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Guest Post: What I learned in my first year as an apprentice

As an 18 year old college student, it suddenly hit me like a tonne of bricks that I didn’t want to go to university.

Bekah Leonard
12th February 2016
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I could go on and give a very long winded explanation for how I came to this decision, but the bottom line is that it was time for me to find an alternative.

Since I was about five years old I have wanted to be a writer, there has never been a second choice. I did at one point want to be a horse-riding showgirl - but there’s yet to be an apprenticeship in that - so I was looking for a very specific alternative. I consider myself very lucky because of realising early on that I didn’t want to go to university. As a teenager, I was surrounded by young people stressing about what they were going to do with their lives. Being scolded for considering permanent tattoos so young while being pressured into picking their future career. I was happy I knew what I wanted to do, it was just a matter of how that would be the issue.

I came across a website called Uni’s Not For Me (um, hello, fate much?) who just so happened to be looking for a journalism apprentice.

I thought, ‘that’s what I’m meant to be doing.’

It all fell into place, and the day after my last A-level exam I started my new job and then my NCTJ diploma in September. A year later and half way through my course, I’ve had a chance to reflect on what I’ve learnt from the first year of my apprenticeship:

Listen to those who have come before you

On the first day of my college course we had a few former NCTJ apprentices come and talk to us. They warned us of all the work we’d have, advised us on how to manage our time and revealed their super-secret top tips for getting shorthand down in the first year.

Needless to say, I didn’t take their words of wisdom quite as literally and seriously as perhaps I should have.

When you’re given friendly advice from the future – take it and run. Follow it to a Tee! These people know what they’re talking about and they’ve been in the same situation as you. 

Don’t leave before the boss

This is one of my favourite tips. Your apprenticeship has the potential to be a gateway into a future career, whether that’s with the company you’re doing the scheme with or another.

You want to make a good, lasting impression with your employer even if they don’t plan on offering you a position afterwards. A glowing recommendation goes a long way, so showing dedication and motivation is key to success.

Try very hard to stay in the office later than your boss. Leaving earlier on occasion is fine, but if you can help it try and hang around until they’ve gone. This shows commitment and is sure to impress.

Start studying immediately

I mean now. Right now. Go. If you’re apprenticeship comes with some kind of qualification – get ready for it. Start going over notes and revising the day you begin the course, because before you know it, it’ll be deadline/exam day and you will suddenly remember all those days you decided you needed a break.

Revision works best if you do it over a long time, no last minute cramming. This will also mean you won’t end up frantically juggling last minute revision and work shoved into the two weeks before an exam. Pace yourself and start early!

Work and play

Do not sacrifice your social life entirely. It’s important to know when to wind down and take a break from what is sure to be a fast-paced apprenticeship programme.

Going out every night and staggering into work the next day with a throbbing hangover isn’t recommended, but make sure you leave yourself a few hours a week to meet with people, socialise, chill out and relax. This will not only give you a break but help you to feel refreshed and ready for the next week.

Your programme could very easily be the opening to your career. It’ll teach you about the work place, how to manage your time effectively and what it takes to be a hard worker respected by peers.

After my first year, I know what to expect in the second half of my course now. Taking on board everything I’ve learnt – I’m positive I can make the final stretch count!


For more information about apprenticeships and other alternatives to university, visit

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