‘What makes a great leader?’ is a question often asked by economists and large corporations across the world. But, perhaps we’re all trying to answer the wrong question. Should we not be identifying exactly ‘how’ these leaders are built? Very few are born with the innate ability to lead, so, it makes sense that such qualities should be coached and fostered.
Enter exciting new London tech startup WhiteHat and its CEO and Co-Founder Euan Blair. His company matches young job-seekers with hiring companies (using a series of data points), and builds personalised apprenticeship programmes so that businesses can snap up diverse and specifically tailored young talent. Why? Well, in April 2017, a new Government legislation - in the form of a tax levy - stipulated that employers operating on a payroll of over £3 million must commit 0.5 per cent towards hiring apprentices. The scheme aims to create 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020 and hopes to be the solution to the skills gap facing the UK employment industry.
A scholarship graduate at Yale and former Investment Banker with Morgan Stanley, Blair started WhiteHat in 2016 to - quite simply - “make apprenticeships better”. Glassdoor's Mark Di-Toro caught up with Euan to hear some of his thoughts on why young jobseekers should consider this option and the importance employers should be placing on these schemes going forward.
Glassdoor: So Euan, why apprenticeships and why now?
EB: Before founding WhiteHat I was running an organisation helping long-term unemployed people access the labour market. While we had some impressive results, we were too often reaching people after they had already built up significant barriers to work - everything from alcoholism to homelessness. As a result, it was clear we needed to intervene much earlier in order to make a real difference. Also, a surprising number of people struggling to find work had degrees and had accumulated a significant amount of debt. Unfortunately, they had been given bad advice and ended up taking courses that weren’t actually helping them start careers.
Apprenticeships are needed so that we have a real, credible alternative to those who either don’t want to go to university or won’t actually be best served spending 3 years in a purely academic environment. And WhiteHat was founded just over a year ago because the Apprenticeship Levy’s impending introduction (it launched in April 2017) meant that all large employers were being forced to at least have the conversation about whether they should be engaging with apprenticeships. That meant that there was an incredible, once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform apprenticeships and turn them from something on the fringes of the post-16 education options available to young people into an incredible way to access great careers without having to go to university.
Q. Tell me about WhiteHat's mission and values?
Our mission is to accelerate the careers of a diverse group of future leaders. We are a purpose-led organisation, that exists to ensure the apprenticeship agenda succeeds and ultimately will drive greater social mobility by democratising access to the best careers. We have a real problem in the UK that, unlike in countries like Germany or Switzerland, the expectation is that you need to go to university to be really successful. We need a viable, credible, alternative to the academic route, and apprenticeships should be that alternative.
As an employer we are driven by eight key values that inform all of the decisions we make and are core to our culture.
We are all owners: we think about the impact of our actions on the team, the company and on our external perception
Good people win: we believe that respect flows both ways; we are approachable, warm and responsive
We put others first: we go above and beyond to create an exceptional service and experience for our users
We believe in social mobility: your background should never define your destination
We are changemakers: we are working to create impact at scale
Integrity is paramount: we put our apprentices’ success first
We are honest but kind: direct feedback delivered with kindness helps others realise their full potential
We are mission & results driven: we pursue excellence in everything we do and we energise and inspire others through the standards we set
Q. Common perceptions of apprenticeships can be of blue collar workforces. What do you do for young job-seekers that’s different?
We only operate in professional services environments; we are placing young people and building apprenticeship experiences for them across sectors that have traditionally only hired people with a degree and often only from a small number of universities - tech, finance, media, advertising, consulting etc.
Overall the apprenticeship sector hasn’t really moved with the times. As a tech company, we are digital and mobile first when engaging with young people and we use technology across the business to make our offering better and more scalable.
WhiteHat is driving real change in how apprenticeships work by focusing on three key areas.
The first area is in the matching of young people to opportunities where they can succeed. This is where we will ultimately use algorithmic matching powered by machine learning to make matches based on competency and desire - increasing the confidence of employers that they are making the right decision when taking on an apprentice.
The second area is through bringing world-class content into apprenticeships that can rival what the best universities have to offer. We have launched partnerships with General Assembly, Mind Gym, and Debate Mate to create fantastic learning experiences built around the workplace. We believe that quality of education needs to be at the heart of any apprenticeship offering and aligns with our mission to help launch the careers of future leaders, not just help people pass a qualification.
The third area is powering a social experience for apprentices that can rival the networks students build while at university. Bringing apprentices together through organised societies and events, and finding them dedicated mentors in their chosen field, is an essential part of ensuring that apprentices can develop a great network. We’re shortly launching something Apprentice Nation in conjunction with Rock Corps (who have organised concerts for community volunteers globally with performances by everyone from Pharrell to Beyoncé); more to follow soon on this!
Q. What would you say to a career motivated, but undecided, 16 year old right now?
I would tell them to gather information on as many of the available options as possible. Are they enjoying being in school and thriving in that environment? If so, stay another two years and complete your A-Levels; most employers still prefer to recruit those over the age of 18 and it keeps your options open. You don’t need to know what it is you ultimately want to do aged 16, and now most young people will have worked in several different jobs by the time they reach their 30s, but start identifying what it is you’re really good at, what you really enjoy, and explore any work experience options available to you at school. And if you want to learn more about apprenticeships or just want some unfiltered advice - come visit WhiteHat in our offices and have a chat with our talent team!
Q. Is a traditional degree still the best way to get a job?
It really depends on the job. There are some industries that are proving more resistant to apprenticeships than others. Most of the elite investment banks for example will still only recruit graduates for their investment banking, capital markets, and trading teams. However, even this is slowly changing; these organisations are aware that in the 70s and 80s some of their best traders never had university degrees and realise it’s a problem that this is now almost unheard of.
If you want to work somewhere like marketing, or in the media, or in tech, we’ve worked with employers to open up a whole raft of opportunities for young people who are genuinely creative and can demonstrate a commitment and real interest in the field. For example, if you’re an 18 year old who wants to work for a top advertising agency like Wieden & Kennedy or WeAreSocial, if you have a strong presence on social media, have designed a website, or have a portfolio you’ve pulled together, you can do some incredible jobs without ever needing to go to university.
Q. What do you think Glassdoor can bring to young jobseekers as part of the hiring process?
Glassdoor gives young people an incredible insight into what it’s really like to work in different industries and at a particular company through its reviews section. When you’re starting out deciding where to take your career path, having this kind of information is very useful. The more informed the candidate through Glassdoor, the better quality of hire. At WhiteHat we give candidates a lot of interview coaching and always encourage them to do their research on what each company does, as well as their culture and values, and Glassdoor provides them with all this information in an engaging and accessible format. Your interview tips section is really helpful, especially as for many of our candidates, this will be their very first interview experience.
Q. Describe the impact you hope to have had on the jobs market in 10 years’ time?
We want to create an environment where every major corporate has an apprenticeship scheme to rival or even subsume its graduate scheme, and where young people no longer need to go to university in order to access great careers in sectors like tech, finance, media, advertising and become leaders in those fields.
This will create more diverse boardrooms, a greater range of philosophies and approaches among leading executives, and will ensure that a technical, workplace learning approach is equally respected to that of those who like learning in an academic, classroom-based setting.
We also want employers to focus more on hiring based on potential rather than experience, and a significant part of WhiteHat’s efforts are focused on giving them the tools to do this. This is where our platform and the tech-side of what we’re building - covering everything from algorithmic matching to quantifying potential - is so critical. We want this approach to become the new normal.
Does WhiteHat sound like a company you’d like to work for? Apply for their open jobs here. Or, if you’re looking for an apprenticeship, why not submit your application and a member of their team will be in touch.