How an Apprenticeship Helped Robert Fuel His Passion, and Career
Robert Cowper-Coles, apprentice at Newable talks about how he was able to gain his current role at Newable thanks to Whitehat taking a chance on him.
Growing up, Robert never saw himself as the “academic type”.
The youngest of three siblings (and twelve cousins!), he was known to create a little chaos wherever he went. “I was quite naughty as a child… So naturally, my aunt thought some military discipline would be the best thing for me.”
Robert enrolled in a military school in Suffolk and though he loved his time there, especially when it came to playing sport, it was hard being far away from family at the young age of 10.
Despite the fact that Robert passed the exams he needed to pass, it was still clear that he would struggle to get into university.
“I did choose to do A-levels, which upon reflection was a silly thing to do because I wasn’t allowed to take the subjects I wanted, because I didn’t get the good grades I needed. I wanted to take history, economics and politics but I was told I wasn’t allowed to.”
So, when a friend asked Robert to join him on a 10-month trip to Kuala Lumpur teaching English to children, he jumped at the chance. While there, Robert ended up teaching not only English but also school sport and the theory of PE. He loved it.
But after an unfortunate accident in Indonesia, he was forced to spend almost an entire year at home recovering. It was a tough time, but one with a silver lining because that’s when Robert discovered his love of finance.
“While I was ill, I took the unit one of the IMC finance exam and that’s when I started to really get a buzz for finance. It was like, ‘I’m not as stupid as people tell me I am. I can pass an exam, I just need to enjoy what I’m studying.”
It was a life-changing revelation, but as soon as Robert set out on the job hunt, reality quickly set back in.
“I looked for an entry level job in finance but finding one was really, really, really hard, i.e. nonexistent. Everybody wanted degrees. Everybody wanted super good A-levels and GCSEs.”
Despite a great score on the IMC exam, employers were sceptical of Robert’s school track record. After a number of dead ends, he was beginning to get desperate.
Then, he discovered a different path.
“Just by total accident, I typed ‘apprenticeships’ into my laptop and came across the WhiteHat website and submitted my information. Then I got a message from one of the people at WhiteHat asking me to come to a kickoff day and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll go for it.'”
After months of job hunting, Robert finally felt at ease.
“I needed someone to put faith in me because all of these companies had looked at my CV, heard my story and they weren’t interested in it for whatever reason. And then WhiteHat heard my story and said, ‘Actually, we see potential.’ Everything turned from a negative to a positive—and that’s just really unique and rare to see in a person, nevermind an entire organization.”
And as it turns out, a little bit of faith has gone a long way to advance Robert’s career.
“If you think back to where I was a year ago, it’s like black and white. I’m working as hard as I can because I enjoy my job and that’s the best feeling.”
In yet another twist of fate, Robert started his apprenticeship at Newable on his 21st birthday—but it wasn’t all cake and ice cream in the beginning.
“It quickly became apparent that despite being able to use Excel, I wasn’t as good on Excel as required and instead of saying, ‘Right, we’re going to make you become really, really good at Excel. We’re going to train you up,’ they actually just asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’
From the very beginning, the team at Newable loved Robert’s communication style. They asked him to build out a role around that. The other thing they asked him to do was complete his IMC—a great goal, but one that’s notoriously difficult to achieve.
“Luckily, I had a super awesome coach from WhiteHat who put a lot of effort into helping me with my coursework and also with my exam, which was definitively the turning point, because up until that point, I was struggling with the content.”
Together with his coach, Robert gave up evenings and weekends to study for the IMC exam—there were flashcards, question techniques, the whole nine yards. Finally, after nine months of studying, he passed the exam.
According to Robert, those months with his coach added up “the biggest show of loyalty anyone could have ever asked.”
“I have no doubt whatsoever WhiteHat would be there for me.”
Robert describes himself as “one of those people that thrives on people giving me faith, confidence and responsibility.” And if his current role is anything to go by, Robert is definitely thriving.
“I’ve gone from basic data management to essentially running the research part of our team, which I really enjoy. I write articles and analyses and I’ve actually been asked to host a panel at the end of October.”
Robert and the rest of the 10-person team at Newable are responsible for helping startup businesses grow.
“When we invest in these small companies, they don’t always have the expertise on things like trading internationally, or if they’ll be able to hire foreign talent, for example. Basically, I just try to answer people’s questions and manage people’s concerns. It’s really cool. I love it.”
Robert’s apprenticeship has definitely changed his perspective.
“Now is sort of the first time where I consistently get out of bed in the morning and not only do I love what I’m doing, but I just feel like I have a huge network behind me. If something did go wrong, like, if I suddenly started to hate my job for whatever reason or if I was having issues in my personal life or whatever, I have no doubt whatsoever WhiteHat would be there for me. They’re essentially like parents.”
Robert is the first among a family of 26 people to find professional success without going to university.
“The last person in my family who didn’t go to university was born in 1927, so I’m a bit of a trendsetter in my family,” he laughs.
The first few months of his apprenticeship were far from easy, but today Robert has a sense of resilience that’s hard to ignore.