Last week, to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week 2018, we opened the WhiteHat doors to friends and family who were keen to find out more about what an apprenticeship actually involves. We talk to people about what we do all the time, but what did people outside the industry looking for a crash course in how it all works actually want to know? Read on to hear the best questions we were asked on the night. If you still have questions, drop us a line at info@whitehat.org.uk and we’ll get right back to you with an answer.

Q. How does WhiteHat fit in to my child’s application process?

A. We help match students up to the apprenticeship opportunities. Apprenticeship applications can be complex and confusing, and typically a candidate has to make one for each opportunity. We have really tried to simplify this for young people. Your child makes one application with us, they build a digital profile, and then we can share this profile with multiple employers. We also provide comprehensive careers guidance, practice assessments, interview training and support along the way, to help set them up for success.

Q. What should teachers be doing to prepare students for when they leave school?

A. We aren’t looking for the final product, we are looking for potential. But we need to hear that students have had work experience (a Saturday job is fine!), volunteering experience, worked in a sports team or held a position of responsibility, like being Head Girl. Even more so than their peers applying to university -they must demonstrate that they are work ready.

Q. How do you make sure that apprentices don’t miss out on some of the broader experiences you get at university?

A. You build a combination of social experiences and networks into an apprenticeship programme that doesn’t purely focus on just teaching them how to do their job better. You connect them with other apprentices through social events and insight days, you introduce them to mentors, and you cover subjects ranging from financial planning through to challenging conversations. This is where the 20% off-the-job training measure can be turned into a big asset and why all of our apprentices go through our Future Leaders Foundation.

Q. How do you get schools to see this as relevant?

A. It would be great if government would do more to rank schools on broader destination data, rather than being so university-focused. In the meantime however, there’s a huge amount we can do. Bring apprentices back in to talk to their former schools and show them it isn’t just those who are dropping out or failing academically who do apprenticeships. Have more employers showcase opportunities they are creating for school leavers directly in schools. And provide teachers with easily accessible resources and guidance around apprenticeships so they’re not afraid to talk about them. This final point is why we’re launching our careerhacker portal.

Q. Which comes first? High performing kids wanting apprenticeships or businesses opening up the opportunities?

A. We need both at the same time for this to become self-fulfilling. But it probably needs to be led by businesses, creating opportunities that high performing students can clearly see are credible alternatives to university — opportunities that are really going to launch them into ambitious careers.

Q. How are we going to stop apprenticeships becoming elitist?

A. It’s difficult, but actively pushing the Diversity & Inclusion agenda should help. This is a problem that employers are facing across the board, with many having to rethink their grad scheme application processes for example — not only because of the moral obligation to not discriminate, but because studies have proven time and again that a diverse workforce is markedly more productive. so it’s got to be part of a wider discussion, and apprenticeships should be held up as that gold standard for diversifying the talent pipeline.

Q. I’ve taken on apprentices from someone else and they’re great but the training they’ve been given is terrible. What can I do?

A. Don’t put up with it! Employers allowing providers to soldier on despite poor provision undermines the entire system and makes it more likely that their apprentice will drop out. It might feel like the path of least resistance but it’s wasting everyone’s time when the apprentice could be learning something valuable. The apprenticeship should be engaging and delivering a value-add both to the apprentice and employer. If it’s not, transferring your apprentice to another provider is a very straightforward process and one you shouldn’t be afraid to do.

Straight from our apprentices:

Q. Was it difficult trying to find an apprenticeship?

A. Yes, finding an apprenticeship is hard work. We went along to a number of assessment centres with lots of training providers, only to never hear from them again. It can be soul-destroying. Even after finding WhiteHat, searching for an apprenticeship was just as hard as looking for a job; you can’t go into interviews unprepared and thinking that it will be easy. You will need to prove yourself and sell why you will be the best for the job.

Q. Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship over going to uni?

A. I knew I didn’t want to go uni as I didn’t have a set path I wanted to go down. I didn’t want to waste money on something I wasn’t sure about.

Q. Did you ever feel jealous of friends who had decided to go to uni?

A. No! I am in the career of my choice and I have three years’ worth of experience ahead of them.

Q. How do you find it trying to balance your time between coursework and actual work?

A. At first this was very difficult; much like finding a good balance between your work life and personal. However, WhiteHat provide you with a coach and mentor and this has helped me a lot since I was able to talk to them and ask them for advice on how to handle this. Now, I know how to make time for my studies alongside my job.

Q. What opportunities are there for you once you’ve finished your apprenticeship?

A. Like most jobs, if you are dedicated and do well you will be offered a permanent position.

Q. Did you ever regret your choice of doing an apprenticeship?

A. No, not for one second.