We are all trained to see being good at school (i.e. academically smart) as being an indicator of how bright or clever we are. This is reinforced through exam results and tests right through our school years, but is academic intelligence really the be-all and end-all of intelligence? It seems not, as shown by the many successful people who, for one reason or another, didn’t excel at school or may not have had the chance or the opportunity to go on to higher education. There are plenty of millionaires out there who didn’t do well in school, which shows that exam success isn’t always the best indicator of career success. Equally, there are plenty of people who have achieved fantastic qualifications, and yet have not managed to turn this success into a great career. Could it be that there is a difference between being academic and being career-minded?
For many years it has been standard thinking that those who do well at school and during A levels before going to university would do better out of life. Indeed, for many years this seemed to be the case – especially when university was more the preserve of a privileged few. However, with more graduates entering the job market each year the number of degree-holders who are finding it hard to get a degree-level job rises. It seems that with all the competition among graduates, simply having a degree may not be enough to get you into a great career.
On the other hand, there was the age-old notion that vocational training, such as with an apprenticeship was only for those not ‘good enough’ to go to university. There was also a belief that while university was for the academically gifted (therefore about training the mind) apprenticeships were for those who were better working with their hands. However, with more apprenticeships popping up in areas like law and I.T. these stereotypes are no longer correct.
In fact, it could be argued that the ‘career smart’ move would be to look into if there is an apprenticeship available in your chosen industry or job. Apprentices are given the skills employers want, are more likely to find relevant work, and can even earn more than graduates across the course of their working life. But this is not about comparing prospects – but more about looking at what is offered by the academic and vocational career paths.
Going to university for academic study is, in many ways, a continuation of school and college. The set-up is immediately recognisable to most students, offering something of a comfortable ‘next step’ after sixth form college. This is great if you are genuinely interested in your studies or, career-wise, if a degree is a necessity and there is no other option.
Meanwhile, where university can be seen as an extension of school, vocational training is more of an extension of work. An apprenticeship will see you working regular hours for a wage, with some time off for extra training and guidance. Even the process of finding and applying for an apprenticeship owes more to the workplace than it does to academic progression through UCAS.
Because of this fundamental difference, many employers are seeing apprentices in a new light. No longer the poor cousins to university’s bright achievers, apprentices are increasingly becoming seen as more employable, ready to work, and holding relevant skills and experience that graduates simply have not had a chance to gain.
The fact that an apprenticeship can take you to the same destination as university (even gaining a degree while you work) has altered the playing surface considerably – especially when tuition fees are added into the mix!
Perhaps the ‘school smart’ move might still be seen as the academic option, but it seems that more ‘career smart’ thinkers are looking at the alternatives too.