An apprenticeship can serve as a dynamic, career-launching platform at any age or stage of professional life — empowering individuals to unlock opportunities they might never have thought possible.
For Katy Love, life has completely changed since embarking on an apprenticeship back in 2015, at the age of 18, with legal firm Gowling WLG. In 2023, she became a qualified solicitor, and has experienced first-hand how learning while earning — and qualifying without getting into debt — can create opportunities that extend far beyond work.
“When I first started as an apprentice I was really in my shell; very shy. I couldn’t even pick up the phone to clients when they’d ring me,” she tells ITN Business, as part of the Apprenticeships: Pathway to Success programme. “Obviously, I was 18, and straight out of school… but as I’ve progressed in the role, I feel like I’ve developed personally as well. I’m now much more confident, and that’s come with big milestones in my life; getting engaged, buying a house — all that’s happened along my apprenticeship route.”
Although the financial benefits of an apprenticeship were a big plus, Katy’s mum, Emma, a single mother to two daughters, initially had concerns.
“From a parent’s perspective, there can be that: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ Are they just going to end up making the tea, or doing the filing, and not actually learn anything. Of course, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The balance between the education she received at university for her degree and the [practical] learning part of it; they are a perfect marriage that came together.”
Gowling WLG recognises the value of apprenticeships as a viable alternative to attending university. The company offers programmes that provide people the opportunity to earn while they learn; gaining professional qualifications and practical experience without the financial burden of significant debt.
In 2023, students graduating from English universities left with a debt averaging nearly £45,000. And the cost of living crisis has made life even harder. Not accruing any debt throughout her studies has, for Katy, been one of the best parts of going down the apprenticeship route.
“Your salary increases throughout the years to reflect that you’re progressing in a role. And then on qualification, there’s no debt because my training has all been paid for.”
Watch the film, featuring Katy’s apprenticeship story.
[This partner film is produced by the ITN Business commercial team and is not created by ITN news staff journalists.]
Katy, alongside two other apprentices, are the first solicitor apprentices at the law firm, and supporting them throughout the process has been Gowling WLG’s Head of Early Talent, Lucy Dolan.
“I’m incredibly proud of all three of them; they all got first class honours law degrees, passed the SQE1 and SQE2 — and that’s no mean feat. It’s not an easier way to qualify; it’s just a different way to qualify,” she says.
“I’d never want to say that one’s better than the other; it’s just people want to be able to do different things. Some people really value that experience of going and studying and moving out of home[…] but it’s just about having choices.”
Gowling WLG has 33 apprentices and takes on 25 university graduates a year. Gowling WLG Partner, Rob Bridgman, believes the skills picked up through an apprenticeship are a valuable asset to young people early on in their professional career.
“You’ve taken someone who’s 18, who is still maturing, and you’re almost forcing them to mature very quickly and develop into someone who is sensible and uses emotional intelligence around the office,” he says. “That wasn’t something that I had to do at 18, while at university, so I certainly don’t think it’s easy.”
Attitudes towards apprenticeships are changing, with students, parents, employers and those already in the workforce keen to switch careers, recognising the value of acquiring new skills, industry qualifications, and all without the burden of debt.
Back when Katy was making the decision about her apprenticeship, she remembers that the traditional academic routes were the ones being pushed at school.
“Schools were very much driving the university route, and I think there is still an element of that now. But apprenticeships are now becoming much more recognised. The feedback I get now when I talk about my route, is people going, ‘Wow, I wish I’d thought of that when I first started’.”
Employers are increasingly investing in apprenticeship programs to cultivate skilled talent pipelines, with many businesses recognising the advantages of hiring and training apprentices to address skills gaps and secure a qualified workforce for the future.
For Gowling WLG, apprenticeships are enabling the business to improve retention and open up a whole new pipeline of talent.
“The legal profession needed to change and be more current and this really widens access to our profession, and makes us more representative of the clients we look after,” says Lucy.
For young people like Katy, who might not have seen law as a viable career option, for financial reasons, among others — embarking on an apprenticeship can be a transformative journey; not only allowing individuals to explore various career avenues, but also uncovering hidden talents and passions along the way.
For more insights, interviews and developments within the world of apprenticeships, head over to watch our new programme in full: Apprenticeships: Pathway to Success.