If you’ve got a child in year 12, you’re probably both thinking about the next stage about now.
Let’s be honest, having a child in education is always about the next stage – if your child is in year 5 or 6, it’s all about secondary school. Then from year 9 onwards it’s non-stop – options, GCSEs, A Levels and leaving school…
Every choice is tinged with the big question of careers. Are they choosing the right GCSEs to allow them to take the right A Levels (or BTECs or T Levels) to get them onto the right university course or into the right career?
There is a huge culture in this country of the next stage being university. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Apprenticeships are a very realistic alternative. I should know, my son is coming to end of a higher level apprenticeship after getting good A Levels.
I first heard about apprenticeships as an alternative to university way back when my son was in year 7 or 8. And I knew it was right for him even then. He’s never been academic, but he is intelligent. His intelligence is more about the real world – he learns by doing things and needs to understand the point of what he’s doing. For him, things like English literature, history or French have no point because he can’t use them in day to day life.
(I’d just like to say that I never pushed him into an apprenticeship. It was entirely his own choice.)
Do you have someone in your life like that?
Even if you don’t, there are some very sound reasons why an apprenticeship might be a better choice than university.
In case you’re wondering, apprenticeships aren’t all about plumbing, construction and hairdressing. There are apprenticeships in a very wide range of areas, including business and computing.
After A Levels, a young person can go onto a Level 4 apprenticeship (equivalent to an HNC) or even straight onto a degree (Level 6) apprenticeship.
The usual path is to do a Level 4 and, if they want to, to keep working towards a Level 6. For a degree apprenticeship, a local college may work in partnership with a university to provide it.
My son is getting towards the end of his Level 4 apprenticeship and the plan is for him to keep working towards a degree.
An apprenticeship is 80% on the job learning and 20% working in college or with a training provider. Usually, this will be away from the workplace, but my son’s company arranges for a tutor to go into the office, rather than for the apprentices to go to college. He has also done a week-long intensive course with an exam at the end of it. He still has to do his dissertation, which should be pretty easy as it’s all based on things he really knows and understands from the workplace.
In total, his degree might take him five or six years from leaving school, compared to three or four for people who go straight to university. But when he is finished, not only will he have a degree, he will also have five or six years of valuable work experience, a good salary and no debt.
Compare this to graduates who are struggling to get a job, often falling into part-time work in industries like hospitality to try to make ends meet, and are saddled with huge debt. When and if they finally get the job they want, they are at the bottom of the ladder, on a low salary and usually lacking in the basic skills employers actually want in the workplace.
I’m not saying don’t consider university. It is the right choice for many young people and for some (eg those doing medicine) it is the only option. There are advantages of university in terms of a social life and becoming independent.
But there are also huge advantages of choosing an apprenticeship as an alternative. If you’ve never considered it, I would definitely recommend you take the time to read up on it.
Apprenticeships aren’t an ‘easy’ option. They are just different. In fact, compared to university places, there are far few higher (Level 4 and over) apprenticeships available, so they are highly competitive.
The government’s website is a good place to start, as is your local college. Keep an eye on local job ads too, which sometimes advertise apprentice positions.