Apprenticeships could be your gateway to a STEM career. Here's how to score one.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (L) talks with an apprentice (R) as she visits Aggreko, a supplier of mobile power generators, at their base in Dumbarton, northwest of Glasgow, on April 4, 2018. Source: AFP/Andy Buchanan

High-quality apprenticeships can offer an enviable trifecta in this uncertain economy: a job, good pay and an alternative route to degree-level qualification.

These work-training programmes, which allow participants to earn a recognised qualification whilst gaining practical experience, can address the longstanding issue of lack of diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields too.

Female students stand to gain most from these opportunities, as apprenticeships help bridge the diversity gap in this male-dominated field. Experiments at some further education colleges (FE) in the UK also show that underachieving teens, who often believe STEM are subjects reserved for high academic achievers, have a shot at careers in these fields through this route too.

“Part of our remit is to convince them subliminally that, yes, they can do engineering, science, coding. We take them out of the classroom, deliver the subjects differently and facilitate learning in other college subjects,” Errol Seaman, STEM development lead at Barking & Dagenham College (BDC), told The Guardian.

“For instance, a sports teacher had students studying anatomy and physiology who could not differentiate between ligaments and tendons in muscles. We got them to dissect chicken legs. We also use gamification and introduce teamwork and competition. It’s hands-on learning.”

Apprentice van mechanic Taylor Phelps, 18, poses for a portrait in the workshop at Pimlico Plumbers in south London on February 16, 2018. Source: AFP/Justin Tallis

But many students are still in the dark when it comes to these opportunities as teachers, parents and schools remain mostly unaware of this alternative pathway to university (and dreaded student loan debt). All secondary schools in the UK are now required by law to invite employers and apprenticeship training providers in to speak to pupils about what is available locally. Definitely progress, but the government’s research shows many are choosing to ignore it.

That doesn’t mean students shouldn’t check out these opportunities, which are aplenty. Apprenticeships cover literally thousands of roles, from Health and Beauty to Construction and Property, Plumbing to Graphic Design, and everything in between.

To get started, here are some tips, courtesy of The Guardianon how to score the best apprenticeships:

1. Research your target industry and companies

Firstly, decide which industry you’d like to work in by asking yourself what interests you most and what your main strengths are. Find out about the skills you want to learn as well as the career paths this industry can provide.

Next, look into the companies. You can do so by attending organisational open days or reading reviews by former employees on Glassdoor. If you’re interested in a particular company, look up their websites which will most likely have a page on careers, apprenticeships or vacancies

You chould also check out the UK government’s Find An Apprenticeship website, which lets you search by keyword, location, level and whether it’s disabled-friendly.

2. Find out employer’s level of support

Apprentice horticulturalist Kirsty Watson carries plants at the “Kew Garden’s Tropical Extravaganza 2012” festival in south London on February 2, 2012. Source: AFP/Leon Neal

A supportive employer will go a long way in elevating your career prospects. Ask them about the qualifications and skills you stand to gain as well as whether they will let you take time off from work to attend college or university and to finish assignments. Also, don’t forget to ask about wages (whether it’s fair and incremental according to experience) and opportunities to expand your skills within the company (such as moving to other departments).

3. Show a strong work ethic

Employers look for particular traits when searching for candidates. These usually include good communication skills, ability to work in a team and enthusiasm. Make sure you demonstrate all these in your CV, applications and covering letters. Shout about your previous work experience, and don’t forget to show that you’ve done your research on the employer.

4. Think outside the box

As most apprenticeships are entry-level, employers are unlikely to expect you to provide an extensive employment history. But creating a portfolio of your work experience and achievements can help. This can include your good grades in Maths to show your problem-solving skills, or that waitressing stint you did part-time last summer to demonstrate you have listening skills and are willing to learn. Putting all of this in one nifty portfolio shows dedication and can boost your confidence at the interview.

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

Six interesting apprenticeships that are available in the UK

Apprenticeship 101: A guide on pursuing an apprenticeship in England