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Apprenticeships are for everyone

Portrait of a young student

Haider Ali is a management accounting apprentice and won the Rising Star Award at the WorldSkills UK Diversity & Inclusion Heroes Awards 2020. He’s passionate about raising awareness of apprenticeships within his community, and this is his story.

When I was in sixth form, I was an academic pupil achieving A*/As across the board so university seemed like the default option for me. It was just expected by my teachers, my peers and my parents.

It was only when I went to a career’s fair in Year 12 that I realised there were other options out there like Apprenticeships. I was suddenly told “You can get qualifications whilst working and earning at the same time - debt free!”.

This all seemed too good to be true at first and, if anything, I wondered why more people weren’t doing this. For me, it seemed like a no brainer and so really piqued my interest.

So…. Apprenticeships are for everyone?

After that, I looked into the Apprenticeship route further and decided I wanted to apply, using my 5 secured university offers as a safety net. I was keen to prove that I could make a success of it, despite it being a relatively new route.

At first, I wasn’t successful with a lot of the initial applications I submitted due to a lack of experience, but I kept persevering. Rolls Royce was the last company I applied for and luckily, I secured the Apprenticeship in the end! That’s where I am now; I’m currently in my final year.

Since I’ve started the programme I have been exposed to such a breadth of experience and knowledge. I have met so many fantastic people and built up my business acumen which has only added to what I’ve learnt through studying.

The Apprenticeship programme itself is four and a half years long. So far, I’ve completed my Level 4 AAT and now I’m working on completing the Level 7 CIMA qualification to bring me to completion.

Improving the lack of diversity

As I was progressing through my Apprenticeship however, I realised there was a noticeable lack of diversity within the space. Prior to applying, I had never met or heard of any Asian apprentices, let alone an academic one who turned down university.

From my experience, there seems to be a real misconception in my community as a South Asian, but also in the wider BAME community, that Apprenticeships are only for “blue collar” jobs such as construction. There's this idea that they are suited only to those who didn’t achieve “good grades” at school and are deemed as “inferior”, compared to a university degree when it comes to applying for a good job.

I want to demystify this misconception, because it’s totally wrong. I want to inspire people to look at these opportunities differently and show that there are so many fantastic career options available through Apprenticeships, open to absolutely everyone.

Luckily, Rolls Royce are very keen on this too. Every apprentice is automatically enrolled as a STEM ambassador allowing you to volunteer in schools in your local area. I was really keen to get involved, so I’ve done quite a few events over the years as an apprentice.

I thought to myself:

People in my community need to hear more from those belonging to underrepresented groups in the earlier stages of their career. I have more in common with them than a CEO, for example. They’ll hopefully see that they too can achieve whatever they put their mind to and I can act as the type of representation I wish I had seen when I was younger

One of the highlights was going back to my primary school for an event, talking to some of my old teachers and even my younger brothers! I also went into my old secondary school (pre-lockdown) to help tutor GCSE Maths. I’m in a unique space to help and inspire others to look into working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) careers.

Even if my interactions inspired one person to apply for an Apprenticeship, it would have been worth it. In fact, if it wasn’t for an assembly Rolls-Royce did at my sixth form on their apprenticeships, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now! Hopefully, I can do the same for someone else.

Improving self esteem

I have seen people from BAME backgrounds suffer from imposter syndrome, including myself. We can often feel like we aren’t as good as we actually are and that our success is down to luck rather than our hard work. It can feel especially tough when you are working in an industry that is dominated by people who don’t look like you. You begin to question your self-worth and whether ‘someone like me’ truly belongs in a space.

However, many individuals have smashed through the glass ceiling and are swimming against the tide. And it’s those people who should be celebrated as they can inspire others to do the same. Role models are so important as I’m a firm believer you can only seek inspiration from what you can see in the world.

My personal drive and ambition come from my first role models: my parents. They have instilled the importance of hard work in me from a young age. I’ve seen how much they’ve sacrificed moving to the UK from Pakistan and the new life they’ve built so that I can have access to a good education and even be writing this blog now. They’ve always made me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to and that’s exactly what I want for others.

Wise words for a potential apprentice...

Don’t let the world tell you what your version of success should look like. Follow your gut and do what makes you happy.

Pursue what you’re passionate about and don’t get too influenced by what others are thinking or saying. Dream big and realise that you can break into any space you want to, even if you’re not represented there currently. You could be the next trailblazer.

Long terms goals

My long-term goal is to see more diversity within Apprenticeships.

The stats around how many BAME apprentices there are in the UK still requires a lot of improvement. It just shows that for many, university is still seen as the only route to success.

I think this reflects that many parents in these families (particularly those who have immigrated to the UK) don’t always have the latest information about Apprenticeships, given they are still quite new. I want to help change that.

We need to make sure that schools are communicating the right types of messages to their pupils. From a young age, children should be made aware that you can be an academic apprentice and the wide range of industries Apprenticeships exist in, for example.

Some of my teachers wanted me to go to Oxford or Cambridge, but I wanted practical business experience and a debt-free education! I want to smash the stigma that Apprenticeships are somehow the ‘wrong’ choice for those from BAME backgrounds. They’re absolutely not and everyone should have a fair chance to decide whether or not to pursue one.

I try to do everything I can to facilitate change in the Diversity & inclusion/Apprenticeship space and have seen many other inspiring individuals doing some great things. Whilst there is still a lot of work to do, I’ve begun to see some of the barriers I personally faced weaken and I’m optimistic that one day they will be eliminated entirely.