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Is an apprenticeship better than going to university?


First of all, there are still some careers which can only be accessed through studying full time at university for a degree. Hence an apprenticeship is not going to be an option for certain careers. Is an apprenticeship better than going to university full time for many other careers though?

You may be surprised by how many career opportunities there are through apprenticeships. If you take a look at the full list of apprenticeship options available you will be amazed at the choices; from professional accountancy to sawmilling, the range is vast. In fact, take a look at the list anyway because it offers a great starting point for anyone who really doesn’t have a clue what they want to do career-wise, which let’s face it is most young people.

What kind of career can I get through an apprenticeship?

As an apprentice you could begin a career as any of the following

  • An advanced manufacturing engineering machinist
  • An aerospace software development engineer (a degree apprenticeship)
  • A product design and development engineer (a degree apprenticeship)
  • A conveyancing technician
  • A dental nurse
  • A cyber security technologist
  • A network engineer
  • An installation electrician
  • A gas engineer
  • A paraplanner
  • A mortgage adviser
  • A healthcare science assistant
  • A housing / property manager
  • A solicitor
  • A laboratory scientist
  • A junior management consultant
  • A junior journalist
  • A chartered surveyor
  • An outside broadcast engineer (a degree apprenticeship)
  • An assistant technical director (visual effects)

This really is just a small selection of careers that are available through an apprenticeship, but it shows the kind of great job roles that you could get without going to university as a full time student.

Is there really any need to get a degree?

Aside from those careers which absolutely demand that you gain a degree via full time study at university (and it is important to remember that you can still gain a degree through part time study as a higher or degree apprentice).

Many careers simply do not require that you have a degree. In fact, many employers are crying out for workers who are qualified to just below degree level.  This includes people with higher vocational qualifications such as HNCs and HNDs (Higher National Certificates and Diplomas) as well as Foundation Degrees, all of which you can study at a local college.

If you don’t get a degree, does this mean settling for a rubbish job?

As you have seen from the list above, not getting a degree does not equal settling for a dead-end job that you hate and which offers you no prospects.  Contrary to popular belief, not getting a degree will not put you in the bottom half of society.

What matters more, qualifications or experience?

In part, this might depend on what sort of qualifications we are talking about. For many roles, professional qualifications are absolutely vital.  Professional qualifications refer to qualifications which are awarded by professional bodies, for example the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) which is the professional body for HR and people development awards qualifications relevant to working in HR roles.  Professional qualifications are vocational, which means that they are directed at specific careers or industries. They will have a focus on practical application of skills and experience in the workplace.

Some examples of professional qualifications

The PGCE (post graduate certificate in education), PTLLS (Preparation for teaching in lifelong learning) DTLLS (Diploma in teaching in lifelong learning) for teaching

The ACCA, CIMA, CIPFA, ACA, ICAI and ICAS qualifications for accountants in a variety of specialisms – all fully explained in our article on accountancy and finance careers.

Many employers will ask for these qualifications when recruiting, so it’s a very good idea to take a look at jobs that are advertised even through you may be a long way off applying for work, because doing so will give you a heads up as to what employers want in terms of qualifications.

Many people who go to university full time and study for a degree find that in order to enter the career that they want to they still need to gain a professional qualification on top of their academic degree and lots of apprenticeships include these professional qualifications as part of the apprenticeship.

Does a full time university degree prepare you for work?

Although some employers have been vocal about taking on graduates and finding that they have very little in the way of employability skills, there are many degree courses offered by universities which provide a year in industry and which are will prepare you well for employment.  It is worth asking about graduate employment prospects and also about what kind of links with industry the university that you are looking at offers for students. An ideal time to do this is during university open days.

You don’t actually have to rely on your university ‘teaching’ you employability skills. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with those skills which all employers look for – the ability to communicate well with other people at all levels of business, good English skills, decent arithmetic ability (this doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert in algebra), good general IT skills in the most well used packages, so word processing skills, general database skills, presentation skills and importantly the ability to work as a team member and digital skills.

Will you definitely earn more if you have a degree?

It’s a myth that if you get a degree then by default you will earn more than someone without a degree or who has started their career as an apprentice.  It is true that graduates from Russell Group universities generally earn more than graduates from other universities or apprentices. However, higher apprentices have been shown to have greater earnings (on average) than graduates from non-Russell Group universities.

Is the time of everyone going to university over?

For a long time in the UK, young people and to a certain extent, their parents have simply assumed that going to university is what you do – to study for any degree, regardless of whether you need a degree for the job that you want and regardless of whether there are job opportunities in the sector associated with that degree subject.

With the significant increase in tuition fees, the removal of maintenance grants to help pay your way and the rise in alternative routes into employment, such as apprenticeships, it may well be that the time of everyone going to university is indeed over.

Is going to university more about status than useful training for future employment?

It seems that for many young people (and again their parents) going to university is viewed as a kind of status symbol. Getting a place at university is a great achievement but it’s a shame if young people feel that they have to go to university to prove something to other people – even sadder if they feel that in order to make their parents proud they have to.

Are all degrees equal?

Absolutely not! Whilst many degree courses might have the same tuition fees, they are not all equal.  some degree courses offer better employment prospects than others. They are in line with industry needs and skills shortages and therefore are more likely to lead to gainful employment in that field. For example if you study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) then according to the ONS you are more likely to be employed six months after graduating than graduates of other subjects and 95% of graduates of medicine and 92% of graduates of technology being employed in the field.

Do you have to choose between a degree and an apprenticeship?

You do not have to choose between a degree and an apprenticeship – it isn’t an either / or choice.  Many higher apprenticeships can lead to a degree, degree apprenticeships exist and you can even do an apprenticeship after you have completed your degree and get post grad qualifications.

Is an apprenticeship better than going to university? The answer is …sometimes, yes. Explore all of your options because there are many, many ways of getting into the career that you want to and not all of them involve studying at university.

About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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