If you want to succeed you need a degree. University is the best choice for smart kids. An apprenticeship is a waste of time. Only those not clever enough to go to uni do apprenticeships. Vocational training is only for those who want to do a trade or manual work.
These are the sort of statements that we hear all the time – they are being spread through our schools and in homes up and down the country, but these assertions are all wide of the mark. The fact that parents and teachers are also spreading these ideas is concerning as young people look to them for advice and guidance, so perhaps it is time for a different message from apprentices themselves?
Let’s face it, most parents and a lot of teachers tend to use their own experiences to inform young people as to what choices to make in life. It is only natural, but unfortunately a lot of this advice is increasingly outdated.
Whereas university was once a tuition-fee free way to get a qualification as well as avoiding the question of what to do with your life for three more years, it is now an expensive option that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a great career.
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s going to university was not an option for the majority of kids, who would instead look for work once they left school. However, as we moved through into the 1990s and beyond, going to university became far more common for young people from all areas of society. In fact, I can recall being advised to go on to study A levels if only to avoid having to enter a recessional job market for a couple more years in the early 1990s. It seemed to be a case of biding my time rather than actually looking to see where the extra education could take me.
Is it therefore any wonder that parents and teachers who may have had similar experiences see A levels and university as the most desirable route into work? It is, after all, what a whole generation were told.
Yet times have changed. With more people going to university than ever before the competition for graduate level jobs is fierce, and you can bet that where you got your degree matters as much as the grade and the subject you took. It is a buyers’ market, with employers able to pick and choose from hundreds of graduates. This, of course, means that many perfectly capable young people are left out in the cold, forced to take any job they can find. It was the same when I left university, as I ended up taking a job in a call centre in order to get some money coming in. Did I need my degree for that job? No, but at least I had not built up tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt while studying for it!
Times have changed and yet our attitudes to vocational paths into employment are lagging behind. You can’t blame the young people as they are only acting on the advice they are given, while parents and many teachers are also only working with what they know.
Parents want the best for the children, and young people want to make the most of their opportunities and get the best start they possibly can. I mean, how many young people go to university because they just want to study? Most will go for a variety of reasons – not least because they believe university offers them the only real route to a successful career.
But it isn’t just tuition fees that have changed the playing field. The apprenticeship levy means that businesses are now being asked to invest in training a new generation and fill a skills gap. Where vocational training was once seen as second-best it is now proving to be a viable alternative with apprenticeships available in a surprising array of industries – yet too little is being done to promote this to young people (and their parents).
So perhaps it is time for those who have seen the benefits of an apprenticeship to be encouraged to come forward and speak up. Some are saying that a portion of the apprenticeship levy should go towards promoting apprenticeships rather than simply funding them. I would have to agree that the biggest obstacle facing apprenticeships right now is perception. With reports saying teachers had told pupils that an apprenticeship is a waste of time, perhaps it is time to get the truth into our schools and colleges – and who better to do that than those who have been through the process and seen the benefits first hand?