17 March 2016

The second in this series of interviews for National Apprenticeship Week sees James interview ABC Awards Centre Support Officer Melody Coomes, who started working at ABC Awards and partner organisation emfec as an apprentice.

Which apprenticeship did you complete and what made you choose an apprenticeship?

I completed a Level 3 Business Administration apprenticeship. I tried university first and I didn't like it so wanted to try an alternative route to start my career.

What were you doing at university, and what made you switch to an apprenticeship?

I was studying Events Management at university as I thought it was something I would enjoy but I didn't like the atmosphere so I left. I saw apprenticeships being advertised online so I went for it so I could earn money rather than paying it out, and still learn at the same time.

What do you feel you have gained from your apprenticeship? Do you feel you are now in a better position than if you had continued at university?

I am much more confident now working in business rather than just learning about business. I'm actually putting into practice what I've learnt and getting to have interactions with different people across the organisation as well as externally. I feel like I have become a lot more disciplined in the way I work than if I had continued my university degree.

How have ABC Awards and emfec supported you with your apprenticeship and what opportunities have you been given?

I was initially supposed to start a Level 2 framework but as soon as I started the team recommended I do a Level 3 apprenticeship as I already had some experience from university. I've been to lots of events as part of the team here including the Skills Show and to a parliamentary reception at the House of Commons. I've also had the opportunity to support in planning for our annual conference, so I've had exposure to all areas of the business which has helped me get an idea of what I want to get into moving forwards.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship as a good stepping stone for young people who don't know what to do when they leave school?

I would, but also I wouldn't, because if you're not sure what you want to do but you've got a bit of an idea, it's a good way of getting into something and then finding your niche, earn while you learn, and be independent and doing things for yourself. If you decide to go to university, you can wake up and decide you can't be bothered to turn up and nobody cares. But you can't do that at work, so it's a great way to push yourself to keep going. But I wouldn't recommend it as well, because as much as the government tries to push it, there is a stigma around doing apprenticeships and they are still associated with school drop-outs. I think a lot of people don't realise that so many young people starting apprenticeships are as able as they actually are.

Why do you think there is still a stigma attached to apprenticeships?

I think sometimes the employers are at fault as well, because they don't always expect to get such able candidates. Sometime you can end up with boring office tasks like shredding, which to me is mind-numbing, particularly after completing my A-levels and going into such depth. I think employers need to get to know their apprentices first so they can understand their potential. I think too many people assume apprentices are for people who weren't good enough to go to university.

I know a few people who have said their schools encouraged them to go on to sixth form college and then university, without really exploring alternative options. Is this something you sympathise with?

Yes, my school did the same. If you did well in your GCSEs, they'd encourage you to stay on at sixth form and if you didn't do so well they'd encourage you to go to college instead. So I stayed on at sixth form and then felt pressured straight away to decide what I should study at university, while I was still finishing my AS levels! I felt I had to make a decision when I wasn't ready to do so, and in the end university was nothing like I thought it was going to be.

If you could change one thing about apprenticeships, what would it be and why?

I think they need to be given more value. If the government is pushing apprenticeships and trying to offer so many different types then they've got to offer good jobs at the end of them or give apprenticeships more value, even if apprentices have to work a bit harden towards them. At the moment, it's almost as though if you don't go to university you've got a cap on how far you can go, whereas if they made apprenticeships equal to doing a university course then there's no cap on how far you can go. I think if you've completed an apprenticeship and you've done all the work to a high standard and you've got the experience of working, sometimes that can be far more valuable than someone who has gone to university but hasn't dealt with all the workplace interactions.

Melody's interview is the second in a series for National Apprenticeship Week. To read about Ben's experience as an IT apprentice, please click here.