Letters: When Britain held out hope to a boy who failed at school

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The Independent Online
Sir: I must defend the 1950s apprenticeship against Alexander Chablo's uninformed attack (letter, 23 October).

I came from a war-damaged one-parent family and was a failure at school, leaving in 1953 at 15 with two O-levels. Despite that I was offered a position as an engineering trainee with a well-known research and development company on the undertaking that I would attend day-release and evening classes at the local technical college and work towards my ONC and HNC in mechanical engineering.

I dutifully did this and, in exchange, received an exceptionally varied, interesting and worthwhile training from the company. Eventually I had the honour of becoming personal assistant to Sir Harry Ricardo FRS, the company's founder. After 12 years I left to take my wife and three young children on a search for adventure in the mountains of British Columbia.

Since then we have had our share of adventures, not only in BC but in West Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. I am now employed by the consultancy arm of a major engineering design and construction company and have advised management in eight or 10 industries in 20 countries around the world. I have many friends who have also risen to responsible and interesting positions after a similar "unpromising" start.

None of this would have been possible in 1953 without the despised apprenticeship or "Engineering Training Scheme". More pertinently, and a disaster for our country, none of it is possible today under any scheme.

Oh yes, my original employers did pay me abysmally when I started out. Have I suffered any long-term harm as a result ? Definitely not.


South Stoke, Oxfordshire