A RECENT careers survey of more than 5,250 youngsters found that almost half of those pursuing a university degree considered apprenticeships to be “second rate” in comparison. Of those, 40 per cent thought an apprenticeship wasn’t an option for their chosen career path and a comparable number argued that degrees had a significantly better reputation.
In addition, students whose parents studied at university were more likely to be opposed to apprenticeships, with a tenth arguing that their parents were wholly against them. Given the DfE’s ambition to increase apprenticeship achievement rates to 67 per cent, it’s more important than ever to dispel outdated notions and embrace the many benefits of apprenticeships. And with the UK’s unpredictable economy and endemic skills shortages, it’s vital for employers, learning providers, parents, and students of all ages, to advocate for real change.
Read our two-part series on apprenticeships where we go beyond the stereotypes, breaking down negative myths and setting the record straight on the fulfilling careers they can lead to.
Stereotypes & Myths
The stigma surrounding apprenticeships still exists.
For many the term “apprentice” is synonymous with school leavers, unskilled labour, and poor wages. But is that stigma fair and are opinions shifting? Traditionally found in construction, engineering and healthcare sectors, people can complete apprenticeships in everything from law, sports, and fashion design to finance, agriculture, the culinary arts, and data science. With entry-level, advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships available, they’re suitable for people with different levels of education and experience. In fact, from September 2023, you’ll even be able to complete an apprenticeship to become a doctor. Like other apprenticeships, the Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship will allow candidates to earn while they learn.
While acknowledging that higher education remains a popular choice, Vikki Marriott believes that the burden of undergraduate debt (which stands at around £45,800) is compelling people to pursue alternative career paths.
“It’s important that before we talk about the brilliant opportunities apprenticeships can create, we nod to the stigma which often surrounds this career route,” she said in FE News Editor. “Long seen as inferior to university courses, we know that the ‘A’ word can come with negative connotations attached for students, families, and even some businesses. But thankfully that is changing! Apprenticeships offer work-based vocational learning that can culminate with degree-level qualifications. Those in apprenticeship programmes will immediately enter the workforce, gain on-the-job experience, make industry contacts, and earn money from day one.”
Described as a key factor in boosting social mobility and filling the nation’s skills gaps by The Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education (IfATE), today’s apprenticeships are changing perspectives. They are readily available to people of all ages and backgrounds, including those already in employment who want to upskill or switch careers.
Apprenticeships, which take 1 to 5 years to complete, are categorised into four tiers, with equivalent educational levels. Some apprenticeships provide an additional qualification, such as a diploma.
Blueberry Director Pamela Welsh claims that many students and businesses are unaware of the government funding or breadth of apprenticeship pathways available to them. Under The Apprenticeship Levy, employers paying more than £3 million per year in wages pay 0.5 per cent of their payroll each month as a levy tax. This money can then be reinvested to fund apprenticeship training. Employers hiring apprentices aged 16 to 18 and from certain underrepresented groups, such as care leavers and those with disabilities, also benefit from financial incentives. And SMEs with wage bills less than £3 million per year can access funding for up to 10 employees with the government contributing 95 per cent towards the cost of apprenticeship training.
“More needs to be done to re-educate people about the real benefits, substantial impact and added value of engaging in apprenticeships,” said Pamela. “There are misconceptions about apprenticeships, with many still believing they’re young, low-skilled, cheap labour - it’s just not true! It’s about time that these stereotypes were shattered. Geared towards all ages, apprenticeships help to plug the UK’s skills gaps and meet the evolving needs of businesses. Apprentices can earn while they learn, picking up new skills from their peers and mentors in a real working environment. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping somebody grow with your business and ultimately excelling at their job. We’re very proud of our Blueberry apprentices - they’ve all stayed with the company and are now highly valued full-time team members.”
Okay, so far so good. But aren’t apprenticeships badly paid?
The pay for apprenticeships varies depending on the industry, level, and employer. And while it’s true that apprentices may be paid less than more experienced workers in the same field, it is not necessarily “bad.”
This Spring sees the National Living Wage (NLW) rise to £10.42, an increase of 92 pence or 9.7 per cent. And in light of the UK’s tough labour market, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates for apprentices will also rise in line with the NLW increase.
Many employers pay their apprentices more than the minimum wage with sectors like engineering and construction generally paying more than those in retail or hospitality. As well as employee benefits such as holidays, sick leave, and time off for studying, apprenticeships also offer on-the-job training, work experience and the chance to gain a recognised qualification without accruing large amounts of student debt. They can also lead to higher earnings and career progression - good news given that the state pension age keeps increasing, forcing people to work for longer.
Blueberry’s Jessie Parker started as an apprentice and went on to become the company’s finance officer. With their support, she has since completed numerous qualifications from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) at Leeds City College.
“My Blueberry apprenticeship not only kickstarted my career development, but it also helped me to grow in confidence,” said the 26-year-old. “One of the many reasons I decided to do an apprenticeship was because I wanted to start earning money alongside my studies. I bought my first house with my partner in the summer of 2019 – I was just 23 years old. I was very proud to be in that position at such a young age!”
Historically, apprenticeships may have been discredited as little more than glorified tea-makers and cheap manual labour. But today’s progressive apprenticeships are helping to change these outdated perspectives. With a much broader scope of apprenticeships to choose from, people of all ages and educational backgrounds can enrol on programmes. Working with apprentices can also help employers retain key talent, motivate high achievers and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in the workplace.
Coming soon! Check out part two of our series on apprenticeships, where we discuss the benefits of apprenticeships, some surprising success stories, and the Government’s £8M pledge to increase degree apprenticeships. Not to mention the expert opinions from the Chief Ofsted Inspector and numerous reputable employers, careers, and work experience advisors.