As a youngster I was often told:
If you do well at school you will get into University and get a good job; if you don’t do well, you can always do an apprenticeship.
New government figures claim that apprenticeships will contribute £34bn to the UK economy this year. Fortunately for the sake of the economy and those who seek education but not a vast post-university debt, apprenticeships are now growing in popularity as a suitable alternative to completing a full time degree. Admittedly there are negatives and positives to both paths, but that discussion is not for now.
The purpose of this article is to highlight five of the most important lessons I feel I have learnt during my time as an apprentice. Each one has taught me something that I know will benefit me in my future career. I always like to hear what other people have learnt during their career whether an apprentice or not so please do comment below or send me a message.
1. Believe in yourself.
I promise I haven’t stolen this lesson out of a cheap self-help book.
The first lesson occurred before I even got my foot in the door as an apprentice.
In the current economy it is easy to believe that no one has any interest in employing a youngster with little experience in anything but stacking shelves or pouring pints. The short bullet point in seemingly every job specification ‘Must be degree educated’ had me believing my only route to a successful and fulfilling career was to go to University.
However, after time I came to realise that apprenticeship employers expect this situation from candidates; the main factors in employability for apprentices should be a good work ethic and a willingness to learn and apply knowledge – I had those in spades.
With this realisation I started to apply for apprenticeships that before I believed were out of reach, I was shocked with my success.
So what did I learn? I learnt that a little self-belief when you feel out of your depth can go a long way. This lesson has echoed throughout my time as an apprentice, I often request to take on challenges that take me beyond my comfort zone, but I have been surprised with my success in these areas, and where I haven’t been as successful I learnt a lot.
2. Ask questions.
A recent LinkedIn article by Glenn Leibowitz reinforced the widely accepted belief that asking the right questions at the right time is a powerful tool in getting ahead in your career.
When I sat at the desk on my first day as apprentice I had my game plan sorted:
sit down, shut up, work hard
I thought this would get me ahead, but I soon realised this wasn’t the case. This plan seemed to get me the type work that I wasn’t really hoping for, so after a while I started to ask questions ‘why do we do it like this?’, ‘what if we try doing it like this?’, ‘how do we improve this process?’, ‘who can help me understand this?’.
A lot of my questions were answered with blindingly obvious answers, but from these answers I learnt. Some of my questions provoked discussion, challenged the status quo and often landed me with the type of work I was looking for – improving processes and truly adding value to the organisation I worked for.
What did I learn? Some questions are kind of stupid, but these are the ones you learn a lot from. By asking more and more questions you start to provoke discussion and challenge the norm, these are the questions that really add value and make you stand out from the crowd.
3. You are worth more than you think.
This lesson is a product of lesson 1 and 2. As an apprentice you are almost certainly worth more than you think, I am not talking about monetary value (although many Apprentices across the UK are drastically underpaid for the value they offer), I am talking about what value you add to the work place.
One of my biggest ‘selling points’ when I came to interview for my apprenticeship was that I had no experience…yes, that I had NO experience. This meant that I could approach situations with no idea of what ‘normal’ was; I could challenge what many people had come to believe was the best or only way of undertaking a task.
Here I learnt that the ability to add value through challenging is a balance of asking the right questions at the right time, but also having enough self-confidence to share your opinion when everyone else in the room believes otherwise.
4. Take advantage of people’s good will.
Ok, this one sounds bad, but hear me out.
One thing I learnt quickly as an apprentice is that you are not generally considered as a threat, this is something I have taken full advantage of. I found that as long as you approach people in the right way, the majority are happy and usually delighted to share life lessons, wisdom and opinions on a whole range of matters that are going to help you in your career. I first discovered this by accident, noticing that people would share information with me that they would not necessarily share with others, after a while I started to proactively seek this advice and it has helped me in many situations.
I learnt that people enjoy sharing their advice, opinions and knowledge, as long as they are approached in a non-threatening way. However, I also learnt that even though you may look up to and respect those individuals who are offering you advice and opinions, it is important to remember that they are just that and you need to make decisions yourself, as you have to live with them.
5. Keep learning.
This one may seem obvious. ‘Lifelong learning’ is now a commonly accepted and openly encouraged part of self-development. An apprentice’s mentality is beneficial to anyone at any point in their career.
I know that I fully intend to continue learning throughout my life, maintaining an open mind and asking questions to provoke discussion and challenge the status quo.