of people who are looking to earn while they learn. 

Getting hands-on
For George Howard, going down the apprenticeship route gave him an opportunity to learn in a way that was more suited to him.
“Before I began my learning and development (L&D) apprenticeship with DRPG in June 2019, I was at sixth form doing my A-levels. 
“I enjoyed parts of it, but there was no hands-on learning, which is something I enjoy. Once I finished sixth form, I decided to do an apprenticeship as I knew it would allow me to get a qualification in something I was interested in, using a combination of learning and doing. 
“I looked around online and was drawn to DRPG – they’re well-known in the local community so I already had an idea of what the culture would be like. In regard to the profession, I chose to go for L&D because I like helping people to push themselves and succeed.”
Stepping stone 
When implemented properly by organisations, apprenticeships offer great opportunities for apprentices to get onto the career ladder in their desired profession. 
“To be successful in L&D, experience is crucial,” says George. “The mindset, style and approach that will help you to excel in the role isn’t something you can learn from a textbook – rather, you need to see it and learn from others who have been in the profession. 
“This isn’t the case for all careers, but for mine it certainly is – 80 per cent of the apprenticeship is hands-on, so I knew the experience I would get from it would be invaluable. I also knew it would give me a great set of skills that would open up different career options for me.”
Business benefits 
Apprenticeships aren’t just beneficial for the apprentices who undertake them. Employers have plenty to gain from introducing new talent into the organisation in this way. 
“Taking on apprentices provides a great opportunity for employers to train people from scratch and show them how the business operates,” says George.
“There tends to be a common misconception that apprenticeships just involve making tea and doing lots of filing, but that’s not the case at all – and if it is, it’s not a true apprenticeship. 
“Employers should see apprentices as people who are incredibly capable, and they should treat them just like anyone else in the organisation. 
At DRPG there are currently nine apprentices, all of whom have full times roles and are always busy. 
“Making the most of apprenticeships means apprentices benefit from having a workload that is meaningful and develops them professionally, while the organisation increases its output and productivity,” says George.
“I’ve been lucky to have the managers and support that I do – I’m seen as an asset and it’s given me a huge amount of confidence, and this in turn has spurred me on to work my hardest and show the organisation what I can offer.”
Getting creative
The majority of apprenticeships currently available in the UK are found in sectors such as business administration and law, health and public services, and engineering and manufacturing, while apprenticeships in creative industries are harder to come by. 
There is plenty to offer, and gain, however, from opening up more apprenticeships in the industry. George’s apprenticeship falls under business administration, but as DRPG is a creative communication agency he has been able to engage with and learn from people in creative roles.
"In this field, I feel like the possibilities are endless, and it’s really opened my eyes,” says George. “There’s so much to discover and learn from in a creative environment that you don’t get to capitalise on in a classroom. Being able to see how processes work and speak to people who have come from different backgrounds and found their way into the roles they’re in is invaluable. 
“For me, the biggest challenge I had coming in was putting myself in a creative mindset – my background didn’t really set me up for it, and the default can often be to take everything at face value. 
“But through this apprenticeship I’ve learned how to take a step back and try to approach tasks or problems in a creative way that I wouldn’t normally do, in order to get better results.”
Confident communicator  
George’s role focuses on learning and development, but he’s often drawing on internal communication skills he’s learned through the apprenticeship to achieve his objectives.
"A key aspect of my role is based on internal comms as the learning and development we facilitate is focused on our employees,” says George. 
“I’m responsible for engaging with people and helping to co-ordinate and promote messages to the 300-plus members of the organisation. 
“In L&D, we also run our own ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions, where employees are encouraged to come and learn something new in an informal, relaxed environment. Through these sessions, we help to break down barriers between different teams, helping them to understand each other and work together.”

Testing the waters 
Many people can leave education feeling lost and unsure of what career they want to go into, so apprenticeships can also be a great way to learn more about a field in practice to see if it’s something to go into long term. 
“As excited as I was to get started in L&D, I still wasn’t 100 per cent sure where I wanted to go with it,” reflects George. “But in my first week at DRPG I was throw into the organisation, and, for me, this approach, while challenging, was the best way to learn. It gave me a structure and showed me very quickly what the role involved, where I could go with it and where I wanted to go with it. 
“I know I want to continue on in this profession in the future, and I’m excited about what’s to come.”
Time for change
George started his apprenticeship after finishing sixth form, but apprenticeships aren’t exclusively for people straight out of school. In fact, in 2018/19, the number of starters between 25 and 59 increased on the previous year. 
“The factors people have to take into consideration before starting an apprenticeship will vary for each individual, but the benefits will be similar,” says George. 
“If you are considering an apprenticeship, make sure it is for something you think you will enjoy and be able to learn from. The more you enjoy work, the more you will benefit from it, so choose an environment that you think you will be comfortable in. 
“For those who are in my position and currently undertaking one, I would strongly encourage you to put everything you can into it. If you put in 100 per cent then you’re much more likely to get the same back. 
“People will recognise you’re trying hard and that you care about what you’re doing, and, more often than not, they will be grateful for that.”
You can find out more about apprenticeships and apprenticeship training for organisations on the government’s guide to taking on an apprentice
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