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5 famous people who got their start as an apprentice

Considering an apprenticeship, but not sure what it could offer you? There are heaps of successful people who started their career with an apprenticeship and have since gone on to do amazing things. Take a look at these stories of famous people who got their start as an apprentice and see if they inspire you.

Henry Ford

Black and white photograph of Henry Ford driving his first car, the Quadricycle.
Henry Ford’s first car was the Quadricycle, named because it ran on four bicycle tires. He sold this car for $200 (the equivalent of around US$7,300 today).

If this name sounds familiar, that’s because it probably is – Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, perfected the automotive assembly line, and is basically the reason cars are so widely available today. He always had a keen interest in mechanics as a child, and eventually left his rural home town to become a machinist’s apprentice in Detroit. From there he became an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company (yes, that Edison), founded a couple of businesses that didn’t go so well, before finally finding success and becoming the leading auto manufacturer in the United States.

“From the beginning I never could work up much interest in farming. I wanted to have something to do with machinery. There was too much hard hand labour. Even when very young I suspected that much might somehow be done in a better way. That is what took me into mechanics – although my mother always said that I was born a mechanic.”

Henry Ford, My Life and Work, 1922

You can read more about Henry Ford’s career here.

Stella McCartney

Black and white photo of Stella, Paul and Mary McCartney sitting at table. Paul is drawing in a book while Stella and Mary look at something out of frame.
A young Stella McCartney with dad Paul and sister Mary.

Being the daughter of a famous musician doesn’t mean you can’t follow your own path. Rather than bass and beats, Stella was more interested in trends and tailoring. She completed an apprenticeship with renown tailor Edward Sexton at Savile Row, and has since gone on to design clothes for models and Olympic athletes alike.

“I have a lot of baggage from growing up. I was very aware of the perception that people have of someone in my position; it can have negatives as well as positives. But I’m a worker, and at 15 I was working in Paris for designers, making cups of tea. I did an internship with a Savile Row tailor because I am obsessed with British bespoke tailoring. That’s what I wanted to learn.”

Stella McCartney, interview with Glamour, 2014

Read more about Stella McCartney’s career journey here.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Black and white photo of Govan High School football team in 1954.
Alex Ferguson (second row, far right) played for the Govan High School football team in 1954.

Football fanatics know Alex Ferguson as one of the greatest managers of all time, winning 13 Premiership titles in his 26 seasons at Manchester United. Though he was already an up-and-coming football talent by the age to 16, his father insisted he follow a more traditional career path, and he became an apprentice toolmaker at a typewriter factory in Glasgow. It was here that his leadership and motivational talents began to shine, becoming the union representative of his workplace and striking for worker’s rights.

Despite his change in career, Ferguson has since been a long-time advocate for apprenticeships.

“What I learnt from the older guys in the shop, that was an education. That education from working with older people is phenomenal. That was a great period of my life, a great period, and it does shape you.”

Alex Ferguson, meeting of the Unite union at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester, 2011

You can read more about Alex Ferguson’s early career and how it shaped him here.

Gordon Ramsay

Black and white photo of young Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White making pasta in a commercial kitchen.
A 19 year old Gordon Ramsay (left) working as an apprentice under renown chef Marco Pierre White.

Apprenticeships are a common pathway to culinary careers, but few chefs see the global success that Gordon Ramsay has. He originally dreamed of a career as a football star, but sadly had to give it up after suffering a serious knee ligament injury. But it was because of this that he enrolled in a catering course, and as they say, the rest is history. Ramsay has since gone on to train his own apprentices and has an Academy that offers classes for everyone.

“I think cooking is like football. It’s not a job, it’s a passion. When you become good at it, it’s a dream job and financially you need never to worry. But the two are so similar. They are about team effort, developing an understanding together and dedication.”

Gordon Ramsay, Observer Sport Monthly, 2002

Learn more about Gordon Ramsay’s career path here.

Sir Billy Connolly

Black and white photo of Billy Connolly posing on the bow of a boat overlooking a shipyard in Glasgow.
Billy Connolly revisited the old shipyard in Glasgow in 1975, ten years after finishing his apprenticeship.

Billy Connolly grew up with the same career expectations that many young men in Glasgow had at the time – get a job in the shipyards. And he did work there as an apprentice welder for five years after leaving school at 15. But it was here he honed his comedic craft, making the older workers laugh with impersonations and playing songs on his banjo. He’s since gone on to have a long and successful career in entertainment, and has even received a knighthood.

“As soon as [the shipyard’s] doors clanged shut in the mornings, it was a man’s world in there — rough, rude, raw and hilarious. For me, it was heaven. I have no doubt that that is what my comedy first grew out of. I believe the shipyards made me the man that I am. I think back on them with great fondness and affection, and with love.”

Billy Connolly, Made In Scotland: My Grand Adventures In A Wee Country, 2018

Read more about Billy Connolly’s early life and career here.

Make your own path

Whether an apprenticeship is the beginning of a long career or just a stepping stone to something else, there are lots of valuable things you’ll learn that will stay with you for a lifetime. Hopefully these stories of famous people who got their start as an apprentice have got you thinking of where you might like to be one day.

If you’re interested in learning more about apprenticeships, take a look at our website here.

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