It’s that time of the year again, there’s excitement in the air, Christmas is around the corner. There is that undeniable nudge to engage in retail therapy and forget the cold weather and shorter days. For a few parents however, their feelings may be that of anxiety instead of excitement in view of the looming university applications deadline particularly if their Year 13 child is still undecided whether to go for a university degree or an apprenticeship.
A lot of people see apprenticeships as a second class option and if you had asked me a few years ago that would have been my view. However there have been a few changes since then and this short guide should help debunk the myths and provide some of the emerging facts that could help with your child's decision process.
What is an Apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is an arrangement that combines work, study and training in such a way that the participant is able to earn whilst training for a career. An apprentice would typically be at least sixteen years old and a scheme would take at least one year, sometimes this could be up to four or five years depending on the type of apprenticeship.
Why Choose the Apprenticeship Route?
There are a variety of reasons why an apprenticeship may be preferred over a university degree.
The list below though not exhaustive covers some of these:
- Some vocations are very hands on / practical and may not necessarily require the academic rigour associated with a university degree.
- The cost of going to a university has sky-rocketed in the past few years and those seeking value for money are weighing up the costs and benefits of alternative options that may provide fairly similar long-term results.
- Some young people although very gifted and talented may not have the academic strength necessary for a university degree and could potentially benefit from pursuing a career in their area of strength in a more practical way rather than go down the academic route.
- There are also some who are clear about the career path they want to take and an apprenticeship route offers them the opportunity to train in their vocation of choice.
Apprenticeship Levels and Categories
*These are not fixed requirements, rather they give an indication of what to expect; some employers will demand more whilst others will require less.
This is a newer area of apprenticeships which is becoming quite popular as an alternative to a full-time university degree. Some top brass companies have fantastic opportunities on offer to candidates who have excellent A-level results with some of the associated degrees accredited by Russell Group Universities.
- PwC’s Technology Apprenticeship programme where participants attain a degree with University of Birmingham, University of Leeds or Queen’s University Belfast.
- Jaguar Land Rover offers both Engineering and Finance & Accounting degree apprenticeships.
- EY’s Business Apprenticeship programme provides apprentices with the opportunity to study for an industry-recognised certification; as an example this could be the Chartered Accountant route.
- EDF Energy, Airbus, BMW also offer Degree Apprenticeships in Engineering.
Finding an Apprenticeship
The apprenticeship route is not the easy option. As with anything worthwhile, the best places are highly competitive; even more so for the Higher & Technical AND the Degree apprenticeships. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The number of places available is limited, especially if the candidate is seeking a local scheme.
- Apprenticeships are not only open to young school leavers, people who are already working can also apply.
- In some cases strong candidates already working for the company and wanting to switch to an apprenticeship to further their career prospects may have an advantage over external applicants.
The examples provided in the previous section are only a few examples from the repository of apprenticeship opportunities in UK. The UCAS site and the government's website for apprenticeships are also good sources.
How to Apply
You can either search for an apprenticeship using the links in the previous section or go directly to a specific employer's website to check for their vacancies.
- It may be useful to set up an alert at the government’s website so you know when new vacancies are published as they come up throughout the year.
- Conduct your research well in advance so you will know what the requirements are and where possible, have enough time to gain relevant work experience and/or develop skills that will make your application stand out.
- Enter your application as soon as you can. It may be unwise to leave it till the deadline as some employers stop considering any other applications once they have enough applicants.
- Be prepared for the recruitment process; depending on the employer you may need to take an online test, an assessment day and/or a number of face-to-face interviews.
Seven Things to Take Away
- It is useful to be clear on career interests before embarking upon an apprenticeship. Gaining work experience in a similar field (could even be voluntary or unpaid) before becoming an apprentice could help confirm interest.
- An apprenticeship is not the easy way out hence anyone who has not done well academically because they are lacking in focus and discipline will probably not do well as an apprentice either.
- Apprentices will gain hands-on knowledge, skills and experience for the careers they have embarked upon and by the time they get the associated professional accreditation/qualifications they will have a head start as they will have the relevant experience.
- The places for degree apprenticeships are very competitive hence it is not uncommon for the minimum entry criteria for these programmes to be 5 A-C GCSE grades (9-4 in the new grading system) and ABB grades or higher at A-level.
- Apprentices have to be very organised as they will have to combine the demands of work with training and studying and they will have fewer holidays than the average university student.
- There may be a need to relocate in order to get the right apprenticeship position as a suitable local role may not be available.
- Although the degree apprenticeships are equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, in most cases the apprentice may not experience the campus student-life. The upside to this however is that the apprentice will not have to pay university tuition fees hence likely to attain their degree debt-free.
Hopefully the above has provided some further insight and the facts will help facilitate the decision-making.