From education to employment

UCAS and Beyond: Embracing Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning

Nichola Hay

In this article, Nichola  Hay MBE shares her advice to young people about how they should pursue further education and training opportunities throughout their professional lives and how professional apprenticeships have empowered people to upskill themselves into new career paths.

September marked the final deadline for most UCAS Undergraduate applications, a stressful time for many young people across the country fretting over whether they have made the right choice and worrying about future career prospects. In today’s rapidly evolving world, however, the path to career success has expanded beyond the traditional physical and temporal confines of a university education.

While university will remain a tried-and-true avenue for many to find a fulfilling and prosperous career, the growing interest amongst UK employers in professional apprenticeships and the increasingly dynamic nature of modern career development, support the notion that education and training are now lifelong companions on the journey to a satisfying career rather than limited to an individual’s time in university.

The value of professional apprenticeships

While often incorrectly associated with school and college leavers, apprenticeship programmes can be designed to offer on-the-job development to professionals at all levels of a business. This means that if an individual is looking for more from their current role and is keen for a new challenge and exciting development opportunities, they will have the opportunity through an apprenticeship to retrain for promotion and/or lateral moves into other segments of the business.

Professional apprenticeships have emerged as a transformative force in the modern workplace, empowering individuals to seamlessly transition into new career paths while offering a wealth of benefits to employers. In an era marked by rapid technological advancement and shifting job market demand, apprenticeships provide a dynamic platform for upskilling and reskilling.

As well as helping boost retention rates amongst existing talent within the business, apprenticeship also provides employers access to a pool of potential new entrants into the business who are motivated, hands-on learners eager to contribute fresh perspectives. This new talent helps foster a culture of continuous learning and innovation, which is critical for enhancing both individual career trajectories and sharpening the competitive edge of a business in today’s ever-changing marketplace.

Overcoming biases

While the clear value of apprenticeships is increasingly being recognised, there persists unfortunate stereotypes and outdated perception that, at times, leads employers to overlook the incredible talent within their existing workforce or in the wider labour market. Employers that cling to the traditional belief that certain university degrees are the sole markets of competence can be short-sighted approaches to hiring — particularly amidst current labour market shortages.

This narrow focus not only restricts their access to a diverse talent pool but also limits their capacity to harness the skills, dedication, and fresh perspectives that apprentices bring to the table. For instance, parents looking to re-enter the workforce, the long-term economically inactive or recent graduates may be more inclined to apply for an open apprenticeship over a job with highly stringent experience or qualification requirements.

At a time when the UK economy is falling behind both the US and the eurozone, and with the UK’s persistent skills gap acting as a serious drag on productivity, it is clear that businesses must invest greater resources in building talent within their business — rather than exclusively buying it at such a high premium on the open labour market.

Embracing continuous learning

To those embarking on your university educational journey, it is critical to understand that learning doesn’t stop with your university acceptance letter. In fact, that’s just the beginning, and truly embracing a spirit of lifelong learning and development is the cornerstone of personal and professional growth. It is vital to view it as a stepping stone in a lifelong commitment to learning.

Remember, your education is not just about the destination but the journey itself, where each step contributes to your ever-expanding skillset and a brighter future

The uptake of professional apprenticeships amongst employers should be an encouraging sign that the skills and knowledge you acquire over the course of your degree do not represent the bars of a career prison cell. They are more like trampoline springs that will help launch you forward into a changing job market filled with different pathways. If university is your chosen route at this stage, but it ultimately doesn’t lead you down your desired career path, don’t forget to look at how professional apprenticeship can help facilitate a change of direction.

The important message for employers is to place greater value on securing candidates who are curious, adaptable, and open to new experiences. These qualities will indicate an individual’s appetite to learn and develop within their role and beyond — which is a far better benchmark of their potential value within the business.

By Nichola Hay MBE, Director of Apprenticeship Strategy & Policy, BPP

Related Articles