apprenticeships

Are apprenticeships really the way to a well-paid, fulfilling career? Despite communities helping to spread awareness of alternative routes to employment, there still remains a cloud of uncertainty about apprenticeships as an alternative to university. 

There are a number of myths which continue to deter young people from considering apprenticeships as a career option. But what is the truth?

Here are a few common myths alongside the facts regarding apprenticeships, and a few preconceptions you might have so you can make an informed decision as to whether apprenticeships are right for you.

An apprenticeship won’t help my long-term job prospects

Once you've completed an apprenticeship, your job prospects are good. 85% of people who complete an apprenticeship will stay in employment, and 64% will stay with the same employer they completed their apprenticeship with. Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed that a third of former apprentices receive a promotion within a year of finishing, and of those in work, three quarters take on more responsibility in their roles. 

If you choose to move into a different industry or gain employment with a different company, employers increasingly value apprenticeships as a viable career route as you have experience of the workplace alongside your qualification. Many schemes offer foundation degrees and very occasionally Bachelor's or Master's degrees as part of the programme, so often you can get the same qualification as your university peers whilst working at the company and applying the skills learned. At the same time, you can learn the soft skills that employers are increasingly looking for. 

Alongside this, graduates often struggle to find a job relevant to their degree or even a job at all when leaving university. In 2013, the unemployment rate for graduates six months after leaving university was 7.3%, whilst almost half (47%) of recent graduates in the UK are working in jobs that are non-graduate roles. This is due to massive competition of graduates looking for work each year within the same period. Becoming an apprentice puts you one step ahead of the game and it could potentially put you in a position of management by the time your peers have finished university. Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggest that more than a quarter of graduates were paid less than the £11.10 average for those on work-based training schemes in 2013.

Apprenticeships aren’t real jobs. 

The Skills Funding Agency require apprenticeship schemes to involve at least 30 hours a week of work and training, just seven-and-a-half hours less than the 37.5 worked on regular contracts. Furthermore, apprenticeships must last for a minimum of 12 months, and normally last between one and four years. So undertaking an apprenticeship is a guarantee of full-time employment. 

Apprenticeships are a real, entry-level job, but with free training included. However, this means that a lot of people think that apprentices will be made to do the menial tasks which no one wants to do, and while this may be true, they will have to be part of your job description and useful to your long-term career. 

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Apprenticeships are badly paid

It’s a common myth that apprentices aren’t paid very well during their training. There is a national minimum wage for apprentices and this applies to all 16- to 18-year-olds and those aged over 19 in the first year of their apprenticeship. This is currently (March 2016) £3.30 per hour.  Apprentices aged 19 or over who have completed their first year get paid the national minimum wage for 18- to 20-year-olds. 

However apprenticeship schemes often pay more than this so it's worth looking around – research has suggested that apprentices take home £200 net pay per week on average. It is also expected that an apprentice's pay will increase in line with their productivity and experience.

I won’t gain a recognised qualification

This is a common misconception, but in fact all apprenticeships must include an element of training. They should be designed to give you on- and off-the-job training, which will lead to some form of qualification. Typically you’ll attend college just as often as working on-site. 

In England, there are three levels of apprenticeships, which each lead to different levels of qualification:

  • Intermediate – equivalent to 5 GCSE passes
  • Advanced – equivalent to 2 A-level passes
  • Higher – lead to NVQ level 4 and above or a foundation degree.

So depending on your scheme, you could end up with: a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ); a Functional Skills qualification; a technical certificate, such as a BTEC Higher National Certificate (HNC); a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a foundation degree.

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Apprenticeships are for people who don’t get the grades for uni

Apprenticeships are an alternative to the university route to employment, not a second rate option. Many students are accepted onto apprenticeships because they have demonstrated that they are career focused and want to enter the world of work straight away. Many schemes also have their own UCAS point entry requirements for students to meet.

University isn't always the right choice and apprenticeships offer an important and valuable alternative to those of you who might feel this way. In this way, the government are offering a variety of different programmes to school leavers – accepting that there can't be a one-size-fits-all approach.

In most cases, apprentices finish their programme with money in their pockets and they then go on to secure full-time positions with companies who pay very good salaries. During the same time period, someone who went to university may not have gained first-hand work experience and they may be at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for jobs.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, take time to do your research and talk to people who are currently completing an apprenticeship. Get a personal understanding of what an apprenticeship involves and also investigate the university route. During your A-levels, the best thing to do is keep your options open. You could always apply to universities and apprenticeship schemes simultaneously,  giving you the option to decide what to do after your offers come in. 

Apprenticeships are only available in traditional industries

While this might have been the case 30 years ago, there are now more than 250 different types of apprenticeships available offering over 1,400 job roles. These range from accountancy to textiles, engineering to veterinary nursing, and business administration to construction. Apprenticeships can be taken with a small business or a corporate company, and everything else in between.

Graduates earn more than apprentices

Graduates may typically start work after university at a higher wage, however this doesn’t take into account their long-term finances. As an apprentice you’ll begin earning money the minute you start your programme while you won’t have any debt to repay like those that go to university.  In the long run, you may find that undertaking an apprenticeship has saved you money, and as your skills develop, so will your wage.  

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