Ruth Badger knows all about the great benefits of apprenticeships. The Birmingham businesswoman rose to public prominence when she featured on the second series of The Apprentice in 2006 – but she was also a real apprentice at the age of 16.
Runner up in Lord Sugar’s competition, she has since become a household name for excellence in business, and she still supports the power of apprenticeships.
“Different things suit different industries,” she says. “I think when it’s practical, apprenticeships are suitable.”
Badger runs three successful businesses – and couldn’t be more pro-apprenticeships. We caught up with her to get her thoughts on apprenticeship opportunities and why these shouldn’t get passed up.
How did your apprenticeship shape your career?
At 16, I applied for 32 jobs. My parents told me if I didn’t get one, I’d have to go back to school. As it turns out, I didn’t get the jobs, so I went back to school and did two months of A-levels and honestly, I couldn’t cope.
I went to the job centre and they were offering two-year YTSs [youth training schemes] to work there, and so I did mine in six months.
If I hadn’t done my apprenticeship, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Which is why I’m so passionate about them – not because of the TV show, but because I’ve got my own four apprentices. Sometimes all people need sometimes is the opportunity, and apprenticeships give them that.
When you started your apprenticeship, how were they seen?
I started my apprenticeship in 1995 when they were called YTS. The stigma was massive. It was seen as something people who had failed school did. I was in all the top bands in school, but I chose it because I wanted to leave. All I wanted to do was get into the working world and earn money.
Hard work pays off
How do you use your apprenticeship experience in your businesses?
I run three businesses and actively use apprenticeships to start my entry-level members of staff.
I went through education for 15 years and walked away with five GCSEs. In six months of an apprenticeship, I gained an NVQ level 2 with a distinction – equivalent to five GCSEs in six months. I showed that I had an amazing work ethic – and still do.
Why do you think apprenticeships work?
At 16, everyone is asked what they want to do. Apprenticeships give people the opportunity to get into the world and find out [what they want to do].
If we didn’t have apprenticeships as employers, we wouldn’t be able to cultivate the next generation of talent. And if apprenticeships weren’t there for the individuals, it would be like turning off the light in what is a positive channel.
Importance of practical skills
What makes a good apprentice?
I’d say attitude and work ethic. What apprenticeships do is give people the opportunity to taste work, and also give practical skills to those willing to learn. In my business Everything Tech, I’ve got four apprentices; two have passed and next year I’ll take on another two. It’s a fundamental element to my model to bring in apprentices. So if they have a good attitude and a good work ethic, we can work with that. The moment you have that opportunity, it’s about making it your own.
How do you think apprenticeships work differently for healthcare as opposed to business?
Healthcare is very different. My mum is a principle officer for Unison, so I’m aware of what she does. There’s the emotional side as well as the practical. They need compassion, and no university or course can teach that. You can’t nurse sitting behind a desk. You can learn the academic side, but you only learn compassion by experience, which is why apprenticeships are made for healthcare roles.
Rewards for success
Does The Apprentice give people an idea of what apprenticeships entail?
Lord Sugar has done unbelievable things for apprentices. The Apprentice is about doing practical business, whether we like it or loathe it, which entices the younger generation to have an interest in business.
When I was 16, programmes about business on television were boring. If I’d had something like The Apprentice, it would have helped.
The Apprentice shows you what you can achieve. It’s 10 years on and I still get enquiries to speak, all because I showed that I can deliver what I say I’m going to.
What makes a good apprenticeship?
It’s about giving them a working life. They will also get structure in relation to training and development, and an infrastructure to support them. We’ve invested £10,000 in Microsoft training applications and the first people to get them are my apprentices. If they went to college, they wouldn’t be able to afford those qualifications. My apprentices are a massive part of the team. Apprenticeships show them what they can have if the desire is there, and it’s rewarding to see them succeed.