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Amy Whitear Headshot

Apprenticeships: The Alternative University

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I haven't missed out on anything by not going to university. I can read for leisure without the stress of an exam looming, I can party wildly any time I choose to, and I don't have mountains of debt facing me.

Employers love my extensive experience and I've rarely had negative feedback from an interview. I'm often seen as a rare commodity: a 21-year-old with real life experience and a strong idea of where they want to go in life.

Unfortunately, a large number of students I've met view me as an oddity. Don't I know what I've missed out on? How can I ever expect to progress in life? And oh my, won't someone think of the children! How can I expect to raise healthy, happy, successful children one day if I don't have a degree to prove my worth? It is a bizarre scenario, but not something we can blame the students for.

From a very young age, we are informed by teachers and politicians that the only way to succeed in life is study, head off to university at 18, and bury ourselves in debt, acquiring some nice little sentences to add to the CV along the way. Non-graduates are often informed that they have failed at life by not having a university education under their belts. After all, there's a degree for everyone out there.

Except, well, there isn't. There isn't one for the little boy who grows up wanting to fix cars and smear grease on his face, there isn't one for the prima ballerina, and there wasn't one for me.

I grew up wanting to be Alice, spending weeks on end daydreaming of chasing white rabbits and drinking gallons of tea. The doorway to Wonderland proved elusive however, so I turned my attentions to marine biology. I had, as a naive eight-year-old, absolutely no idea what the job entailed, but neatly imagined that I would spend my days swimming with dolphins and discovering mermaids, my knowledge coming solely from an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Once I got to secondary school and the GCSE options list landed on my desk, I began to worry. The subjects on offer were interesting and useful in their own ways, but nothing appealed to me. I didn't want to be an artist, or a doctor, or a lawyer, and I definitely didn't want to be a teacher.

Teachers were not interested in my predicament, putting it down to a lack of aspirations, and refused to listen to my protests that nothing interested me enough for me to spend several thousands of borrowed money on studying it further.

I left school at 15 with a small handful of qualifications. But instead of placing a chip on my shoulder, I set about getting into the working world. After all, the world doesn't owe me a living. It was entirely up to me to make something for myself, without relying on other people to do it for me. For six years, I have worked in a series of jobs, ranging from the normal retail and waitressing gig to the exhausting stints as a hotel receptionist and bookmaker.

Along the way, I've built up a nice network of fellow non-graduates, which includes apprentices, entrepreneurs, interns and the perpetually unemployed, and I've gained enough skills to truly stand out for employers.

But despite meeting new people and being in work, it hasn't always been easy. It can be incredibly hard to survive on an apprentice's wage of just over £2 an hour. Sacrifices have been made, and I have, at times, been a right miserable cow to be around, but I've stayed confident in the knowledge that it won't be forever.

With the current job market being increasingly appalling, it always amuses me when young people insist they won't do an apprenticeship. I know that it's not a glamorous life but it's a life that keeps you living. You earn, you learn, and you gain a qualification at the end of it all. I honestly think more employers should be offering these opportunities.

I have so much respect for students who know what they want from life. They spend between three and six years fighting against the lazy Pot Noodle eating, Jeremy Kyle-watching stereotype whilst working hard to deliver consistently amazing levels of work. They deserve the praise they receive and I wish them luck when they enter the job market.

It's time for the government to wake up and realise that there are thousands of young people in this country who do want to work, who are not lazy or mugging old ladies. We just don't want to go to university, and want a viable, sustainable alternative to it. One that allows us to live off of more than soup and bread and one that is open to all.

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