Following the Sutton Trust poll 'Parents slightly more likely to advise uni than apprenticeship,' WhiteHat’s Co-Founder and CEO Euan Blair was interviewed by Andrew Pierce, LBC, looking at the stigma that still appears to linger around apprenticeships, what advantages they actually have and the importance of National Apprenticeships Week (4-8th March).

So next week is National Apprenticeship Week. Is it just a gimmick or a stunt by the government, or is it a genuine attempt to get more youngsters leaving school into apprenticeships?

Well, it comes as research suggests parents are more likely to advise their child to go to university than to take a degree level apprenticeship; this is research by the Sutton Trust. Overwhelmingly, most parents say they’d advise university over an apprenticeship. Well, is that your attitude in your home? Do you want your children doing their GCSEs and A levels to go to university or would you be happy for them to go into a degree-led apprenticeship, or not even a degree-led apprenticeship, to an apprenticeship. What’s your experience? Have you been an apprentice, have you done an apprenticeship, whether you are in education, out of work, I want to hear from you. Number to call is 0345 6060 973.

I’m delighted to say that joining me right now is Euan Blair. Now he’s Co-founder and Chief Executive of an organisation called WhiteHat. It’s a tech startup that supports young people finding apprenticeships. Euan, good evening to you.

Good evening!

So, I’ve summarised what WhiteHat is. You tell me what WhiteHat does, and what you are seeking to do.

So, we’re a tech startup on a mission to create a diverse group of future leaders and we think that you do that by building an outstanding alternative to university through apprenticeships. We focus primarily on three areas; giving employers a way of measuring potential that’s not just based on work experience and academics. The second is getting some of the best content from around the world and plugging it into apprenticeships. And then the third is giving our apprentices an on-and-offline community where they can have meetups, networking events, access to mentors, societies and socials.

What sort of companies are you currently working with? Can you name some of them and would we know them?

Yes. We work with tech companies like Google, Facebook and Salesforce, big corporates like BP, Clifford Chance and Mischon de Reya, and media companies like Warner Brothers, UKTV and Publicis, as well as a whole range of start ups and scale ups.

And do you decide what young people are suitable for the apprenticeships? Or do they send them to you? How does it work?

Sure, so we get anywhere up to 1,000 young people a week applying to be WhiteHat apprentices.

Wow.

And they build digital profiles on our platform. We have a team that helps talk them through, give them careers guidance to figure out what they want to do and then we match them for those opportunities, and they are all basically in tech and professional services.

And do they have good A level qualifications? Do they have degrees already? What is their academic background?

The key thing is none of them can have a university degree if we are going to place them into one of these opportunities; we do work with some university drop outs. Lots of them have A levels but not all of them, some have left school at 16. I’d say probably the majority have A-levels.

Right. And you see this as the future. I know the government have encouraged more and more people to enter apprenticeships and they say they are doing very well. Why do you say there are more advantages, perhaps, to a young person leaving school, 16 or 18, to do an apprenticeship of this sort you’re offering rather than slog away in a university for 3 or maybe 4 years.

Well, there are a whole load of factors in that. Part of it is university is increasingly expensive and it’s hard for a lot of young people to justify the cost if they don’t feel like they are coming out of university with useful skills. And one of the problems is there’s a massive focus on academics learning and actually a lot more employers are interested in applied learning - can people solve problems that they are experiencing in the workplace. And so, if you look at the opportunity for an apprentice, you don’t have to take on university debt, you can go and work with some of the world’s best companies and you get to learn in a non-academic environment that actually suits some people a lot better. And I think the key challenge around the idea of university as being the ultimate thing, is a university monopoly on what school leavers do doesn’t help anyone so you need to have these different pathways and the thing we need to keep raising awareness around is that apprenticeships can still give you that incredible career.

And the apprenticeships that you are creating and offering, Euan, how many years are they over?

It varies but on average they last about 18 months and once you’ve finished your first apprenticeship you have the opportunity to go onto another apprenticeship and they cover everything from things like digital marketing, software engineering, data analyst, project management, accounting and business.

Next week’s National Apprenticeship Week. Is that a good thing or is it merely PR gimmicky from the government?

It’s a good thing because I think it’s important that we as a nation spend some time looking at the alternatives to university, especially when university is constantly talked about in school, on the media and it’s the thing that more parents and teachers understand. National Apprenticeship Week is an incredibly useful way to get focus on the subject of apprenticeships.

And, forgive me, did you go to university or did you do an apprenticeship?

I did go to university. And one of the things… in fact, quite a lot of people at WhiteHat did go to university. When they were leaving school they didn’t have the same apprenticeship options that are available now and this is the thing we need to raise awareness around. The fact is, you can do some of the very best jobs without having a university degree and employers are much more open than they have been before on this. Lots of them have dropped degree requirements entirely because they realise it’s not actually a great way of pre-filtering young people.

Well, great to talk to you. Just so, people who are listening, they want to get in touch with WhiteHat. How do they do that Euan? Do they go onto your website?

So they go to whitehat.org.uk and they sign up. But a couple more things I just wanted to mention.

Yes, please do.

So first off, we’ve launched a tool that is free for parents, teachers and young people to use called careerhacker.ai and they can go on there, access information about what an apprenticeship entails, read day in the life stories for apprentices and figure out if it might be something they should pursue.

And the second thing, we’re also going to be announcing the launch of Apprentice Nation, in partnership with Stephen Greene and Rockcorps. And Rockcorps pioneered the idea of holding exclusive concerts where you could only get a ticket by volunteering in your local community, hosted gigs around the world with people like Pharell, Rihanna and Lady Gaga and Apprentice Nation is going to give young people the opportunity to attend an exclusive gig in London after first spending a day learning about apprenticeships and taking part in a community social action project. So the aim is to get young people inspired by the opportunities available and encourage more people to talk about apprenticeships.

Sounds like a great idea. Am I too old if there’s any tickets for an Abba concert?

You are never too old to attend an apprenticeship action day.

You’re very kind. That’s Euan Blair. He’s Chief Executive and Co-founder of WhiteHat and do go online and find his website. It’s an exciting place to be.

Listen to the interview from 2:02:44 here.