Dan Swords, parliamentary apprentice to Robert Halfon MP and one of WhiteHat’s Digital Marketing apprentices, shared his opinions with The Times about stopping the snobbery about apprenticeships. We wanted to find out more about Dan’s experience; read on to find out how his apprenticeship has changed his life.
1. Tell us about yourself
I’m Dan, I’m 18 years old and I am working as a parliamentary apprentice to Robert Halfon MP, completing the level 3 digital marketing apprenticeship with WhiteHat.
I grew up in a working class family that believes hard work reaps reward, and that you get out what you put in. I am the youngest of four, and have three older siblings who all went to university. I, however, saw a lot of mainstream education as pointless and disengaging so, despite wanting to be a Doctor, I didn’t want to go to uni.
2. What prompted you to seek out an apprenticeship?
To be completely honest, I would say I stumbled into an apprenticeship. I knew I didn’t want to carry on in mainstream education, but I never had the formal career guidance to make an informed decision.
My father had completed an apprenticeship in bricklaying in the early 1980’s and was always very positive about his experience. In fact, it’s because of this that I was never pushed into any streamlined education, and certainly why I never had the weight on my shoulders that some of my friends do.
All three of my older siblings went to University. The older two passed on negative experiences and the third absolutely loves it, however, she is studying midwifery and really putting back into our country, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would not believe this. The feedback passed back to me was to strive for the best you can do, the best hard work would allow you to do, and to be happy in doing it, and that didn’t necessarily mean to go to university.
3. Where were you when you had that lightning-strike moment that made you realise you didn’t have to follow the traditional path?
I was at college. I had no pen, no paper, no bag. It was -5°C but I was wearing rugby shorts as I always did in those days (my only real passion at college was sport).
I was speaking to my tutor when I said, “Uni isn’t for me but I don’t know what is. I don’t think I’d be able to concentrate or stay engaged. I feel like I’ve failed.” My tutor was more than reassuring and opened up my eyes to my options, telling me that the world is my oyster, that I had not failed but actually succeeded and that I could do anything I wanted. He encouraged me to pursue politics because I loved it so much.
4. Walk us through your experience with WhiteHat.
The world is changing. The Digital Revolution is just around the corner; we need to be ready for it and this means upskilling for it. The digital marketing apprenticeship is something that I believe will do that.
WhiteHat are incredible. I had a real lack of knowledge about apprenticeships and apprenticeship providers. In fact, I’d really only ever heard horror stories. WhiteHat are the only provider I can honestly say provide a real alternative to university. They look so much further than the qualification; through WhiteHat I have a sense of community, I’m taking part in the Future Leaders Foundation, I’ve got more than just a job. WhiteHat have a real authenticity that has captured me and my short attention span!
5. How has your apprenticeship changed your life?
I’ve gone from loathing education, to loving it. From feeling like I’d failed, to feeling like I’m succeeding.
I’ve always had a huge interest in politics and social justice, especially the effect politics can have on lives. Now I’m working in the Houses of Parliament at 18 years old for one of the most active MPs in our country, seeing first-hand the impact politics can have on our nation, and even the world. It’s opened up so many opportunities: I’ve had my story published in The Times, I’m meeting incredible people and doing some amazing work.
6. What do most people get wrong about apprenticeships?
The prestige of apprenticeships in our country has diminished. They have come to be seen as something for ‘second class’ citizens, and technical schools were seen as only being suitable for those who were not academically gifted.
An apprenticeship was never something I would have even considered prior to being offered this job, but to be learning, earning and enjoying at the same time shows me the power apprenticeships can have. Apprentices are more than just cheap labour or a student, they are interesting people who bring diversity of background and thought into a business.
7. Where do you want to see the UK get to with apprenticeships?
The national view of apprenticeships must change.
It is so clear to me now that apprenticeships can fix the large and widening skills shortage in the UK; that they can be the driving force of our economy and we must wake up the nation to this.
The real turning point for apprenticeships is when they pass the dinner-party test so that when you say you did an apprenticeship, people say ‘wow!’. We’re not there yet - when people ask what I do, and I say “an apprenticeship,” their response is usually distasteful - but we’re getting there - when I explain where I do my apprenticeship and what this involves, their opinion changes rather rapidly.
No one can pretend that they are held in the same regard as an Oxbridge degree. But at the same time no one can ignore, when shown the evidence, the impact they can have. That to me is clear, and why we must change this.