As part of National Apprenticeship Week, we have taken a moment to talk to various Business West colleagues about their experiences starting their careers as an apprentice.
We chatted to Ian Mean MBE, Director of Business West Gloucestershire, who at the age of 17 left school to embark on an apprenticeship with a local newspaper. Ian has since had a remarkable career as a reporter for newspapers up and down the country. He kindly shared his apprenticeship experience with us, as well as giving his advice to those thinking about taking up an apprenticeship.
Tell us about your experience of being an apprentice, and its influence on your career
I started my apprenticeship journey at the age of 17, when I left a London comprehensive school and began writing to 100 newspapers across the UK with the hope of finding a job as a trainee reporter.
Despite underachieving at my O levels, my drive to become a reporter never wavered. My passion for journalism and reporting began behind those school gates on the football field, not playing the game but watching and writing up the first team’s matches. I would send them off to the local press and to my delight they would publish them, and that’s when I knew I was on the right path.
Whilst I waited for a response to my letters, I worked as a post boy on Park Lane, until I was offered a job as a trainee reporter for the South London Observer in Camerwell. It was edited by the father of Kelvin MacKenzie, who is the famous (or should I say infamous) former editor of the Sun.
During my 3 years working for the newspaper, I undertook a proper training apprenticeship that threw me into the world of writing stories for National papers, as well as providing me with opportunities to join courses. One that sticks out in my memory was learning shorthand and being the only man in the class – but it all helped in building my confidence.
I then moved to Sheffield and became the crime reporter of the Morning Telegraph and won the Young Journalist award. After this, the Daily Mail rang me and said “do you want to come and see us in Manchester?” and I joined their ranks as a trainee reporter at 23 years old.
After this, I went on to become Chief News editor of the Birmingham Mail, which was then the largest evening newspaper, and then joined the Daily Mirror as Marketing Manager. I then found myself going back to what I did best, which was working on a news desk as a deputy news editor. Before I retired 5 to 6 years ago, I edited newspapers in Gloucestershire, Bristol and Somerset. I still do all sorts of other things now, including being the chair of 10 hospital trusts for organ donation and being the vice chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership in Gloucestershire.
In June 2022, I was awarded the MBE for services to Gloucestershire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, which was a great honour.
What skills did the apprenticeship give you for your working life?
I believe sincerely that a good apprenticeship is learning on the job, and that you have to work hard to get the most out of them. Most of the people I know in business in Gloucestershire started off as apprentices.
These days, I think there are more opportunities than ever for apprenticeships, particularly degree apprenticeships where firms will offer someone a job whilst they study for their degree on a part time basis.
They give you practical experience and knowledge, and I've never lost that drive for learning ever since. I learnt the tenets of editing newspapers through my apprenticeship which were instilled in me; truth and clarity, and accuracy. I’ll never forget my first editor’s advice of checking copy three times, and I'm still a stickler for it – especially when it comes to spelling people’s names correctly!
Do you think there is still a stigma around apprenticeships?
Unfortunately, yes. I think there is a big problem in that lots of parents don't understand the benefits of apprenticeships over University degrees, and still see them as a route into lower skilled jobs. But that couldn't be further from the truth. As an example, I know there are young people in Gloucestershire who work for aerospace companies, who are taking on degree apprenticeships and by the time they're 23, they'll be on £40,000 a year.
I think the government needs to put more money into apprenticeships, and encourage more young people to consider them as a fantastic route into work.
Do you have any words of advice for people thinking of becoming apprentices?
It’s two words, do it.
You will never regret the knowledge that you pick up, and it will set you on the way. And always be enthusiastic, no matter what.