Choosing to do an Apprenticeship isn’t the Risky Option

By Cathy Barlow | July 17, 2019

When seeking a creative career, young people are faced with an education system that offers little in terms of the skills and experience they need to pursue their chosen line of work. In addition, they are often funnelled towards higher education with promises of better opportunities and higher salaries. But this typically comes at a cost of around £9000 a year which, unless you’re very fortunate, will leave with you when you graduate. Apprenticeships, online schools and internships are the alternatives and can provide the experience, knowledge, and income without the student debt.

I joined the team two years ago this November initially as an apprentice. Before this, I always thought working for an agency in the creative sector was beyond my reach. I’d just dropped out of a dead-end college course when I found Arch Apprenticeships on Princess Street in Manchester. Arch threw loads of job opportunities at me, most of which I didn’t fancy too much, until they said I’d secured an interview at small PR consultancy in Stockport. A couple of weeks and interviews later, I was part of the team.

It’s often the young people willing to take what is described as the risky option, and be confident enough to ignore ‘advice’ from loved ones who worry, who are able to recognise that there isn’t just one path to success. These young people are able to seize opportunities that apprenticeships sometimes provide.

I’m fortunate to be within a team that believes learning never stops and, because this week marked World Youth Skills day, I thought it would be nice to share my experiences on how I’ve up-skilled since I started at Smith Goodfellow.


Apprenticeships aren’t suited to everyone, in the same way not everyone is best placed in the traditional education system. Whilst I understand that brick and mortar colleges and universities vary massively, generally speaking, you have more resources and taught material at your disposal. Apprenticeships, on the other hand, are similar to distance learning courses and degrees in that you need to be a ‘get stuff done’ kind of person. Someone who’s willing to self-learn if you want to make the most of it. It’s not just about you though, if the quality of the apprenticeship is poor then you’re unlikely to succeed. So, turn down the tea-making, and find a workplace where you’re like any other member of the team.

I took a digital marketing apprenticeship, but this didn’t stop me transitioning into a design and more creative role here. It’s hard to be what you want to be if you can’t seem to see a path to the training that fits you. Your course is only the start of your career, so never be put off if there isn’t a specific course for the job-role you had in mind. Follow what interests you and you may find opportunities present themselves as you progress.

Online Learning

Online or distance learning is the most accessible and affordable way to up-skill. In most cases, you’re not paying thousands of pounds. You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace and you never have to quit your job! Take my workplace as an example. Everyone in our team has access to Lynda which, for a small subscription fee, has articles and video tutorials on almost anything you could imagine. My colleagues have also enrolled on certified courses relevant to their roles or ambitions, such as Google Squared. I’ve also recently joined SuperHi. SuperHi optimises everything ace about online learning, with lifetime access to the course and Slack network, which is made up of the best coders and designers in the business from all around the world. It’s the place to be if you’re learning simple front-end code, visual design or more complex JavaScript.

Internships & Work Experience

Internships can get a bad-rep with lots of big companies taking on young hopefuls to do the work, with the intern having little to show for the experience at the end. If you’re a student looking for permanent work and little outgoings, it can be a good way to build up your network, but I’m of the mind that you should never do something for nothing.

Kate Moross is the most outspoken designer who believes interns should be paid. Finding an internship can be difficult if you don’t know where to look. One place to consider is The Design Kids website.

Whatever your aspirations, I hope this blog has been helpful. If you’d like to share your journey, we’d love to hear from you. Why not get in touch via our social platforms to let us know what you’re working towards and how you’re getting on?

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