Now it’s fair to say that this old reporter has been around the block a few times. (See?) Over the last year I have heard from a number of different digital agencies that they are looking to take on school leavers, or in other words, younger candidates that haven’t been to university. When an old-timer like me hears hair-brained schemes like this I take it with a pinch of salt. If they haven’t been to university surely they won’t be able to string two sentences together? I imagine they’ll need someone to tie their shoelaces or even worse, they don’t have laces at all… Velcro!
Last week however I went into one of the country’s leading digital agencies, iProspect, to find out what their view of the whole situation was. Guess what? They’ve only gone and employed four of them!
iProspect had invited me in to talk to their new recruits and I was looking forward to getting answers to a number of questions. Why had they chosen not to go to university? Was it a choice? How had they found out about this scheme? Did they feel they were missing out on anything? I sat down with Chloe, Jake, Louis and Harry, took out my notebook (featured in bottom left) and fired away.
How did they find out that an apprenticeship at iProspect was even an option? The Metro along with the IPA have been running a campaign called Creative Pioneers to get more school leavers into apprenticeships and it was in the Metro that two of our guys found the scheme. The other two had been made aware of the campaign through searching for apprenticeships on the internet. This was interesting for me because when I was considering my next steps after school I wasn’t aware of having this option at all. I pushed them on this and they confirmed that there was a growing awareness amongst school-leavers that this was an option. In fact, because of their efforts and successes many of their friends and peers are taking notice of this growing trend and attempting to emulate them.
I wanted to know about the process of applying as a school leaver for these apprenticeships. Once they get in touch initially, it is the IPA that sorts the candidates by their strengths and puts them forward to relevant companies. Once sorted and selected iProspect invites shortlisted candidates in for an interview. I wondered how they viewed the prospect of an interview in such a big company at such a young age. These guys weren’t phased. They even had a good idea of the culture of digital media so were confident on how to dress and the tone they should strike. I imagine they learnt this from reading my blog. Anyway, out of 450 candidates, these four came up trumps and landed a place at iProspect which is a pretty impressive place to land in.
So here they were. Time for my burning question. What were their reasons for not going to university? On this subject they all had a slightly different response. Chloe had been on her way to an interview for a uni in London and saw the advert in the Metro. She thought it looked interesting so applied. As it transpired Chloe was offered a place at uni but chose to defer for a year so she could join iProspect and is treating this as a gap year although she is open to the idea of full-time employment if the option were to arise. Jake and Harry both shared the view that they didn’t want to spend another 3 years in education particularly because they felt they didn’t have a strong idea of what they wanted to do. Louis had been working in sales for a creative agency before this and was the first person to mention money as a factor.
University fees are at an all time high – £9,000 a year for tuition fees – with the average student going to uni now expected to leave with debts of around £40,000. When I was considering university there was a buy-now-pay-later attitude among the students which saw people almost disregard the money but we were talking about much lower fees. The iProspect apprentices said they were made well aware of how much debt they would be taking on, in fact it was “shoved in their faces” and it put many of their friends off the idea of going to uni. From talking to these four it seemed that there is also the view that going to uni and earning a degree won’t help you to gain employment. Certainly these are the views of many of the alumni from my English Literature degree but it is interesting that this has filtered down into schools. The other side of the money issue is the attraction of earning money straight out of school. The head-start these apprentices will have on people of their age who have been to uni will be enormous.
But what are they actually doing at iProspect? Surely just making the tea? Not at all. They have been given roles in PPC, SEO and Social and are getting stuck in. They have responsibility, are talking to clients and they’re “dealing with real money”. This is the beauty of employing school leavers into the digital market. Of course there is a lot to learn but you do not need a degree to learn it. As long as you are bright with a passion for digital you’re ready to go!
They had all spoken well about the benefits of not going to uni as well as the cost of going. I wondered though whether they felt they were missing out at all. Some regret did seem to creep in but they could still choose to go at the end of their apprenticeship, they were able to visit friends and if they wanted to be surrounded by hundreds of young like-minded social people, they were already in the right place, I mean check out the beer fridge! Even though it does have a lock on it…
Having spent an hour with my four new best friends I could see that this apprenticeship scheme is really important. Faced with huge fees it makes you question whether university is a ride worth getting on. The hoards that flooded there over the last decade didn’t have to worry about whether or not they knew what they wanted to do, they would decide later. Rightly or wrongly parents are often a major factor in the university decision. By many it’s seen as the only option after school but the apprentices explained that this has given them a legitimate choice. They will be furthering their career just as well and far more quickly by choosing an apprenticeship over a degree.
I left iProspect thinking about how my life would have turned out had I chosen an apprenticeship over a degree. The world could have been my oyster. An oyster as big as the world. Imagine that. Either delicious or revolting, depending on whether or not you like oysters. And with that fitting metaphor, goodnight.