Five good reasons to consider apprenticeships

With the tendency of many schools to focus on academic qualifications as a route to a good career, the value of vocational education is often overlooked. This is a shame, because vocational qualifications and training in the form of apprenticeships can often provide a valuable foothold into the real world of work, equipping young people with skills and experience learned literally ‘on the job’.

In this article, we look at five great reasons to consider apprenticeships and explain why vocational qualifications can offer an equally valid alternative to their academic counterparts even up to degree level.

Reason 1 – You learn by doing

While classroom-based teaching suits some people, it can often be a turn-off for those with a more hands-on approach to learning. Vocational qualifications and work-based learning provide the opportunity to discover not just why things work in theory, but also how they how they work in practice. Especially when training is conducted in the workplace, there is the opportunity to learn from the very best teachers – the people who do the task as part of their actual daily job – and to gain honest and informed feedback on your performance.

In many cases, this will entail working alongside people from different backgrounds, age groups and education, introducing an added dimension of interpersonal skills training that can prove invaluable in later life. The ability to communicate with mixed groups of people, for example, is a key skill needed in management, which is why you will often find many senior managers in many different walks of life who started their careers as apprentices.

Reason 2 - Find out what you want to do – and what you don’t

Getting hands-on into a role is a great way of realising that the lifelong ambition you’d been aiming may not be your true calling in life. Steve Wilding, now Field Sales Manager for ABB Measurement & Analytics in the UK and Ireland, sees his apprenticeship as the starting point for his career in engineering sales, after originally having wanted to be a draftsman.

Says Steve: “I was lucky enough to get an apprentice technician role with Vickers, which at the time manufactured electric motors for aerospace and defence applications. At the start, I saw this as a great way of fulfilling my ambition of becoming a draftsman.”

“However, after having worked in several positions around the company, including positions on the factory floor, I realised by the time I got to the design department that I was much more interested in other areas of the company’s activities. Luckily, my apprenticeship gave me scope to choose something else - had I come in straight from school or university, I may well have ended up being stuck in a role I didn’t like.”

It was also Steve’s experience as an apprentice that gave him his next role, which led to the start of a life on the road from which he has never looked back.

“After working in internal sales with Vickers, I took a position with Bourdon, a French manufacturer of instrumentation equipment, becoming sales office manager within a year and then going on the road as a sales engineer. It is this role that really laid the foundations for my career with ABB and a job that I really love doing.”

Reason 3 – Get ahead

After undertaking an apprenticeship with ABB’s robotics business, Louis Novakovic now specialises in programming ABB’s dual-arm YuMi collaborative robots. You can read about his experiences here:
After undertaking an apprenticeship with ABB’s robotics business, Louis Novakovic now specialises in programming ABB’s dual-arm YuMi collaborative robots. You can read about his experiences here:

While university degrees are often touted as the passport for high salaries and quick advancement, there is no real substitute for experience. 

Some of the UK’s most prolific business leaders started as apprentices. Consider, for example, JCB Chairman, Lord Bamford who as Anthony Bamford, started his career as an apprentice for agricultural machinery manufacturer Massey Ferguson. Or Andrew Reynolds Smith, previously CEO of GKN Automotive and now CEO of engineering company Smiths Group, who began his working life as an apprentice for Texas Instruments.

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, apprenticeships aren’t just limited to the engineering and manufacturing sector. A wide range of professions, from entertainment through to fashion and cooking, offer their own versions of apprenticeships giving candidates the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience.

Famously, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Karen Millen, Stella McCartney and even Sir Ian McKellen all started as apprentices in their respective fields, rising through the ranks to become leading names. Some, such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, have even started their own apprenticeship programmes to encourage future generations.

It is also often the case that many people who undertake vocational qualifications and apprenticeships are ahead in their careers by the time their academic counterparts emerge from university. This can provide not just a financial advantage, but also the advantage of accessing opportunities to work in roles in other companies that would not be available to a newly-qualified graduate.

“Not long after finishing his apprenticeship, one of my friends was headhunted by Boeing in the US to work as an interior designer for its aircraft,” says Steve Wilding. It was his four years of experience as an apprentice that gave him this opportunity – a big step for someone still in their early twenties.”   

Pawal Bajwa and Samuel Barrett who are currently working as apprentices with ABB Measurement & Analytics in St Neots. Their training will see them gaining experience across the business, covering all areas from product assembly through to sales and service.
Pawal Bajwa and Samuel Barrett who are currently working as apprentices with ABB Measurement & Analytics in St Neots. Their training will see them gaining experience across the business, covering all areas from product assembly through to sales and service.

Reason 4 – Earn and learn

The prospect of leaving university laden with tens of thousands of pounds of debt to repay tuition fees is leading many school and college students to rethink their life choices. As a way of both learning and earning, apprenticeships can offer an attractive and worthwhile alternative career path.

One of the biggest benefits of an apprenticeship is the opportunity to earn while you learn. Wage rates vary according to age, with the average wage for an apprentice starting at £3.70 an hour for those aged 16 to 18, £5.90 for those aged 18 to 20 and £7.83 for over 25s. In many cases, there is the prospect of pay increases as time goes on, with rates tending to increase once the first year of training is complete.

In terms of qualifications, apprenticeships offer a great way to combine work with study, with the chance to earn valuable qualifications. Depending on the length of the apprenticeship, candidates can progress from Intermediate level (Level 2), equivalent to GCSE, through to Higher or Degree level (Level 4,5,6 and 7), equivalent to a Foundation, Bachelor or Master’s degree. In addition to providing direct work experience, apprenticeship programmes also incorporate a study element, typically involving day release at an associated college.

Most importantly, unlike university education, there is no repayment expected at the end of the experience. All fees are covered by the employer and the Government. Once the apprenticeship is complete, subject to positions being available, a qualified apprentice can either remain with the organisation they trained with or move on to find other opportunities.

Reason 5 - Make lifelong friendships

In the same way that many people who go to university create lifelong friendships, the same is also true for apprenticeships.

Says Steve Wilding of ABB: “The best thing about doing an apprenticeship is that you’re all in it together. For example, I had friends doing apprenticeships with other companies – to get an idea of what each other did, we would spend time visiting each other’s companies, which gave us a great insight into different ways of working and doing things. 

Even though it’s now 28 years since I did my apprenticeship, I’m still in touch with many of my fellow apprentices, many of whom I still meet up with on a regular basis.”


If reading this article has helped spark your interest in becoming an apprentice, there are plenty of advice sites available with more information about how to take the next step. The following are examples of some sources of information that may help:

UCAS Apprenticeships page – Everything you need to know about apprenticeships in the UK, with a breakdown of opportunities and schemes by region

GOV.UK page on becoming an apprentice – The UK Government’s page on becoming an apprentice is a good starting point for finding out more about what’s involved and how to prepare yourself for an apprenticeship

The Apprenticeship Guide – A complete step-by-step guide to apprenticeships, containing the full what, how and why of becoming an apprentice and a full list of opportunities by region and industry sector

Get my first job – enter your location and specify which industries you’re interested in to find a choice of suitable apprenticeship opportunities

No detail too small....

We always like to go to town when it comes to making our clients look good. And what better way to promote the use of your client’s products around Central London than an open-top bus tour of the capital itself?

This is exactly what we did as part of ABB’s recent Capital Markets Day event, which brought journalists from around the world to London to find out more about the company’s ambitions for the next five years.

Taking our idea from the popular open-top tour buses that are a ‘must-do’ for any tourist, we put together our very own whistle-stop tour of our client’s major reference sites.

Here’s a quick look at how we quite literally put our client’s products on the map.

From brainstorm to bus stop…
Did you know that buses are prohibited from travelling down the Mall? Or that there are 26,000 streets within a six mile radius of Charing Cross?

These were just some of the things we discovered as we put together both the route and the double-sided map that would be the focal point of the tour.

DID YOU KNOW? The Routemaster celebrates its 60th anniversary this year?

The destinations were easy enough to choose, but it was allowing for road closures and traffic congestion which proved a challenge.

Just in case Plan A went awry, our MD, ever the perfectionist, cycled the provisional route two weeks before, duly noting the details of every road work, one-way street, prohibitive by-law and anything else that could affect the route.

Making the map
That being done, a route was finalised and a map painstakingly produced, drawing on a variety of sources for its inspiration. For several days, our studio was awash with maps including the famous London A to Z, London tour guides and Dorling Kindersley pictorial books, trying to fit as many details as possible into the A2-sized format.

Capital Markets Day tour map
Click to view large version

The design team’s contribution didn’t stop there, with invites also made to ensure that the journalists were clear on how to get to the bus stop on the morning of the tour. These featured the iconic Tower Bridge image for both consistency and effect.

Next stop: The tour
Starting at The Gherkin, where ABB switchgear controls the dual power supply, the tour took in a variety of some of London’s most famous landmarks where ABB equipment has been installed, including Tower Bridge, The Shard, the Tate Modern, Trafalgar Square and the London Eye. Of course, no tour of London is complete without a tour guide, who was able to give chapter and verse not only on the sights of London, but also information about the ABB equipment featured in each one. We also made sure to film the whole experience to communicate the diversity of landmarks that ABB serves.

The day wasn’t limited to the Routemaster itself, as journalists were treated to a midmorning tour of Imperial College London. Recently voted as the world’s second leading university, Imperial College London is home to a new carbon capture pilot plant, which uses ABB drives, motors, instrumentation and automation to give students a truly hands-on experience of operating a real-life process facility.

After such an exciting start, journalists were then treated to a delicious lunch at Claridge’s, a hotel renowned for its timeless luxury. Not that this was the only consideration behind the choice of venue - ABB variable-speed drives also feature in the restaurant’s kitchens.

Because everyone loves a souvenir...
Finally, as a final touch to a brilliant day, the toy London bus, complete with ABB logo, was placed on each of the journalists’ tables at Claridge’s. The journalists were delighted to receive this reminder of their experience.

With cautious planning and great attention to every component of the day, the Capital Markets event achieved its objective– securing a great impression of our client’s business – providing automation and power technologies to the world’s most treasured landmarks in London.