National Apprenticeship Week 2018 got off to an incredible start for all of us at WhiteHat HQ with a visit from Anne Milton, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. The Minister met with members of the WhiteHat leadership team to discuss our vision and heard stories from a group of our brilliant apprentices, before she sat down for a Q and A with our very own Business Admin apprentice Ellie Leeks, alongside members of the press. Read on to find out how their conversation went…

Anne Milton hearing from Caitlyn Hardy, Mari Berry and Robert Ukandu

Ellie Leeks: To kick things off, what would you say has been the highlight of being Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills so far?

Anne Milton MP: Probably getting to go to the World Skills competition in Abu Dhabi! These are people competing in various skills over three or four days, all under the age of 24, away from their families because it’s a long way to go; and unlike Usain Bolt, whose event finishes in about 9 seconds, they’re competing over 3 or 4 days, under incredible pressure — that’s prety amazing to see. Talking to the competitors from 4 years ago and hearing about what’s happened to them after that, too, was incredible — there are some very moving stories.

EL: Yes, it’s good for me, especially at my age, to see a lot of young people from different backgrounds being so successful.

AM: Yes! It gives you hope in the world. It’s the same with these young people today. And actually, seeing employers who really understand the value of apprenticeships and care about their apprentices has been brilliant. I was at an employer today who gives their apprentices the opportunity to do the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award alongside their qualification — this is an employer who understands the value of a skilled workforce. And of course, those apprentices are incredibly grateful towards their employer and feel immense loyalty because of that positive experience.

Kiara Bailey, Toluwalase Salu and Ali Naqvi shared their stories

EL: What is one piece of advice you wish you’d received before you started working?

AM’s aide: You told me a good piece of advice! You said: ‘Never be afraid to tell someone whose above you that they’re stupid!’

AM: On a more serious note, my one piece of advice would be — the school system is set up for good reasons to be about qualifications; but if you’re at school and you’re not doing well, just keep battling on and don’t let your confidence falter.

EL: I think that’s a really good point, a lot of people are very pressured by GCSE results — that shouldn’t determine their future.

AM: Yes — they’re important, and Maths and English are very important, but they shouldn’t be the end. My one piece of advice to any young people: there is nothing to stop you doing what you want to do. Absolutely nothing. Some of the barriers might be very big and hard to get past, but nothing should ever stop you doing what you want to do. I got good advice actually — I went into a career that could have branched into a lot of different things.

EL: Yes, that leads to my next question actually — I know that you were a nurse for 25 years, so what motivated you to go into politics after that?

AM: I always thought there weren’t enough people like me represented in politics — there weren’t enough women, there weren’t enough people who had front line experience of the NHS.

Anne Milton fields questions from the press

Journalist: National Apprenticeship Week was trending number 1 across the UK today — that’s great publicity! What more can be done to raise awareness?

AM: It’s great, but yes, it’s just one week. So what more can be done? I have an open door as far as businesses and training providers are concerned. The trouble is, that at times the press are only interested in reporting the negative stories. Of course the system isn’t perfect, no system is perfect — which is why I have an open door, come and see me and tell me what should be changed — but we need some positive news stories about apprenticeships, all the time.

Sophie Adelman, WhiteHat co-founder: We also have a moral obligation here right, to offer multiple routes for young people, not just one.

AM: As a society, absolutely we do have moral obligations to make sure that we never give up on anybody. Never giving up on anybody is about having lots of routes for people, because the same route doesn’t fit everybody.

Journalist: So what can be done if a school isn’t letting training providers in?

AM: Well they’ve got to by law. So any stories about a school closing its doors to a training provider — I personally will follow it up.

EL: My final question is, what kind of advice would you give women going into a male-dominated sector or industry? I’m about to go into construction, so would be really interested to hear your thoughts.

AM: I would say, don’t let any barrier stop you just because you’re the only woman. Just make sure that you double your numbers every week. So bring another woman in, because there’s a tipping point. If you’re one, get one more in. When you’re two, get two more in. And if you keep doubling the numbers, so that you get some sort of equity, that’s the way — because any business that wants to be successful, wants access to all of the talent. So why would you cut off 50% of the talent available to you?