Tech entrepreneurs Euan Blair and Sophie Adelman have outlined plans to target ambitious school-leavers outside Greater London after raising $4 million.
The pair have been running ‘apprenticeship talent accelerator’ WhiteHat together since 2016 and already work with over 150 major companies like Google, Facebook and Warner Brothers to recruit and train apprentices.
In just two years, the company has grown to a team of more than 50 staff and has placed approximately 550 apprentices so far, with high hopes of trebling that figure in 2019. By 2023, they want that to be 10,000.
“If you look at how the nature of work and how people access it is changing, an emphasis purely on knowledge over skill is becoming increasingly less useful,” Blair told BusinessCloud.
“The world has changed; you no longer need a university degree to work for some of the world’s best companies.”
The funding raised in September came from Silicon Valley investor Lightspeed Venture Partners, with participation from Village Global, ShopTalk and Money 20/20 founder Anil Aggarwal and British tech entrepreneur Wendy Tan White.
It will help the pair with their ambitions of reaching school-leavers outside Greater London, where WhiteHat still primarily operates.
Blair said they will consider major cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle but stressed they will be “very thoughtful” about how they go about scaling.
“Our primary goal is to see 35 per cent of all school leavers choose to go and do an apprenticeship,” he said.
“That would be a fundamental shift in the way that the current education and employment system works for young people.”
Adelman points out that a priority will be for WhiteHat to further develop its apprentice ‘community’ as a way of competing with the social allure of university life.
“We want them to feel that they’re gaining a lot of what people get out of university, like friendship networks, mentoring, inspirational development, sports teams and social clubs,” she said.
“We want to bring that into the apprenticeship sector. That’s really key as it will make people feel that it is a true alternative.”
Blair and Adelman both insist they are not “anti-university” but believe that apprenticeships are the way forward – particularly for young people pursuing careers in digital, tech and professional services.
“The value of a university degree for many jobs has gone down and there needs to be a one-size-fits-all approach to further and higher education,” Adelman said.
“If I’d had the option when I was 18 of doing digital marketing at Google, would I have leapt at that chance? Yes, absolutely. Do I regret going to university? No, but I wish I’d had that choice.”
The pair both admitted that, as tech entrepreneurs and business owners, they were worried about Brexit.
“There are a whole host of challenges that are yet to be ironed out… and issues around things like accessing European talent that are still to be determined,” Blair said.
“On one level, what Brexit is doing is sharpening the focus for a lot of employers on how we can upskill and actually lean on domestic talent for a lot of roles we have, particularly technical ones.
“But it is not something that either Sophie or I are pleased about.”
Adelman echoed a similar sentiment and openly stressed that Brexit is “a bad decision for the country and the economy”, but agreed with Blair and that it could leave companies with no choice but to proactively invest in talent.