Everything You Need to Know About Apprenticeships

By School House

7 years ago

Are you considering an apprenticeship? Victoria Lambert looks at the options

Apprenticeships are no longer the easy option and should not be considered second best to a university degree either. 


A place at university has long been seen as the inevitable next step after school. Parents have justifiably placed value on higher education for its own sake. Yet the post-school mood is changing. Sixth-formers and their parents are now openly voicing fears over fees and student loans, the quality of courses and the availability of good graduate jobs.

According to the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) survey, published in August 2016, degrees do not guarantee income. One in four graduates working a decade after leaving university in 2004, is earning only around £20,000 a year. The Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed recently that one in four graduates is not in a graduate job six months after receiving a degree.

There is, of course, still evidence of a graduate pay premium. Research from the University of Cambridge in 2015 found that male graduates can earn twice as much as non-graduates after ten years, and women three times as much.

But research from the insurer Aviva suggests that more than a third of millennials wish they had skipped university due to the debts they have accumulated. Online community, The Student Room, says student satisfaction with university has reached a three-year low.

Where can an apprenticeship take you?

Prestigious companies are increasingly seeking out the most able school leavers for earn-while-you learn placements. These range from lawyers and accountants, including global firm EY, to major UK employers such as Penguin Random House. Last year, the publisher announced that a degree would no longer be a minimum requirement for employment.

The government aims to create three million apprenticeships by the year 2020. Positions are now available in 1,500 different job roles across more than 170 industries, from advertising to horse racing, environmental engineering to legal work and careers at venerable institutions like the National Theatre.

For children less academically able, apprenticeships offer the chance to gain additional qualifications while taking the first steps towards an engaging and fulfilling career. Interesting jobs that have never required a degree include equities trading, air traffic control and even journalism. The Marks & Spencer non-graduate trainee management scheme has attracted business-minded 18-year-olds for decades and now leads to a Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship qualification in Retail Management.

Current stigmas

But perhaps this means getting over a little parental snobbery. Not to mention the expectation that paying all those years of fees means a university place ought to be a given. Who can forget Gary Lineker’s public frustration with his son’s school when George failed to get the three B grades needed in his Cambridge Pre-U for a place at Manchester University in 2010. ‘We are all very disappointed,’ he said. George simply posted on Facebook: ‘Didn’t get into a uni… cheers, school’.

Nigel Lashbrook, headmaster at Oakham School, Rutland, says, ‘There can still be some stigma around apprenticeships. This is mainly born out of a lack of knowledge of what’s available. We do make it clear to students and parents that applying for apprenticeships is certainly not an easy option. Unlike UCAS, there isn’t a central point for apprenticeships. The government site Get In Go Far is not fully comprehensive, so students need access to a good careers department.’

According to research from Prudential, which employs 175 apprentices across the country, parents also worry that apprenticeships only offer low wages. More than two out of three (67 per cent) of parents surveyed thought apprenticeship roles are poorly paid while 43 per cent believe that the opportunities are often in lower-skilled and lower-paid industries.

Ryan Longmate, managing director of Positive Outcomes, a provider of apprenticeships and work-based training, says, ‘One of the persistent myths is that apprenticeships are low paying, but that isn’t the case most of the time. Many employers are willing to pay more than the minimum wage.’ A recent report from Barclays suggested that in some industries, apprentices’ lifetime earnings can be as much as 270 per cent more than graduates.

Enterprising schools

One of the benefits of an independent education is that it can offer more variety than state alternatives. Magnus Bashaarat, headmaster of Milton Abbey, believes that, ‘Independent schools present themselves as offering more choice than the state sector. But when it comes to vocational pathways most of them are a dead end. Our sector needs to embrace the potential of vocational learning. If we don’t, we risk being left behind.’

Entrepreneurship is an alternative route that excites many sixth formers. Call it The Apprentice effect. Increasingly, significant numbers of young people want to bypass all forms of training in favour of launching start-ups of their own.

Schools are responding by upping their business and technology capabilities. Millfield School is building an enterprise centre. Classroom layouts will replicate a boardroom feel. Milton Abbey has launched a successful entrepreneur-in-residence scheme. The annual project gives its entrepreneurial pupils support and guidance to develop their small business ideas. Cheltenham College offers sixth-formers a mini MBA Programme to provide an overview of all the skills required to set up and run a successful business.

Of course, plenty of sixth-formers take the initiative over their future regardless of what their parents or peers think. Gregg Davies, headmaster of Shiplake College, says: ‘The very first question we put to pupils in sixth form is to ask themselves is, “Do I need to go to university to achieve my career goals?” There is certainly no assumption that pursuing a university degree is the only path to follow. Percentages of pupils heading to university are now outdated. It was once a way to measure the success of a sixth form, but it doesn’t have that same reflection anymore.

What is most definitely true is that apprenticeships are not a soft alternative to university. As Lashbrook explains, ‘The top, “higher-level” apprenticeships, offered by leading companies, such as the BBC, Rolls Royce, J.P. Morgan, PWC and Jaguar Land Rover, are fiercely competitive. In many cases there is much more competition for one of these places, than there is for a place at university.’ Parents, take note.

MORE RESOURCES: Get In Go Far / Not Going to Uni / I CouldWorldSkills UK

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