Helena Pozniak
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Does your placement pass the test?

The Telegraph
From earning Ritz credentials to serving in the Army Air Corps, three apprentices spill the beans

Deepak Mallya, 21, works at the Ritz as a commis chef, having completed the Specialised Chef Scholarship, a three-year advanced apprenticeship, which is equivalent to two A-levels.

“I just love cooking,” says Mallya. “I did A-levels and I’m reasonably academic, but I benefit a lot more from hands-on learning and the idea of spending three years at university didn’t appeal.

“So when my head chef at the hotel in Bournemouth where I was working recommended this course — arranged by the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and managed by the Bournemouth & Poole College — I embraced the idea. You get to go to the best places in the country; I was at the Ritz but you can also go to Claridge’s, the Dorchester or Chewton Glen [Hotel & Spa].

“I started in the bar and snack section. On a day-to-day basis, my job involved mixing mayonnaises and vinaigrettes, blanching vegetables and making sandwiches. It was all about time management. “My year comprised 70 trainee chefs and the college instilled professionalism in us from day one. We were expected to turn up on time, clean-shaven and with our uniforms ironed and starched.

“College for me was like putting the corner pieces of a jigsaw in place — learning the French names of food didn’t make much sense until I went to work. I learned a lot very quickly and the college made you feel that you mattered from the start, in a way I had never experienced at school.

“Having responsibility was stressful but I enjoyed it, and I got to work with the best ingredients, from truffles to foie gras. The team is responsible for 500 covers for every meal and there can’t be any mistakes; I don’t think people really appreciate what goes on behind the scenes. The pressure can be quite overwhelming in your teens but we all got enough support.

“It can also feel like a sharp transition to go from living at home to moving out and managing your own money, and some people were homesick at first. But this apprenticeship has absolutely lived up to my expectations; there are days when I’m exhausted, yet I still love what I’m doing.”

Hannah Bufton, 19, is in her second year of a two-year higher apprenticeship in consulting at PwC, which is the equivalent to the first level of higher education.

“I knew from an early age that I wanted to go into business. The usual route is through university or starting out at the bottom, but I went on Google for a few hours and researched all the opportunities,” says Bufton.

“There should be more publicity around these schemes. I’m the only one from 140 in my school year who went on to do this and I applied for business courses at university as a back-up. There wasn’t much advice at school and at first my parents thought apprenticeships led to working on a building site.

“I joined as one of 19 apprentices — with this year’s intake, there are around 40 of us running around — and I’ve been lucky so far as both my projects have been client-facing. In my last project I had a full-on role, as I was one of the account managers, but it was nice to feel trusted.

“We all work 9.30 to 5.30 and put a couple of hours aside each week for study; overall, I’ve done about 12 days at college and the balance seems right.

“I was at boarding school since the age of nine, so I’m very independent and moving down to London from Shropshire wasn’t a big deal, although the cost of living is higher. A few of us on the programme are flat-sharing.

“So far I haven’t felt out of my depth, although it’s the first time I’ve worked in an office. There’s a lot of support in place and you get a real insight into the business. PwC is also very good about making you feel comfortable enough to ask silly questions. But I wasn’t expecting to have so much responsibility in such a big company.

“The scheme lasts two years — by which stage I’ll be at the same level as graduate hires, but having got there one year sooner and with a lot more knowledge of how PwC works.”

Yolanda Fourie, 32, last year completed a Level 3 apprenticeship, equivalent to two A-levels, in technical communications administered by Babcock International Group. She now works for Babcock, tutoring learners in the Army Air Corps.

“I did my apprenticeship while serving in the Army Air Corps, which I left in April due to injury, and I now tutor and mentor apprentices on the same telecommunications programme that I attended while in the Army,” explains Fourie.

“I signed up for the scheme relatively late, as it’s more usual to start at the age of 19 or 20, but as I already had a background and training in telecommunications I completed it in 18 months; it normally takes three years.

“The support I received from Babcock was amazing — whenever I got stuck or interpreted the course wrongly, the assessor set me on the right path and helped me understand what was being asked of me. He would come on site where I was based at Wattisham Airfield. Although I was working with army communication equipment, the skills transferred into the civilian sector.

“I would study in my room during evenings and weekends — you have to sacrifice the time if you want to get it done — and the apprenticeship probably amounted to three months’ worth of extra study. The most challenging part was having to create a local area network — it was a huge project and it took a lot of research to get everything covered within the allocated time.

“Although I had to leave the Army because of injury, I managed to stay positive as I knew I was well prepared for transition into civilian life. I had three offers of work, and the apprenticeship helped me get where I am with Babcock now.

“My experience has made me a real supporter of apprenticeships — they’re a fantastic way to get on with your career.”

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