So if I was leaving school now, I'd almost certainly be taking a modern apprenticeship. Having looked into them in more detail recently, I think the finances are actually stacked in favour of this route into a career. By the time my peers graduate and enter work, I'd be reportedly earning almost £4k more than them. Without any debt. And with a professional qualification.
I guess the question for me is while I was still at school, would I have known my future heart would lie in journalism and publishing. I only set out to switch career after trying another route. It was only once I realised where my skills, passions and interests lay that I knew it was time to move on.
Now modern apprenticeships come in a vast range of careers and aren't only on offer to young people, they're something we're looking at more closely at Clean Slate Training & Employment. This is the CIC I set up two years before Quids in!. Its aim was to level the playing field for people facing barriers to employment like histories of homelessness, offending, or mental ill-health, and others stuck in worklessness. Our mission is broader now, improving people's financial wellbeing, still through work but also through money skills and getting online. But apprenticeships are now a viable option for the long-term unemployed, and even under-employed, people we see at our Centres.
Core to Clean Slate's approach to unemployment is re-activating jobseekers by helping them see their own potential. We help them recognise the skills, qualities and passions they have and use them to set goals that will both inspire them and prove achievable. Apprenticeships have the easy job once someone has identified a career that would make them want to get out of bed each morning. All they have to do is create the opportunity and the training. Our programme even covers what is expected in the workplace. So when apprentices split their time between being on site with an employer and at college building their schools, they know what they're there to do.
When I recently saw that kids from poorer backgrounds have been found to be 18 months behind the others academically, I wasn't surprised. I had been lucky to have a defiant spirit that railed against negative expectations, but I remember teachers who wanted to write me off. And others who were only interested in the kids whose path to university had been mapped out before they'd even been born. There is undoubtedly, and inevitably, an unconscious bias among school professionals who are inherently middle class (by occupation) and academic. So when I talk about Clean Slate creating a level playing field, there must be a role for us in schools. We could be capturing the imagination of the young people falling behind when solely judged academically. We've done it with rough sleepers, who are written off in so many ways, so we can do it with anyone.
Not only is it true that not everyone is academic, it's now fair to say there is an alternative route to success. One that doesn't come with a five figure price tag. Apprenticeships are a practical route. And they're not even just for the practically-minded anymore, because they can lead just as easily into accountancy, say, as they can to plumbing or joinery. But there is a long way to go before all parents, especially those from cultures that value academia more, view them with the same status.
Last month, young competitors took part in the World Skills Competition in Russia. If you've never heard of it, I wouldn't be surprised, but here's one vehicle to attach the merits of vocational routes to success. If only Team UK, who competed there, were feted like Team GB at the Olympics. And so you know, our guys smashed it, winning 15 medals of excellence. What could they do if we all got behind them?
Schools may not be failing kids but they are certainly failing to recognise a lot of their potential. The same is true for adults facing various barriers to employment, still being overlooked by employers. And their path might be my path, had I been born 20 years later. For Clean Slate, at least, we're channelling that and thinking of ways to link up the new opportunities.
Check out the latest copy of Quids In! magazine here. Copies can be purchased here.