Newham apprentices share their experiences

07th March 2018

It is the eleventh National Apprenticeship Week – but what is the jobs market like for Newham’s school leavers looking for a career?

National unemployment figures are at a historic low of four per cent. However youth unemployment figures, which excludes those in full-time education, is considerably higher at 12.5 pc.

As the UK economy has become increasingly built around small companies that don’t run formal training programs in the same way that large businesses do, it has become more and more difficult for young people to find skilled work.

Unpaid internships, where young people work for free in an attempt to gain enough experience to be considered for jobs in their chosen career, are becoming so prevalent the government was last month forced to launch a crackdown on them.

And with over 50 pc of people opting to go to university, those who feel that academia is not for them can find it increasingly difficult to find an employer willing to take them on and train them.

However, there are still some opportunities out there.

Chris Achiampong, 23, from East Ham, used to be in Arsenal FC’s academy youth team. However he was forced to reconsider his future when a career-ending injury made him have to plan for a future outside of football.

Chris then channelled his efforts into his schooling, and ended up being head boy at his sixth form, where he studied for A-Levels in English, Business and Economics.

Chris then landed a spot on Ernst & Young’s school leaver program.

“After seeing my brothers struggle to find jobs after leaving university, I realised that his route wasn’t essential – as long as I could find an opportunity with a good firm with clear development prospects,” he said.

“I’ve always been a self starter. The important thing is to have an appetite for learning and to ask for guidance along the way. The road might be bumpy but eventually you’ll get there.”

Another former apprentice, Nana Bonsu, 28, from Canning Town, also insists that apprenticeships are a good option for Newham’s young people today.

Nana decided against pursuing further academic study in favour of an apprenticeship with a fashion designer.

After a year of getting experience with different fashion houses, Nana landed a place on City of Westminster College’s fashion apprenticeship course.

The course included placements at designers including Ralph and Russo, Anthony Vrahimi’s Leather Goods.

Nana said: “Because my parents didn’t initially support what I was doing, I had to be certain about the choices I made.

“I had to be determined to make a success of my fashion career.

“In addition to the technical skills I learnt on my apprenticeship, I gained so many wider skills. My confidence has improved, I’m a better communicator and I’ve learnt about all the different business functions, from sales and marketing to finance.”

Nana now owns her own fashion line, called August Devine.

She says that this would never have been possible if she had not got a grounding in essential industry skills at a young age while she was doing her apprenticeship.

“Apprenticeships give you that crucial insight into industry. I’m so grateful for the endless opportunities that have arisen as a result of my apprenticeship and career U-turn,” she said.

Nana urges youngsters growing up in Newham to consider apprenticeships as an alternative to continuing academic study.

“I would encourage anyone to do an apprenticeship,” she said. “For me, it has given me the confidence to focus on what I want to do and achieve. I only wish I’d taken up my apprenticeship sooner.

“Apprenticeships, as an option, should be offered more readily to young people in the same way as university degrees are. It is not just in the fashion industry that gaining hands-on experience from those at the forefront of their trade is second to none, not to mention the benefits of being paid to learn and still having a qualification in theory-based learning at the end of it.”