Young people without university qualifications are being given the opportunity to forge careers in the international development sector by taking part in a new charity apprenticeship scheme.
Six apprentices chosen from among 242 applications started the 12-month scheme in September. It is being run collectively by ActionAid UK, Plan UK and Christian Aid. The six are gaining practical experience while studying for a Business and Administration Level 2 or 3 qualification on day release at City and Islington College and being paid the London Living Wage - an hourly rate of £9.15, equating to an annual salary of £16,653.
Graham Salisbury, head of human resources at ActionAid, says the charities decided to run the scheme because they wanted to employ more young people but were unhappy with using unpaid interns, which his organisation stopped doing two years ago. "Apprenticeships are a good route because they are closely aligned with our values of helping to get people out of poverty and into employment," he says. "We recognise that for young people today the pathways into employment are full of pitfalls, particularly in this sector."
Salisbury highlights how competitive recruitment has become; MSc graduates applying for charity administration positions, for example. He questions whether it's necessary to employ people who are over-qualified, partly because it contributes to high staff turnover.
Maria Farres, strategic business development partner at Christian Aid, says: "We need to find different ways of attracting and growing the right talent. If you always ask for people who have experience, you're missing fresh perspectives and ideas. Apprenticeships support the development of young, talented people."
The charities advertised the positions on the National Apprenticeships Service website and in job centres near their London offices so they could find people from the local community and a range of backgrounds.
"In our organisation, our employees are mostly aged between 25 and 35, female, middle class and white," says ActionAid's Salisbury. "We saw this as a way of changing that - not one of ActionAid's apprentices is white and there are two males and one female."
Josie Maydon, HR business partner at Plan UK, says that the charity looked for people who were enthusiastic about working in international development. "The most important thing for young people who want to get an apprenticeship in the sector is to demonstrate a real passion for it," she advises. "Think about the skills you might need, but don't worry about not having office experience.
"Instead, concentrate on the skills you have gained at home, at school and in social situations, and talk about them at interview. One person spoke about the teamwork he gained through playing football.
"Try to understand what it means to be professional - and go into the interview dressed smartly, rather than approaching it is if it were a chat in the pub."
There are plans to develop the scheme into a third sector-specific apprenticeship programme next year and encourage more international development organisation to become involved.
Case study: Susithaa Sathiyamoorthy, 18, HR administration assistant apprentice, ActionAid UK
I wanted to work in HR and was wondering whether to do an apprenticeship or a degree when I saw the advert. It's certainly a cheaper alternative to a degree because you earn as you learn and there's no need to get student loans. I may be the youngest on the team, but I feel that people listen to me and that I bring a fresh perspective. This opportunity has enabled me to gain a qualification and lots of practical experience. Those who are fortunate to gain apprenticeships will be seen by future employers as special. I'd recommend this route to others.
Case study: Quichan Wallace, 21, apprentice business administrator, Christian Aid
I was at university for a year but decided that an apprenticeship was more suited to me - it's a much more active way of learning than sitting in a classroom. I was intrigued about working for a charity and I want to learn so much. I feel that I'm gaining many skills and enjoy the balance of working while having a day at college every week. I know a lot of people who have been to university but can't find jobs because they don't have the experience that I'm gaining.
Case study: Ayshe, 18, individual giving unit apprentice, Plan UK
I've had part-time jobs, but this is my first proper position - and I'm really enjoying it. I love helping others and working with people, and I wanted to work somewhere that gave me job satisfaction. The charity sector is perfect for me and I was drawn to Plan UK when I researched the organisation. Most of my friends have gone to university, but I decided that I was more suited to hands-on learning, so this apprenticeship is ideal. I feel like I'm working at the heart of the organisation and I wake up looking forward to going in to work.