People have outdated views about apprenticeships – nowadays there are apprentices in almost every sector, but competition for places is tough
When it comes to apprenticeships, the government is on a mission. It has committed to creating 3m apprenticeships by 2020, and reforms are under way to raise the standards of roles and training.
However, pupils and parents lack good quality information about apprenticeships and this is leading to misconceptions, says Sharon Walpole, chief executive of Walpole Media Group, publisher of the site Not Going To Uni, which highlights vocational opportunities for school and college leavers. “In the careers world we all know about apprenticeships and talk about them,” she says. “But parents and young people don’t have a clear understanding about them.”
As National Apprenticeship Week kicks off, here are the top five myths about apprenticeships.
It’s for people who have failed their A-levels
“The biggest misunderstanding is that people think it’s a second rate, second class route. That if you fail your A-levels it’s for you,” says Walpole. Steven McIntosh, professor of economics at the University of Sheffield, studies vocational education and agrees. “It’s not for people who have messed up at school,” he says. “There’s a misconception that anyone can get an apprenticeship.”
For an advanced level apprenticeship, for example, candidates typically need four good quality GCSEs, including English and Maths. There’s also high demand for places on popular apprenticeship schemes such as at British Airways and Rolls-Royce, says McIntosh. “Some of the best apprenticeships are harder to get into than Oxbridge.”
You must decide between university and an apprenticeship
People tend to think you need to choose between doing an apprenticeship and going to university, says Walpole. However, if you go to university, you can still complete an apprenticeship afterwards, and vice versa. “It doesn’t mean you can’t go to university later. It’s not a fork in the road or a shutting of a door,” says Walpole.
Becci Newton, principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, is evaluating the Apprenticeship Trailblazers programme (pdf) which aims to raise standards. She says: “Doing an apprenticeship doesn’t close down your options. For example, there’s a long tradition in engineering of people doing apprenticeships and then afterwards going on to study at university part-time.”
If you’re doing a higher apprenticeship, it could involve studying at university a day a week, or for blocks of several weeks, depending on the training provider, and can lead to further academic qualifications, such as a bachelor’s degree. With a degree apprenticeship there is both university study and on the job training, and apprentices can get a full bachelor’s or master’s degree. “There’s a move towards more academic apprenticeships,” says McIntosh.
Young people mistakenly think an apprenticeship will mean a lack of career progression, says Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager at the Association of Colleges. “They think their potential is going to be limited if they do an apprenticeship rather than go to university, which in most instances is wrong. If you have the ability to follow the higher education route, you can make just as good progress in your career with an apprenticeship.”
Apprenticeships are only in trade and manual jobs
While the typical image of an apprentice is someone working in manufacturing or construction, there are many sectors that have apprenticeship schemes. Newton says: “There are lots in the digital industry, media, accountancy, ambulance service and aviation. There’s a huge range now.”
“People have outdated views of apprenticeships, a 1970s view when more people worked in manufacturing,” says McIntosh. “But apprenticeships reflect the economy we have, a service sector economy. Business, health and retail (pdf) are the sectors with the most apprenticeships.”
You’ll be poorly paid
While apprentices start on a low wage, it can go up. Those aged 16-18, and people 19 or over who are in the first year of the apprenticeship receive the apprentice minimum wage rate of £3.30 an hour. However, if you are 19 or over, and have completed the first year of the apprenticeship, your pay will go up as you’ll be entitled to the minimum wage rate for your age. In 2014 the average hourly pay (pdf) received by apprentices in England was £6.31 an hour for level 2 and 3 apprentices, and £9.68 an hour for level 4 and 5 higher apprentices.
“You’re not racking up debt and you’re getting paid,” says Newton. “By the end of an apprenticeship you’ve got qualifications, work experience and you’re in the labour market. You’re in a really strong position.”
In 2013, the average take-home salary among long-term former apprentices – after tax had been deducted – was £15,107, according to the Apprenticeship Evaluation Learner Survey.
One of the big draws of university is the social life – the opportunity to make new friends through your course, or in your halls of residence, while enjoying all that student life has to offer.
Are you missing out on a good social life if you do an apprenticeship? Not according to Walpole. She says there are opportunities for apprentices to socialise and make new friends, giving the example of the Honda Institute apprenticeship scheme. “It advertises for apprenticeships for garages across the country. The apprentices go to the Institute for training, it’s like a graduate trainee programme.” There’s no doubt it’s a different experience to university, says Walpole, but if you’re going to leave university with £50,000 debt, you need to weigh up whether it’s worth it.
Newton agrees: “Large employers have their own training centres. If you’re with a large employer, you’re part of a pretty big cohort, so you get good links there. It’s not that the social aspect isn’t there, it’s just slightly different.”