This coming Thursday, 18th August 2022, marks A-Level Results Day, meaning that thousands of students up and down the country will be nervously waiting to find out their final grades. Then begins the beginning of the rest of their lives, with some heading into work and others choosing to remain in education via a place at university. Some, however, will opt to work and train in tandem, and that’s where apprenticeships come in.
Upon googling A-Level Results Day, one will be served with a whole host of articles aimed to impart advice to nervous students. Almost all of them discuss what to expect should you end up navigating the clearing process, to the extent where many of these articles seem to assume that the student in question is going to university, the inevitable next step after finishing A-Levels.
There seems to be less representation, however, of students who have chosen a different route, be that into full-time work or an apprenticeship. Some students simply don’t wish to go to university – they would rather be earning money than racking up student debt. They would rather train, learn and develop their skills in a practical, hands-on way rather than a lecture hall, as this fits in much better with their unique learning style. For some, the move to university would not suit their family circumstances. In addition to this, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the university experience and some may feel it isn’t quite the romantic idea that it used to be.
It could be seen as surprising, therefore, that so much of the dialogue surrounding A-Level Results Day is bolstered in the assumption that university is the natural next step for the nation’s school-leavers. Last year, research conducted by UCAS revealed that students struggle to access information about apprenticeships. How, then, are students expected to make informed decisions about their future when they don’t even have access to the relevant information in order to thoroughly assess their options?
The study by UCAS also confirmed that there continues to be a stigma surrounding apprenticeships, based around the assumption that they lack the prestige associated with going to university. The UCAS study showed that only 8% of students surveyed associated apprenticeships with leading to a good job, and only 4% of those students surveyed said that they would associate the word ‘prestigious’ with apprenticeships, compared with 76% who would attach this word to a traditional university degree.
Due to this lack of information, many young people may not even be aware that some higher-level apprenticeships are equivalent to a Bachelors degree. Not to mention apprenticeships can mark the start of an excellent career for a person of school-leaving age.
There is also seemingly a lack of information available to promote a further option, one that could act as the ideal “hybrid” solution for a student torn between doing an apprenticeship and studying at university – a degree apprenticeship. This is where a student can study at university and gain a degree whilst working. Again, it would seem not enough is being done to promote this very exciting career route to school-leavers, all because it differs from the expected, “traditional” route.
It is clear that more needs to be done in order to inform young people of their options, including apprenticeships, without such a heavy emphasis on a traditional university degree as the only route to take. Not only will this work to equip students with the information to make a good choice on what’s right for them, but it will help to finally put an end to the stigma surrounding apprenticeships and the unfortunate and inaccurate belief that they are somehow inferior to a place at university.
We need to get students talking about apprenticeships and, in order to do that, we need to start talking about them too. We need to invite more training providers to give talks at school career days and make it easier for them to do so. This means the onus must also lie with schools and colleges. Schools and colleges already have a legal obligation to talk about apprenticeships with students when discussing their options, but this obligation can mean that the information provided is robotic, unenthusiastic and unengaging for students.
We also need employers going into schools to talk about apprenticeships. Schools are often very eager for greater interaction with employers as this opens doors to their students. As employers, we are very good at bemoaning the school system, and the lack of good candidates, but most of us have never stepped inside a school or given a talk about the different career routes, or about how someone can ‘get a job like mine’, or work in our companies. Students need real life examples that they can both aspire and relate to, and a CEO or Managing Director who started life as an apprentice is exactly that, and will also help to denounce the outdated idea that apprenticeships do not lead to “good”, high-paying jobs.
We need to work together in order to provide the kind of information on apprenticeships that will really get students excited, and remove the stigma by talking about apprenticeships as what they are – something to be proud of, and an excellent start to a successful and rewarding career.
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