Apprenticeships are not a new phenomenon, in fact, they have been around in some form since Medieval times and took on a more structured approach in 1563 when the Statute of Artificers created a regulated system that set out more exacting terms of the apprenticeship. Since then, apprenticeships have seen many changes, but the principle still stands; it is a method of teaching someone a trade in a ‘hands-on’ environment that leads to a qualification.
Apprenticeships today are more complex and have a wider remit in regards to what areas of industry you can undertake an apprenticeship, as well as the level to which you can become educated. The idea is that apprenticeships can accommodate all areas of industry and all levels of academic ability with qualifications available from intermediate to degree level.
So why is there still such a stigma attached to apprenticeships?
A school leaver goes to college, spends two years in a classroom environment and leaves with a level 2 in their chosen subject. Excellent! But what have they truly learnt? The nuts and bolts of their chosen profession, maybe, but have they had the practical hands-on experience that actually makes them a viable employee? We all know that regardless of what job you do, no two days are the same. When we deal with real-time situations in the real world, we always have to factor in multiple elements that can change the way in which we perform our jobs. How can a classroom environment prepare students for this factor – the unknown and the unexpected? Truth is, it can’t, and that is where the true value of an apprenticeship comes to the forefront. Learning your trade at the coal face not only gives you the academic understanding you need but more importantly, the ‘hands-on’ skills you need to really learn the job.
The stats are hard-hitting
The stats surrounding the lack of uptake in apprenticeships are hard-hitting, and so too are the attitudes towards modern day apprenticeships by both parents and schools alike. Too many parents still view apprenticeships as qualifications at the lower end of the academic scale, and schools want the kudos of the pupils that go on to top tier universities. In fact, a poll taken by Sutton Trust and Pearson estimates that only one-third of UK adults believe that apprenticeships offer better career prospects than a university degree. And yet apprentices will have had more career progression and be commanding a higher salary than their degree educated counterparts when they leave university after a three-year degree course and start paid employment.
So, let’s take a look at the figures:
• There were 132,000 apprenticeship starts reported so far for the first quarter of the 2018/19 academic year. The total number of first or upper second class degrees achieved in 2017 was 757,300.
• The average starting salary for an apprentice is £18,463 whereas the average starting salary for a graduate is £14,734.
• An Apprentice will earn on average £170 per week for the duration of their apprenticeship and will not incur any tuition costs. A graduate does not earn a salary and can incur tuition debt of over £27,000.
• Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows that those who progress on to study a Professional/Higher apprenticeship will increase earnings by an estimated £150,000 over a lifetime – with the bonus of no university debt.
So, we can see that the stats are stacked in favour of the apprentice, but what about the companies that employ them? From personal experience, we can tell you that taking on apprentices has benefited our business hugely. Our workforce is primarily ‘homegrown’, which means we are not only dealing with the here and now in regards to our provision of labour, but also future-proofing our business. Like all businesses, we want to grow, but in order to do so, we need to expand our workforce with the right people. By taking on apprentices, we are nurturing our future workforce and giving them the skills that they need to be successful and ensure our own success. We have found that when we invest time and money into apprentices, we are rewarded with loyalty, passion for our business, and commitment.
So, what needs to be done to really drive home the message of the importance of apprenticeships?
It all goes back to education; educating parents, students and schools alike. The Government is doing some great work in improving the schemes and the levels you can achieve with degree apprenticeships being offered since 2015. There are over 400 different areas of industry where you can gain an apprenticeship, so industry is doing its part, but it is still disappointing to stumble across articles where we learn that businesses are actively blocked from going into schools to talk about apprenticeships.