To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week (8-14 February), I decided to write myself a letter. It’s no ordinary letter as it’s addressed to 16-year-old me. It contains the career advice I would have given myself as I took my first steps into the world of work on my apprenticeship.
If I remember correctly, when you were young, you dreamed of owning a Lamborghini – a red Countach LP400, but you’d settle for a Kawasaki GPZ100RX by the time you’re 16. Unfortunately, the Fabulous Rocketers roller-skates you designed at primary school don’t make you a millionaire but they may have started you thinking about the future, perhaps one in design and innovation. So, when your secondary school teacher, Mr Thompson, encourages you to choose a career in something with a long-term future, you did absolutely the right thing taking that to heart.
You’ll find yourself at a crossroad at 15 – stay at school and take A Levels or apply for an apprenticeship with a good local employer, and you know what? I can safely say that decision turned out well. But don’t agonise too much about whether you’re always choosing the right course of action, you don’t need to have everything worked out just yet. Trust your instinct that computing will form the backbone of societal and industrial advancement over the next 20 years… and keep playing with that Sinclair ZX81 home computer, it’s an excellent start!
You’ll learn some foundational stuff on your apprenticeship with Texas Instruments, building knowledge, skills and resilience, although you’ll take it hard when you’re not initially selected. Now is the time to show your determination and reluctance to accept a ‘no’, this will open doors for you. You’ll pick up other valuable lessons from your time there – such as being on time, communicating well, being a problem solver, working in teams and presenting yourself professionally – ties will still be the norm for some time! These behavioural attributes will serve you well for the next 30 years of work, trust me.
The future will often be fuzzy, but take time to have fun, travel on the cheap and enjoy your apprenticeship taking as much from it as possible. Embrace every opportunity to try new things, especially those that seem just beyond your ability – that is when you learn the most. Your grounding in engineering and computing will also form an excellent springboard for what you go on to later in product marketing and management – chiefly connecting with people at all levels.
You will be told that putting the customer first is among the most important things you can do – treat this advice as a career compass and you won’t go far wrong – treat customers and colleagues as you would wish to be treated. Be purposefully bold at work as you build experience and don’t let others make you feel their ideas, experience or pathway must be better – you’re perfect at being you and your experience will make you the best at doing what you do. Don’t be limited in your thinking either, many UK Chief Executives started their careers as apprentices just like you.
It’s not all about the end-destination though, it’s about life-long learning, relationships, experiences and having a big smile on your face all the way there. I can’t promise you’ll have that red Countach in 2021, but you may surprise yourself about what you can achieve and tick off your bucket list, too.
By the way… you’re still a petrol-head.