From education to employment

Why we are glad our son picked an apprenticeship and not university

Like most teenagers, our son Connor was not sure what career path he wanted to take.  Wanting to find out more about his options, Connor attended a school careers event when he was 13.  Connor enjoyed cooking – partly inspired by a plethora of chefs on TV – and was thrilled to learn at the event that he could start a Young Apprenticeship in Professional Cookery.

At the time some of Connor’s classmates and even some of our friends were surprised by his decision to take up the offer. We think what surprised some people the most was that we supported him 100%. We simply trusted Connor’s judgment – but of course we carried out the due diligence.   HTP Training, the organisation carrying out the apprenticeship training, met with us on several occasions to brief us on what Connor’s two year programme would include.

In September 2010, Connor began his apprenticeship with HTP at the prestigious Royal Hotel on the Isle of Wight under Head Chef Alan Staley’s excellent tutelage. Connor, being very hands on really enjoyed the apprenticeship. Two years into it, Connor was keen to find out how a Michelin star kitchen worked and wrote to chef Tom Kerridge. Kerridge invited Connor to ‘The Hand & Flowers’, a two star Michelin gastro pub in Marlow and later offered to take on Connor as his apprentice.

Fast forward to the present day and Connor, who is 16, is preparing to leave home in the next few weeks to start his new position and kick off Level 3 of the apprenticeship.  Of course we are going to miss him immensely but we can’t help but feel enormously proud of him. We only need to look at some of his friends and their parents who are today anxious about university debt and future job prospects and be thankful that Connor chose an apprenticeship and didn’t blindly follow convention.

Bearing in mind that youth unemployment is said to be at record levels and youngsters are leaving university burdened with sky high debt, we can’t help but wonder why more parents don’t encourage their children to pursue an apprenticeship. The time has come to break down some of the social misconceptions and snobbery that dictates it’s better to be an unemployed university graduate with substantial debts, than an employed, financially independent graduate apprentice.

Taking A-Levels and going to university has for some time, been seen as the norm. Politicians keen to be seen as encouraging upward social mobility, wasted no time promoting the virtues of graduate degrees and urging youngsters to go to university. Given some of the political rhetoric, it is easy to see why many parents felt that a university degree was the ticket to a ‘guaranteed’ job for their children. Everyone deserves an education, but what most politicians fail to say is that quality education does not have to involve going to university.

The term “apprenticeship” has also been tarnished by short training programmes and disreputable training providers. Recently the Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s, Justin King commented that the word apprentice had become “hijacked.” Very true and something we should all take note of. He felt a lot of things masqueraded as an ‘apprenticeship’ and did not represent what can be learnt as a skill over an extended period of time.

So if your child is considering an apprenticeship, speak to the training provider to find out what the programme includes. Check the training provider’s Ofsted ratings and remember that effective apprenticeship programmes last for at least a year – never go for a programme that is less than one year.

Yes, the sceptics will argue that apprentices get paid less than the minimum wage when they start. But surely being paid a small amount and learning to manage that money and acquiring new skills is better than being unemployed and in debt? And the apprenticeship provides the training to help you gain the skills needed for today’s workplace – and for many, a job right at the end of the apprenticeship. Now, how many university degrees can offer your child extensive ‘on the job’ training or turn out work-ready youngsters suited to the requirements of industry?

Government can and must do more to encourage youngsters to take up apprenticeships. It is ultimately the state’s responsibility to nurture a portfolio of means to ensure that every youngster fulfils their potential – not encourage them to take up a university place to achieve targets and score cheap political points at the expense of people’s lives.

Cara and Mark Black live on the Isle of Wight with their three children. Cara is a housewife and Mark runs a successful electrical contracting company

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