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Dispelling the stigma of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have been around for years, but they have changed significantly since the introduction of modern-day degree apprenticeship programmes, which have paved the way for more individuals to gain a route into professions for which they would otherwise have had to go to university. However, surveys show that there is still a stigma that apprenticeships are second rate to going to university. So why is there such a stigma? Much of the problem stems from perceptions that apprenticeships are a last resort for someone who didn’t do very well at school.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship combines working with studying to gain skills and knowledge in a specific job. Apprentices can be new or current employees and there are different levels of apprenticeships from GCSE equivalent to degree level which take between one and six years to complete. A typical apprenticeship will see an apprentice attending college or university one day a week whilst gaining valuable on the job training though an employer for the remaining four days.

What are the benefits of apprenticeships?

No student debt – there is the obvious advantage that individuals work towards a qualification whilst gaining valuable on the job experience without incurring huge debts from university fees.

Upskilling – with a skills shortage in the UK following Brexit and COVID, businesses can look to upskill current staff through apprenticeships.

No upper age limit – there is a myth that apprenticeships are only for the young. With an aging workforce and there being no upper age limit for starting an apprenticeship, employers are able to look to their current employees as a way to encourage career progression or take on a more mature individual who is looking for a change in career.

Wages – whenever people think of apprenticeships, they think of poor wages. However, this is not the case and many employers choose to pay their apprentices the market rate.

Funding opportunities for employers – there are many funding opportunities open to employers who want to offer apprenticeships and recent changes gives employers greater flexibility and simplifies the way apprenticeships are funded.

So why hasn’t there been the expected uptake in apprenticeships?

Government figures (2021) show that apprenticeship numbers have fallen for the fifth year running, although the uptake in higher apprenticeships increased from 26% to 32% from the previous year. It seems the problem lies with both parents and employers. Children are influenced by their parents and the negativity of apprenticeships of 30 years’ ago has now trickled down to today’s generation that apprenticeships are not considered a real alternative to a traditional route of going to university. Likewise, children of parents who went to university are more likely to consider taking the university route after A-levels than an apprenticeship.

Certain professions that now offer apprenticeships are also misinformed or consider them an easier option. However, this is simply not the case – 47% of people starting an apprenticeship are over the age of 25 meaning a significant proportion of those will also have a family and the responsibility of running a house whilst juggling studying and learning on the job. This makes them hardworking, determined and committed individuals who have the perseverance and strength to succeed in an apprenticeship.

Are they a genuine alternative to university?

Absolutely, but it’s not the route for everyone to take. When weighing up whether to go down the apprenticeship route or the more traditional route of going to university, individuals should consider the advantages and disadvantages before making their decision. Apprenticeships are an excellent alternative and are as worthy a route to a profession as going to university. That is not to say there is not a huge amount to be gained from the independence of leaving home and fending for yourself but for some people, going to university is not a viable option. With the potential cost of tuition fees and debts of over £50,000 upon leaving university, more needs to be done to promote the benefits of undertaking an apprenticeship and losing the stigma that they are somehow not as worthy as going to university.

As Sarah Baker, Solicitor Apprentice in Napthens’ Employment & HR Team comments: ‘Ultimately, individuals should be given the opportunity to pursue a career through an apprenticeship without the stigma that they are less worthy of the qualification they gain or the career they aspire to have. However, dispelling the stigma can only happen if society and employers talk about apprenticeships as a real alternative to traditional routes and in a positive and encouraging way which changes the perception that they are somehow not quite good enough because society thinks so.