Are apprenticeships a real alternative to university?



we share the

pros & cons

of both

The rise of apprenticeships

It seems as if schools frequently teach kids that university is the only way to become successful in life. We tend to see every step in a child’s education as a step towards a university education or test whether they ‘have what it takes’ to study at this level.

While going to university is a massive achievement and one that you should celebrate no matter what, we have to consider that some children either:

  1. Aren’t suited to studying in a university environment
  2. Have no desire to go to university
  3. Don’t need to go to university to achieve their goals
  4. Or perhaps they are only going to university as they feel they have no other choice

Right now, a lot of people either see children as ‘university material’ or not. 

Dividing people based on where and how they want to study or build their lives can harm both people and society.

However, it may seem like there are no alternatives. A person will go to university to make something of themselves and make their family proud. Or they stay at home the rest of their lives watching television until their eyes turn square! This is far, far from the truth.

The difficulty is that when they consider their options for the future, many students are unaware that there are different paths to being successful. Students should better understand all alternatives, including skilled trades, when they finish secondary school.

Alternatives to university education are everywhere. One of the biggest routes is enrolling in an apprenticeship. 

What is an apprenticeship?

What are apprenticeships? Why is no one talking about them? What are the benefits of starting an apprenticeship? Are there any downsides? Can you be successful if you don’t go to university? How do I choose? Let’s have a more detailed look at what the exciting world of apprenticeships involves:

Apprenticeships are helping people to rethink work training as something that takes place primarily on the job rather than in a classroom. This path appeals to people seeking alternatives to university because they provide a more practical learning experience. You’ll concentrate on preparing for a specific career and learning your trade by doing it. You’ll get hands-on experience and be able to put your new abilities to use right away.

An apprenticeship allows you to work in a real profession while also studying for a formal certification – often one day per week at a college or training centre. Upon completion, you may get an NVQ, HNC, or HND. Higher apprenticeships can lead to a foundation degree or a full honours degree.

The role you’re preparing for determines what you’ll study. Apprentices in every job follow a pre-approved study programme, resulting in a nationally recognised qualification at the end of your apprenticeship.

This route helps people obtain the skills and information necessary to succeed in their chosen job. Or it allows them to move to the next apprenticeship level.

As a bonus, apprentices are salaried employees who get compensated for their efforts, unlike most interns. Apprentices’ earnings generally start at around 50% to 60% of their final compensation. They move through their programmes and learn additional skills as their income rises.

Plus, apprentices do not have to forego money to seek education and training because the work includes training. An apprenticeship gives a young worker immediate employment, growing pay, and a path to a long-term successful and sustainable career.

A student doesn’t need to attend college if they know what they want to accomplish. That’s why those students must be made aware of the many employment options.

What type of apprenticeships are available?

Apprenticeships and other training programmes that teach young people the skills they need for well-paying professions that don’t require a university degree are gaining popularity. These positions include electrician, carpenter, and mechanic.

However, you might be surprised by the variety of apprenticeships available. They are no longer dominated by manual crafts like building and engineering but rather by diverse career paths. Such as: 

Why has no-one talked to me about apprenticeships?

The difficulty is that many students are unaware that there are alternatives to going to university. They may feel that everything is geared towards getting their grades high enough to be accepted by admissions officers. Most schools give little time to help secondary school students consider their options for the future.

Many reasons could be behind the push to get more and more people into university. A big reason is less to do with actual ‘success’, but more to do with the appearance of ‘success’.

What we mean is that universities are viewed as very prestigious places to attend.

Plus, schools have a lot of incentives to help their students move on to university. It reflects well on their reputation and makes their school seem more successful. Plus, it usually gives them greater access to funding so that they can continue this success.

That’s not to say that schools are bad! They have the best interests of their students at heart and simply want to maximise the resources they have available to help their new pupils for years to come.

On the flip side, many people view jobs that don’t require a university degree as somehow ‘lesser’ or ‘not as important’, when this is not the case at all. These people often connect practical skills and manual jobs with the idea of assembly-line occupations that started around a hundred years ago!

Companies that offer apprenticeships are sophisticated enterprises that urgently need employees who think instead of following orders like robots. The greatest thing is that they often pay their apprentices to work and go to school and guarantee them a job at the end of the four-year apprenticeship.

You may have even been told that you are “university-going material”. Remember: That doesn’t mean it’s your only option. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you have been specially chosen to join a secret group of elite individuals that are better than others who don’t attend university.

It simply means that you have specific skills that academic institutions value or are best improved in a university environment.

What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?

We have already mentioned a few of the major benefits of doing an apprenticeship, which include:

However, there are even more benefits that we have yet to mention:

  • You can begin building industry contacts immediately 
  • There is a massive demand for skilled labour, so finding work is unlikely to be a problem. For example, welding, plumbing, and manufacturing are all in desperate need of new workers
  • It helps you develop the abilities needed to compete in a global market.
  • Apprentices are excellent at bringing a new viewpoint to the workplace
  • It not only provides an alternative to university but can also make university more affordable if you decide to attend later on in life

Plus, one of the biggest benefits is that those who have developed their skills through an apprenticeship usually earn more than university graduates. For example, most welders easily make more than university graduates with English and Philosophy degrees.

What is the downside of doing apprenticeships?

There will always potentially be downsides to whatever path you choose in life. It is about weighing these up against the benefits and how you want to live your life. Some negatives about apprenticeships include:

  • They are limited because the training and skills you get are restricted to a specific industry or position. This can make switching career paths difficult if you change your mind
  • This path will almost certainly bind you to your job for a set time
  • There is a greater sense of responsibility given to you at an early age that can sometimes be a lot of pressure
  • Holiday times are much shorter compared to university
  • You will miss out on the ‘university experience’

Don’t I have have to go to university to be successful?

Actually, no! A lot of people are under the impression that going to university will automatically make them successful people. As if everything in life falls into place once you receive an acceptance letter!

Once they’ve completed their degree there, a lot of graduates struggle to find jobs in the fields they studied. The job market can be harsh, especially during tough economic times. Having the skills and proving you can immediately do a job is what a lot of employers look for. Often, only those who have done an apprenticeship can provide this.

Skills can often be valued above degrees, and apprenticeships teach us that there should be many viable paths into a single job. A university degree shows employers that you have a specific set of skills. However, apprenticeships do the same but can get you involved in the working world at a much faster pace.

To be successful in life, most people will need to become lifelong learners. Employees may be required to retrain to adapt to trends that we have yet to predict. Learning doesn’t need to stop the second you leave the university library behind!

An investment?

While university can still be a good investment, cost and other factors mean that some young people may not be able to go. You have to ask yourself, “Is the debt worth it?” Studying for a degree will likely set you back £9,250 a year in tuition costs, plus additional living expenditures. You’ll almost certainly graduate with student debt, even if repayments don’t begin until you earn a minimum of £26,576 per year.

Plus, there’s no guarantee that graduates will secure a better job than those who have done an apprenticeship. Apprentices may expect to earn thousands of dollars more throughout their careers than students at non-Russell Group institutions. In fact, individuals who pursue a level 5 higher apprenticeship will make an estimated £1.5 million throughout their careers.

Will I be happy though?

One key area we have yet to mention is what makes a person happy and fulfilled. People measure success in so many different ways. One individual could see going to university as making them successful, while another could see an apprenticeship doing the same. Others may simply want to raise a family, travel the world, or even volunteer as much as they can. 

There is no wrong or right way to achieve success, as success is all about how each person measures it.

Benefits of university

It is always important to weigh up what path is best for you, so we can’t ignore the benefits that attending university brings, such as:

  • Having the freedom to choose from hundreds of courses and explore your interests
  • A degree will open up your career in terms of future prospects
  • Helping develop independence by living away from home
  • Teaching students a variety of soft skills that can be applied to any work environment
  • Getting to experience and enjoy all the wonders of university life

What about my parents?

One of the main worries that secondary school students have when choosing what path to follow in life is what their parents will think of it.

Many parents automatically beam with pride at knowing their child will be attending university.

On the other hand, parents tend not to be as supportive when their children pursue an apprenticeship, especially if they attended university themselves!

However, the lack of support is more about how they view apprenticeships instead of what this path actually involves.

For example, parents may overlook the importance of professional and technical training. But, technology is so ingrained in so many sectors that it is now a realistic road to many promising jobs for those prepared to persevere and be patient.

It can be hard to make a decision based just on how you feel. Your parents’ opinion will always matter to you. But, this is your decision to make. There will be an extra level of pride when you work hard and show them that you are successful even without university!

How do I choose?

It’s a difficult decision, and one option isn’t always better than the other. Examine your existing position, considering your current credentials, what you’d like to study, your money, and what you’d like to accomplish in the future. Investigate your options and select the best one for you.

You could complete an apprenticeship first and then go to university. Or you could get a degree and then do an apprenticeship. If you choose the latter option, however, the same apprenticeship money may not be accessible.

Creating a pros and cons list can be incredibly helpful. However, the main way of making a decision is taking enough time to think it through. Only then will you be able to make a choice that is always right, as it means you have chosen a path that will make you feel happy, fulfilled, and successful in your own way.



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