Celebrity apprentices: 10 famous faces whose careers began in work-based learning

With apprenticeships being offered in more subjects than ever, it comes as no surprise that there are many house-hold names amongst those whose careers began in work-based learning.

The uptake of apprenticeships has grown enormously over the years and the government has now pledged to support 3 million apprentices by 2020.Here we take a look at some of the most well-known ex-apprentices, and where their education took them.

Alex Ferguson

The former Manchester United manager started his career taking on an apprenticeship to become a toolmaker in Hillington, Glasgow. Ferguson met his wife Cathy at the factory and juggled his time between there and being a striker for Queens Park FC!

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney began her career as an apprentice on Savile Row while she was studying as a fashion student. During her apprenticeship she learnt about the traditions of fine tailoring - and has gone on to become a hugely successful fashion designer and house-hold name.

Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne left school aged 15 to become an apprentice toolmaker amongst other things before making his fortune with Black Sabbath.  He is now one of the world’s richest ex-apprentices.

Sir Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen completed a three year acting apprenticeship with the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry.  We all know him as Gandalf the Grey, but it was in Coventry that McKellen mastered the skills to become one of the most famous actors in British history.


Elvis Presley started out as an apprentice in 1954 working for Crown Electric in Memphis. His plan was to become an electrician if his singing career didn’t take off. It wasn’t long before he recorded his first song and his electricity plans were left behind.

John Frieda

Celebrity hair stylist John Frieda is a great example of how you can move up the ladder with further education. He started his career as a hairdresser’s apprentice before moving on to celebrity hairstyling. His hair care products are now available all over the world.

Michael Caine

Film star Michael Caine trained as a plumber’s apprentice for two years before going into acting full time. He left the plumbing profession after being offered a job as a stage manager in a theatre in Horsham.

Alexander McQueen

Lee Alexander McQueen left school aged 16 to pursue a career in fashion and was offered an apprenticeship at the traditional Savile Row tailors Anderson and Shephard. He completed his master’s degree in fashion design at Central St Martins College and his entire degree collection was famously bought by influential stylist Isabella Blow.

Ringo Starr

Although not related to his overall career, Starr secured a position as an apprentice machinist at a Liverpool equipment manufacturer in 1956. It was there he formed his first band ‘Eddie Clayton and the Clayton Squares’ with co-worker Roy Trafford.

Billy Connolly

Billy Connolly left school with two engineering qualifications and started his apprenticeship aged 16 in a shipyard. He finished the apprenticeship when he was 21 and stayed with the company for another year. He gave up his career as a boilermaker at the end of the 1960s to pursue as a folk singer in The Humblebums.



  • Up to 28,000 apprenticeship vacancies are available online at any one time.
  • There were 1,656,680 on-line apprenticeship applications in 2015 to 2016.
  • Apprenticeships are available in 1500 job roles, covering more than 170 industries, from advertising to youth work and from environmental engineering to legal.
  • Apprenticeship participation now stands at a record level - 899,400 funded apprentices participated on an apprenticeship in the 2015 to 2016 academic year.
  • Almost 9 out of every 10 apprenticeship employer hoping to achieve business benefits tell us that apprenticeships deliver – including 75% reporting that it has helped their business improve the quality of their product or service.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 (89%) apprentices were satisfied with their apprenticeship overall, and nearly three quarters (72%) were very satisfied.

There really has never been a better time to employ an apprentice, or start an apprenticeship!

Are you prepared for the new world of apprenticeships? We've put together a handy guide below.

Free Apprenticeship Reform Guide