From education to employment

Apprenticeships vs university – is one route really better than the other?

Apprenticeships are receiving a great deal of attention at the moment – and rightfully so. The government have set a target of placing three million people into apprenticeships within the next five years, which is good news. However, much of the time, apprenticeships are painted as being an alternative to university, and I firmly believe that this is not the case. 

In some cases, young people see the choice between an apprenticeship and a straight university education as a very simple one, and one rather than the other leads them down an obvious path to their end career goal. However, it’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’, and for the majority of young people, it can be difficult to decide on one set career path at such a young age.

For many, an apprenticeship isn’t instead of university, it’s very much giving people, who already have the choice, an alternative. This could be an alternative to a gap year or a work experience year before they actually join university, and gives them a year’s worth of industry experience which might shape the course that they end up studying at university.
For those who desperately want to go to university, but have not done so well in their A-levels and don’t believe they can, an apprenticeship can be a second chance and they can achieve the equivalent of A-levels by doing a level 3 or 4 apprenticeship, which gives them qualifications and industry experience which will strengthen their university application. Not enough people realise that an apprenticeship can be great stepping stone for to university, thanks to the work experience gained.

Some young people I come across just want to leave school prior to their A-level examinations and they’ve never even considered university, or don’t want to go. In the case of a young person in this position, an apprenticeship can still be a fantastic stepping-stone because it can provide an alternative academic route which can get them to the point where they are educated to degree-level. At MiddletonMurray, we are forming an offer for 16 year olds where we ask them to move on from their experiences at school. We then take them on a journey where they start with us at the age of 16 doing a Level 2 Apprenticeship.

We’re in a position to offer to hold their hand all the way through the next 5 years, where they will either continue with the same employer or gather experience with a number of different employers whilst they go through the various stages of apprenticeship, level 2, (GCSE) then level 3 (A-level) then 4, 5, 6 which takes you up to a degree-level education. Then, by the age of 21 where they will meet their counterparts who are coming out of university with 5 years’ worth of experience, which is invaluable.

University is for those who are going to be able to cope with independent study, whereas with an apprenticeship, there’s a more hands-on approach from those delivering the training. With an apprenticeship, one has to achieve progress in quite a short timeframe, especially at Level 2, which takes one year. This represents a year in which a young person has to balance further education with the demands of working.

Ultimately, the ‘right’ path depends on the sort of person you are and whether you are desperate to get into the world of work. However, with the variety of apprenticeships now on offer, you can do that without having to forgo the opportunity to continue your education. In the past, we were dealing with a situation where if you wanted to enter the world of work, you might regret later on that you didn’t get a degree, didn’t go to university. Now, there are more options and therefore less of a need to miss these opportunities.

Some young people just straight-forwardly want to go to university, and some just want to start working, and some want a combination of the two, so why do we have to say that an apprenticeship, a university education or a combination of the two is the ‘best’ way forward? Instead, we should embrace the fact that now, there are so many different alternatives. It’s not a ‘one size fits all approach’, and the fact that this has now been recognized can only be an incredibly positive thing.

Angela Middleton is the founder of MiddletonMurray, a recruitment and training provider

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