From education to employment

Apprenticeships need equal billing with university study

Alex Meikle, ECA Director of Skills and Employment

If I were to give you two options – take up an electrical apprenticeship in which over four years you would earn over £60,000, or go to university, at the end of which you would be saddled with debts of around £44,000 – which would you choose? There are £100,000 reasons and more why the smart option would be to go for an apprenticeship.

Of course it’s not all about the money. An apprenticeship also results in an electrotechnical engineering qualification, opening the door to many more career possibilities and a profession that will provide an income throughout your working life. Engineering technicians can earn around £40,000 per year, while chartered engineers are paid over £60,000.

Contrast this with the university route, which provides an academic degree, but at significant cost and, in many cases, little certaintly about future job prospects. In fact, over 58 per cent of UK graduates actually work in non-graduate jobs, according to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.


Skills shortages

It’s widely known that within engineering there is an ongoing skills shortage. However, recent YouGov survey findings, commissioned by leading electrotechnical and engineering services trade association the ECA, the Joint Industry Board, and training provider JTL, show that very few young people are being encouraged into the industry.

In fact, less than 1 in 12 students (8 per cent) aged 15 to 18 in school or college in 2016/2017 were advised to seek a work-based apprenticeship afterwards. This compares to some 85 per cent of students being encouraged to go into further or higher education, such as university study.

In addition, over one-quarter of students (28 per cent) said they had never even been spoken to about work-based apprenticeships by their school or college.

Improving careers advice

The YouGov survey findings show that too many young people are effectively being led up the garden path by careers advice in schools, which is significantly out of step with the needs of industry and future employers.

These broader challenges are also applicable to the electrotechnical industry, with more than six in 10 employers in a separate ECA survey indicating that they believe schools ‘don’t understand the benefits apprenticeships can offer to students’.

While there is more that schools can do to improve this situation, the industry must also step up.

The ECA and partners are looking into how we can support and encourage industry employees to get involved in governing bodies, where they can have a direct impact on careers guidance, and indeed general perceptions of the industry.

Raising awareness of apprenticeships

In fact, the electrotechnical industry has a great story to tell about the range of career opportunities which an apprenticeship can bring. Given our industry is constantly evolving and is often at the cutting-edge of new technological developments, there will continue to be great opportunities along the way.

One approach to raising awareness could be utilising apprenticeship ambassadors, such as recent ECA Edmundson Apprentice of the Year Jordan Bancroft of Imtech Engineering Services, to talk in schools about the benefits and opportunities from a technical qualification. Jordan, for example, worked on the Olympic Stadium Transformation Project, which converted the stadium into a multi-use sporting venue.

If we are able to use ambassadors such as Jordan to help promote our industry, then in time apprenticeships may ultimately be given equal billing with university study. The ultimate goal – a revolution in career opportunities for young people – is one that we should not pass up.

Alex Meikle, ECA Director of Skills and Employment

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