Before Glastonbury, nobody had heard of 15-year-old Alex Mann.

The teenager and his friends went to see rapper Dave at this year’s festival and Alex was sporting a Paris Saint-Germain football jersey emblazoned with the name Thiago Silva – which is the name of one of rapper’s best-known songs.    

When Dave called for a volunteer to perform the song with him, bucket hat-wearing Alex was chosen and performed flawlessly in front of thousands of people – becoming a social media sensation overnight.

In the same week as Alex’s performance a star was born at Wimbledon, where another 15-year-old – American qualifier Cori Gauff - defeated five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in the first round.

Cori had said Venus, who is 24 years her senior, and her sister Serena were her idols and she cried after the historic match.

Alex Mann and Cori Gauff tell us a lot about the fearless attitude of the so-called Generation Z. They’ve got far more about them than I ever did when I was 15. They know their own minds. They know they’re not going to work from 6am-10pm like I did, and good for them.

Alex and Cori remind me of some of the 300 apprentices that have graduated through our digital marketing programme, The Juice Academy and are working at companies like Manchester Airport Group, Timpson, Social Chain, PrettyLittleThing, UNILAD and, of course, Tangerine.

Sandy Lindsay

Given the widening skills gap in the digital sector there’s never been a greater need for apprentices – and yet changes to the apprentice system mean it’s never been harder.

The system we have at the moment with apprenticeships is a bit tricky since the government reforms two years ago; the changes happened all at the same time and we’re still reeling from that.

Some good things have come out of it, like the apprenticeship levy, which has encouraged larger and more quality employers into apprenticeships, as it was designed to do. But, sadly, there are currently as many problems as benefits.

For instance, while the Government has a pledge to create 3,000,000 apprenticeship ‘starts’ and to get more small businesses to employ apprentices, the funding from the government to training providers is now capped so a lot of the providers are struggling to support SMEs.

While the B-word is distracting everyone in Westminster and, even more acutely now, while Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt battle to become the next Prime Minister, it’s hard work to get anyone to pay attention to employers and providers.

The government said the reason it wanted to reform apprenticeships was to put control into the hands of employers but that has not happened.

With this in mind, two years on from the reforms, the North West Business Leadership Team and London First have teamed up to commission an enquiry into apprenticeships in the UK. We will work with the three main political parties, the metro mayors and the apprenticeship bodies to agree the questions that need asking. We will then consult with employers and apprentice providers to get the answers to those questions.

We will look at what’s worked (and suggest ways to strengthen this) and what needs attention (and create a solid plan of action to reverse and fix). We will present this report to MPs and other officials in the Autumn in Westminster.

My hope is that, by working with all the right people, asking the right questions, we’ll get the right answers – which will lead to the right actions.

The world has seen what 15-year-olds Alex Mann and Cori Gauff are capable of this week and if we don’t give other young people the opportunity to become whatever they want to be, we’re going to miss a once-in-a-lifetime, post-Brexit, skills opportunity.

  • Sandy Lindsay MBE is the chair of Tangerine communications agency and a director of digital marketing apprenticeship programme, The Juice Academy. She is also Vice Chair of the North West Business Leadership Team and a national Ambassador for Apprenticeships