Ark Apprentice Day Networking Event

Will they be ‘hired’ or ‘fired’? – Ark Academy’s first Apprentice Day

On Thursday 22nd February all our sixth-formers abandoned their lessons as we held our inaugural ‘Apprentice Day’. It was a big commitment: over the course of the day 180 students were put through a full-scale recruitment process for an apprenticeship, completing a one-on-one interview, a group task and an online skills assessment. To make the day possible, we partnered with three top apprenticeship providers, Lloyds Banking Group, Transport for London and The Civil Service, who all generously made employees available to interview the students.

But why did we do it?

We have been watching closely as the number of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships for school leavers has been rapidly increasing in recent years and have read the Sutton Trust research about the ‘access gap’ that exists for the best programmes. We also know from speaking to our students that prejudiced views about the value of apprenticeships are widespread.

The objectives of ‘The Apprentice, Ark-style’ were two-fold: to challenge any preconceptions our students and their parents may have about apprenticeships; and to give them all practical experience in the kinds of tasks and interviews they are likely to face whenever they enter the workforce.

How did it work?

The students were split into three streams, with 50-60 students competing for each of three ‘imaginary’ apprenticeships: software development at TfL, business administration at The Civil Service, and project management at Lloyds. The students were given a briefing on the role they were applying for and plenty of advice and time to prepare themselves. The guest interviewers were especially impressed with the research many of the students had done into their companies and the depth of the experiences many of them were able to draw upon when giving examples.

Shahir Yadgari from 12 Rogers said “the most inspirational thing I took from Thursday was that I now understand that I can end up in the same place whether I do a degree or an apprenticeship”, while for Medan Kwaw “the best bit of the day was getting feedback on my interview technique”.

At the end of the day the students gathered together in the hall to hear who had been ‘hired’. The successful students were Iman Ahmadi (The Civil Service), Hammad Ahmed (Lloyds) and Varruni Somasundaram (TfL), but what stood out most was the tight competition.

Isabell Palmer, the Head of Non Domestic Policy and Engagement at The Civil Service’s Department for Business, Skills and Industrial Strategy said “We were very impressed by the sixth formers we met, who all seemed to be of a consistently high standard.  They are a credit to the school.  The Apprentice Day was a great opportunity for students to find out more about the opportunities on offer in the world of work.  They got a very realistic insight into how companies recruit, which should give them more confidence for the future.”  

Our first ‘networking’ event

By 5pm the pressure of the application process had subsided, but we weren’t finished yet. It is commonly accepted that the lack of a ready-made ‘network’ of contacts to draw upon for career advice is one of the biggest barriers to social mobility.

For this reason we finished the day with our first sixth-form ‘networking event’ at which our students rubbed shoulders and sought advice and inspiration from 64 special guests, representing the broadest possible range of careers.

John, a geologist who works for Shell International said: “I thoroughly enjoyed it .The students were really serious and professional, I genuinely enjoyed talking with them” , whereas Suchita Rana from 12 Hadid said “The networking event was really informative and such a great chance for us to meet some incredible people.”

Before the event some grumbles were heard in the sixth-form study room (“why do we have to do this the week before the mocks!?”). However there was a palpable buzz in the air throughout our first ‘Apprentice Day’ and by the end of the networking event, many of the students were visibly energised. Munira Khalif in 13 Ford summed it up when, after speaking to Leo McNally from Unlocked, a new programme for recruiting top graduates to work in prisons, she said “Now I just want to smash my A-levels, get my degree and start working. I’ve found exactly what I want to do.”

We hope all our students can sustain the same level of vision and ‘intrinsic motivation’ through the next few months and wish them all luck in their upcoming mock exams.


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