Which should you choose - degree or apprenticeship, and do you really need to choose between them?
First of all – let’s be clear; with the government announcement of nine, new degree apprenticeship schemes you don’t need to choose between a degree and apprenticeship. You can have your cake and eat it.
On a degree apprenticeship programme you can gain a full Honours degree. Businesses, universities and colleges have joined forces to develop practical apprentice degree courses which will give young people the education and skills they need. Co-designed by employers and universities, in some cases they will lead to the apprentice gaining chartered or registered status, awarded by the relevant professional body.
As a degree apprentice you would split your time between studying academically for a degree and gaining hands-on experience, whilst earning a wage with a company, such as IBM, John Lewis, Lloyds Banking Group or Network Rail.
Apprentices will be able to study subjects like chartered surveying, aerospace engineering and nuclear power as well as engineering, design and digital, laboratory science and public relations – industries which are closely linked to the needs of the UK economy. Degree apprenticeships in the automotive, construction and banking industries will start in September.
This will offer a great opportunity for young people to do several things; enter the industry, gain real worthwhile experience and skills that meet the needs of employers and also to raise their academic profile by studying at university.
No one should do an apprenticeship only to avoid university fees of course but the fact that apprentices on this scheme will not have to pay any university fees as these costs will be shared by the Government and employer will be a great draw for many young people who haven’t considered the apprenticeship route before.
Why choose an apprenticeship over university?
An apprenticeship is a job that you are employed to do. In addition to working and learning on the job skills, you also undertake a relevant qualification, usually one day a week. Traditional university study is full-time. So, why might you choose an apprenticeship over full-time university study?
For a long time apprenticeships have been seen as the poor relation to university. The University degree was traditionally seen as the best option to get ahead with your career and end up earning the highest wages, while apprenticeships were derided as a lesser option for those who were not talented or bright enough to go to university.
Whilst simply avoiding university fees are not a good reason to choose an apprenticeship, there are many other reasons why choosing an apprenticeship over a degree might be best for you.
Gaining experience as an apprentice
An apprenticeship will offer you the chance to gain relevant experience and skills in a particular industry. Rather than spending your time on a degree course that may not really relate to your career goals, you can gain some direct experience via an apprenticeship – experience that will look good on your C.V. when it comes to applying for work.
Earning money as an apprentice
The National Minimum Wage for an apprentice is £2.73 at the moment, although the Low Pay Commission has recommended an increase to £3.30. However, many employers choose to pay their apprentices above the minimum wage, and the average hourly wage for apprentices in 2012 was £6.00.
Compared with the traditional full-time university route, which sees you paying out for tuition fees, accommodation and other costs of living expenses, for many, the opportunity to begin their career and start bringing in an income is a more attractive option.
Qualified for the job
As well as on the job training, as an apprentice you would gain a relevant qualification and this will be directly relevant to the area of work that you are employed in. As an apprentice you will study toward a formal qualification in a subject and at a level appropriate to your apprenticeship. This might be an gaining an NVQ Diploma in Plumbing and Heating at level 2 for the intermediate apprenticeship or the NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Domestic Plumbing and Heating for the advanced apprenticeship. This, when coupled with the experience mentioned above, you will have a head-start when it comes to landing your dream job. In addition, if you are on an apprentice programme in a profession, such as finance or law you will often have the opportunity to gain relevant professional qualifications, such as the AAT accounting qualification.
An employable apprentice
University offers many great things, but relevant experience in the job that you want to do is rare. An apprenticeship by contrast will give you a minimum of one year’s direct experience in the field. You may have also built up some strong contacts in the industry or at the company where your apprenticeship took place.
How to find an apprenticeship
Many large employers run apprenticeship programmes, so check with them directly and if there is a small business that you’d like to work for, go ahead and suggest that they offer one if they don’t already.
- Ask at school or visit your local FE College to check what apprenticeships they offer
- Search our opportunities page for vacancies by sector
- Search the apprenticeships.org website for providers offering apprenticeships
Applying for an apprenticeship
An apprenticeship is a job and you will need to sell yourself to the employer, and there can be competition for places on the more popular apprenticeship programmes. Whatever the apprenticeship, you should find out as much as you can about the company and the role that you want to apply for so that you are ‘clued up’ and knowledgeable.
Explain in your application why you want to work for the company, and how your skills will suit the role you are applying for. Tailor your application to each employer for maximum impact. Your application needs to be easy to read and to the point. You will want to show that you are the right person for the job. Use the apprenticeship summary to see what the provider wants, and show how you match the criteria.
Once you have written your application, check it over for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Don’t rely on your computer to do this, but get someone to make sure everything is fine. Also, check your social media and make sure there is nothing embarrassing on there – the employer may look you up online too!
Interviewing for an apprenticeship
Go prepared - wear formal business clothes. Even if you feel over-dressed, it is better than looking scruffy. You only get one chance to make a first impression – so make it count!
Try to stay calm and make sure you listen to what is asked of you. The employer will know that you are likely to be nervous and do their best to put you at ease. Speak clearly, make eye-contact, and be friendly and polite. However, don’t be overly-familiar or make jokes – you are in a working environment - so stay professional and good luck!
For more tips on the kind of questions to expect at interview check out our article on typical questions.
You can find out more about how to bag an apprenticeship in our 2015 Apprenticeship Guide which will be with you in time for National Apprenticeship Week on our advice centre page so look out for this!