The Apprentice Gets the Wrong Headlines


This week is National Apprenticeship Week, which in an unhappy coincidence of timing follows on directly from “Ex-Apprentice’s Week” last week.  Last Tuesday The Guardian and others reported on “The Apprentice” Series 6 winner Stella English’s Employment Tribunal appointment with Lord Sugar. She complained that she had been treated as an “overpaid lackey”, her job was a sham and there was nothing for her to do. She claims to have only met the great man five times during her tenure, firstly with Viglen and then You-view, both Sugar group companies.  Her contract was not renewed and she brought proceedings for constructive unfair dismissal. For some acerbic comments by Darren Newman on English’s case read here.

I agree with Darren that the point of the exercise isn’t about the job but about having your 12 weeks of fame on national TV, yet it is (or was until the recent series) billed as an opportunity to be employed (and thus be mentored) by Lord Sugar and it is the chance to work with Lord Sugar that the candidates parrot ad nauseam throughout the show.  That’s why they give 110%, complete undying passion and go the extra extra extra mile to win. Yawn! The prize in the last two series has been a substantial investment by Lord Sugar in the businesses the wining candidates set up and perhaps that reflects the fact that none of the early winners of the show seem to have set the business world alight subsequently. Unlike other reality TV shows, such as Dragons’ Den, Grand Designs and even, er, Blind Date, The Apprentice does not broadcast programmes on what happened afterwards to the people involved. There’s never been an “Apprentice –what happened next” show, which doesn’t seem surprising if Stella English’s experiences prove to be representative or the Wikipedia entry above accurate.

Having said all that, perhaps more emphasis should be given to what happened next; maybe Lord Sugar should get involved more? Maybe more publicity should be given to training and education in the workplace generally? Perhaps it is time to dust down the concept of “apprenticeship” and give it some real meaning in the twenty-first century? The government offers “modern apprenticeships” but who knows what they are about? The “gold standard” in education is the A-level and University yet that disenfranchises all those people who are not academic and who are more practically minded.  That shouldn’t equate to “stupid”, yet the secondary school system fails them and, consequently, fails the whole economy.

At the moment it seems that much on-the-job training takes place in the form of unpaid internships which might offer genuine, useful work experience and training or, more likely, as in the case of Keri Hudson, just be unpaid labour. Stella English may well have been an overpaid lackey,  but better that than an intern not even being paid the minimum wage.

Update: In late news, David Cameron announces that apprenticeships will “become the new norm” and  “We need to look at how we can expand apprenticeship opportunities so that they are available to all young people who are ready and eager to take them up and aspire to get ahead in life.”.  Good to see you’re reading my blog, Dave.

Michael Scutt, Employment Solicitor 

Employment solicitor with Crane and Staples, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Blogger & writer. I like cycling, cricket, football and history.