National Apprenticeship Week | Apprenticeship or University? By Darryl Jones

National Apprenticeship Week | Apprenticeship or University? By Darryl Jones

Like all of life’s great conundrums; Mars or Snickers, Peroni or Birra Moretti, hair up or hair down, deciding whether or not to go to university or head for the world of work and forge a career via an apprenticeship can be a difficult choice to make.

Historically, and particularly in the UK, there has been a bias towards going to university.  Apprenticeships were often viewed as the next best thing if you were not at the academic level required to meet university admission. National Apprenticeship Week starts today, so it is a good time to consider the benefits apprenticeships bring for both the apprentice and the employer.

Higher education remains a popular option for most, but attitudes towards apprenticeships have also evolved and they’re now being recognised and actively promoted as an equal alternative to university. This is reflected in the number of people starting this route to employment. In 2019/20 there were 271,890 apprenticeship starts - 66,730 of these were higher level apprenticeships at Level 6 and 7, so Bachelors and Masters levels respectively.

Some employers still like to see that an individual has attended university and according to the Department of Education in 2019, 73.9% of graduates received roles within professional job levels.

Although the benefits of going to university are numerous, there are still disadvantages. For example, many students leave university without any hands-on practical experience about the topic they studied. Essentially, they have theoretical knowledge but are unsure how to apply this practically in the working world.

A major advantage of apprenticeships over university is that not only do you gain a comparable qualification, you also gain on-the-job experience at the same time which allows you to apply both the theoretical and practical application to a problem.

One of the most talked about advantages of an apprenticeship is that once you’ve completed your apprenticeship, you aren’t left in any debt. Student Loan figures tell us that on average, a graduate will complete a degree with £27,000 worth of debt. Contrastingly to this, an apprentice aged between 18 and 21 based on the apprenticeship minimum wage would gross £13,416 per annum, and earn £40,248 over three years, with the qualification paid for by their employer.

Ultimately there are many positives, negatives and even myths around going to university versus doing an apprenticeship and research is key to ensuring you are best placed to reach the aims and ambitions you set for yourself.

Having been to university myself and then carrying out a higher level apprenticeship within my employment - I have experienced both first hand. My honest opinion is that the way the world is going, and the fact that there is so much support, advancement and now recognition around apprenticeships, on balance I believe it’s the best route to a successful and meaningful career. Now more than ever before, you’re not limited to the level of qualification you can achieve.

  • Darryl Jones is development coordinator at Keltbray
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