We know there is always room for improvement in increasing apprentice engagement and, as the We invest in apprentices framework identifies, recruitment, communication and support are key areas for any employer looking to maximise their apprentice completions.
While the engagement factors in apprentices leaving prematurely are documented, sometimes it is just a matter of another opportunity presenting itself.
Investors in People spoke with Sisay Shah from StepIntoLaw about her experiences of legal apprenticeships and how those experiences presented an opportunity to help other apprentices in their approach.
When I started applying for legal apprenticeships, I lacked knowledge about applications and lacked confidence due to facing many rejections.
My school didn’t talk much about apprenticeships and I was one of 400 students in my sixth form to apply for legal apprenticeships. I ‘kept my options open’ by applying to university, and got into my top university choices. So, I would be lying if I said that I did not feel satisfied to reject THEM when I received an offer for the Legal Apprenticeship, 9 months and 15 law firm rejections later.
The current recruitment process for the legal apprenticeships is quite intense, especially if you are asking a 17-year-old to be prepared to commit to a four or five stage recruitment process.
We are starting to see organisations making positive changes to their recruitment processes – for example, the introduction of insight days allow young candidates to not only feel more at ease about the process, but also allows recruiters to analyse candidates’ contributions and how interested and invested the candidates are in the apprenticeship route itself.
From student to apprentice – finding a balance
Now came the transition from being a full-time sixth form student, to getting into the corporate world all whilst doing a part-time law degree at 18 years old.
The balance that apprentices need to find between demanding educational courses and full time apprenticeships, especially those in the pressured environment of a law firm, can be unrealistic and it is something that employers and training providers need to consider. An extra study day or reducing the working hours can go a long way to making the apprenticeship manageable for the apprentice and see them fully flourish in their career progression.
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Mental wellbeing of apprentices and how to approach it
Throughout my apprenticeship, I suffered from a lack of self-esteem and demotivation towards my work and studies, in part because of a sense of imposter syndrome.
Mental health in apprenticeship spaces needs to be addressed and employers do need to fully acknowledge that the apprentice may be both a student and inexperienced in the working world, as they have come straight from school to pursue their career ambitions, and that this duality can cause significant stress.
Tailored events within the employer/training provider/educational institution partnership that vocalise the struggles an apprentice can go through, and how an apprentice can get the best experience for their career progression, can help. For example, many apprentices do not know how to utilise their soft skills to bring the best outcomes in their career progression – this is an area within which an employer or training provider can offer valuable support and experienced insight.
The community of apprentices
Employers should also recognise that a community of apprentices exists much like a community of apprenticeships exist. My personal solution for the imposter syndrome I was experiencing was to reach out to other apprentices via social media by becoming a ‘lawfluencer’, known at the time as ‘thehijabiapprentice’.
This resulted in meeting the most inspirational people, advising others on different career points, and even gaining help from fellow apprentices on the same journey as me. I have come across individuals saying they enjoyed my posts and I have inspired them to apply to the Legal Apprenticeship and supported them to get into THEIR dream legal apprenticeships too!
An alternative to apprenticeship
With the positivity of my social media efforts reaping rewards, I started to realise that my passion and purpose lay in helping students get into legal apprenticeships by setting up my own first Legal Apprenticeship mentoring programme.
I loved marketing, leading, and being that support system for others. It made me happy and content. For months, I was battling my conscience, ‘No Sisay, you were rejected so many times, you wanted this! Keep going, it’s just another couple of years!’ but I had no motivation towards my apprenticeship so I decided what was right for me and moved on.
Why is the non-complete rate for apprenticeships so high?
Fulfilling my purpose
Now, at 19 years old, as a young entrepreneur, I have co-founded a business with my sister (and business partner), Selay – StepIntoLaw. StepIntoLaw aims to bridge the gap between prospective legal apprentices and their aspirations to be accepted into a legal apprenticeship programme.
Within StepIntoLaw’s first month launch, we have onboarded 30 students for our mentoring programme, reached over 10,000 students across our social media channels, and have spoken to law firms across the UK about how we can bring the best talent to their legal apprenticeship cohorts and nurture their apprentices in the most supportive and engaging ways.
I do have my moments of doubt where I think that people might not take me ‘seriously’ because of my age, but the most valuable advice that I received was ‘the way you depict yourself, is what others think of you’. Therefore, my ultimate purpose is to help students get into legal apprenticeships and for schools and firms to do more to support the students in return.
Sisay Shah is the co-founder of StepIntoLaw – an initiative helping underrepresented aspiring Legal Apprentices during the recruitment process through mentoring.