Junior Apprentice: The Real Deal

JACK NUGENT looks at the effect that ‘Junior Apprentice’ is having on work experience placements.

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'He recently sold computer giant Amstrad from the back of a lorry and he is now worth over £8.' So begins Cassette Boy’s YouTube video, which openly mocks Lord Sugar’s celebrity status at the BBC. And, as usual, there’s a lot of truth said in jest: it has been reported that most of Lord Sugar’s wealth in the future will come from talking about profit rather than making it. 

It’s become almost too easy, though, to ridicule the former 'business tsar' for having more titles than he has ever had successful businesses. On Have I Got News for You, an excuse was found week after week to play the clip in which the then ‘Surallan’ was asked how a region might get out of recession. 'Oh shit, Christ' was his response, and it was muttered without the slightest hint of irony.

The sceptical among us might just see the latest Junior Apprentice as another very clever marketing strategy for Lord Sugar; the J. K. Rowling of TV, if you will. Other slightly more optimistic people might see this latest venture as an attempt to provide a role model for the 'youf' of today. I’m going with the latter.

Sure, Sugar might have a face like a white raisin, but you’ve got to look at what he’s actually doing. Watching the opening program in which the kids were trying to adopt cut-throat business personas was, at first, a bit difficult to swallow. It seemed that most of the teenagers on the show probably only know about being teenagers, and rightly so.

But, then I realised the great potential that Lord Sugar’s set up really has: old Mopsy (a genuine nickname from his youf) could perhaps irrevocably transform that teenage ordeal that most of us all went through. And I’m not talking about braces, spots or rejection by a crush. No, much worse than all three combined: work experience. 

We all remember what that joke of an 'experience' really entailed. Turning up either too formally, or too informally, dressed, we were told to make some coffee and sit there, looking as surplus to requirements as we actually were. And, finally, we were sent home at 5.30pm. Not at Lord Sugar’s gaff: he’s actually got them doing things. And, all of them have to wear suits; all of them have to come up with ideas and all of them have to run around frantically – only to be bollocked at the end of it. These kids are really getting a sense of what future employment will look like. 

The prize that one of the contestants will receive is £25,000 of investment in a business venture, along with Lord Sugar’s own helpful guidance ('Oh shit, Christ'). Obviously, the Baron of Clapton will generate far more money from this TV series than he is putting in, but Junior Apprentice does contain an interesting concept: what if you actually test the youth in terms of common sense within a business environment? 

One of the common criticisms of practically everyone who leaves school and goes into employment is that they don’t know anything useful. There’s no class for how to sell to people face-to-face, even though there are bound to be young people who have a flair for that rather than algebra. And, these potential business moguls are, at least, being taken a bit more seriously by Lord Sugar. 

What’s more is that there are much better business minds than Lord Sugar's: he famously predicted in 2005 that the iPod would be 'dead and gone' by 2006. There are people in Britain who are genuinely good at making money, and at making money do good things. These men and women now need to step up and facilitate the development of Britain’s business future. And Sugar's Junior Apprentice provides a good example of how to do this well.