Continuing our celebrations on Apprentice Wednesday, we are now switching our attention to Emmanuel Afolabi, another former apprentice who used the skills and knowledge he acquired during his apprenticeship to transition into a new career in life after football.
After spending 10 years at Charlton Athletic, Emmanuel was released at the conclusion of his apprenticeship, a decision that Emmanuel had sensed was coming. “I sort of sensed it was coming, like I said I didn’t get as much playing time as I should have got. I mentally prepared myself for it to be honest. I knew the time would come; it was just a matter of when. So, when they brought me into the office and gave me the news, it was just like ‘it is what it is’, it was just unfortunate really.”
Whilst Emmanuel was still at Charlton and working towards a professional contract, he entertained the idea of university as a next step if plan A didn’t come to fruition, a decision that he’d be thankful for soon after. “When I was at Charlton still, the support came from the likes of the Head of Education and LFE. The Head of Education said university was an option, so he helped me think about that.“
Emmanuel attended the University of East London where he studied Civil Engineering and now works for one of Europe’s leading firms, Ramboll. The former Charlton man believes it’s essential for apprentices to be open to other career prospects as an alternative in case like him, they don’t achieve a professional contract. “Don’t be limited to just one thing, you’ve always got to be open to considering other options in case plan A doesn’t work out. Think about something else other than football that they could potentially venture into. People don’t believe it will happen to them (get released), like me, I didn’t think it would happen to me. But just because football doesn’t work out, it does not mean that’s the end of everything, you can go on and do something else. I think that’s the beauty of the programme, I’ve been in their shoes, I can relate to them.”
The former Addicks apprentice also runs his own scheme called The Fest Hub. Founded by himself in 2021, The Fest Hub aims to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and professional football club scholars get involved with STEM based careers. “The year I started my graduate scheme at Ramboll, I was just listening to TalkSPORT and they were discussing the general lack of support for players. I’ve always had quite an entrepreneurial mind, so me being an engineer, I thought ‘if I can do it, why can’t other players who don’t make it go into it as well’, so essentially, I started The Fest Hub to combine the two. I’ve been there, you get released and you don’t know what to do, so I wanted to use my experience to give back to the boys and girls.
“The FESTHub connects football and STEM. We’re reaching out to schools and football clubs to try and engage them with STEM and what’s around them in the world as well. Plus, STEM companies are always looking for new people, new talent. There is always going to be jobs available within the industry. Footballers for example, what they don’t realise is that engineers build their training ground and other facilities. I think footballers should know what goes into it whilst also playing and doing their thing.
“I try to invite different organisations to come in and help inspire and engage the students in STEM learning, because a lot of the time these kids are from disadvantaged communities, so they don’t really have that connection with anyone within the industry, so we bring engineers in and try and open their eyes to the different possible careers that they can go into. We discuss roles and responsibilities in a construction project. We also do activities, things that can get their mind working and used to working in a team, but we like to link it all in with football to bring a different dynamic. We’re going into football clubs, so the whole aim of the project is to use those clubs to engage the young people in STEM, that’s the uniqueness about it all. It’s not a common thing within the industry, I’m the only person who really does this and it comes from my own life story.“
LFE supports current and former apprentices like Emmanuel by providing tailored and specific personal development and life skills sessions in clubs. Over the past 20 years, LFE has delivered over 7,500 workshops, reaching in excess of 150,000 people in the process.