THE BLOG

University Isn't for Everyone - Politicians Need to Promote Apprenticeships Amongst School Leavers

15/08/2013 11:53 BST | Updated 14/10/2013 10:12 BST

Since New Labour's stated desire to send fifty per cent of all school leavers to university, young people like those receiving their A-Level results today have grown up thinking a degree is the only path to a successful career.

For too long, a stigma clouded apprenticeships. But now that stigma has gone.

A degree is no longer the only route that the ambitious and capable can take on their way to fulfilling their potential. Apprenticeships are a wholly viable option.

A-Level leavers must make the choice that is right for them as individuals. For many, a conventional university degree will be the right one. But university is not for all. Apprenticeships are undergoing a renaissance, proving to be a popular alternative for thousands of young people who have recognised a raft of benefits that a degree cannot give them.

Combining actual work, as opposed to work experience, with structured learning, they are a more financially attractive, and sometimes more individually appropriate alternative to the academic route.

The financial implications for those embarking on a three-year undergraduate programme are frightening, many of which will have upwards of £50,000 debt after three years of study under the new fees system.

Developing 'sector' knowledge at the same time as combining it with academic learning via undertaking an apprenticeship is a potent mix and provides a great platform for high-achievers to shine early and get those early jumps up the career ladder. As many graduates have found in the last few years, a degree without such applicable skills in a specific field can leave them floundering in the jobs market.

Apprenticeships are no longer only associated with manufacturing and engineering trades either, as would have been the case 20 years ago. It is a term that equally describes the training, education and learning that will be received by 10,000 young people in the legal, accountancy and consulting fields, as recently announced by Vince Cable when reaffirming the Government's commitment to supporting 600,000 apprenticeship places per year.

The UK is at the forefront of this movement. Progressive moves by the Coalition, which has supported 600,000 apprenticeships and growth in professions that until recently were the domain of post-graduates only, are testament to a much more inclusive and forward looking society.

"We should challenge all three major parties to pledge further investment in apprenticeships post-2015."

The government should be congratulated. But we should not sit back and rest on our laurels. We should challenge all three major parties to pledge further investment in apprenticeships post-2015.

A few years ago there were not that many alternatives to university; many of the standing social and cultural norms, the parental pressure to 'do better than we did', made the academic route the de facto path for the vast majority of young people with the required grades to get a place.

The broad range of apprenticeships on offer now provides a real alternative for young people that want to experience the working environment, build a career and earn a living at a time that they feel ready to do so.

Building on that for the long-term will go a long way to ensuring Britain succeeds in the global race by tackling long-term youth unemployment and giving school leavers like those receiving their results today the skills required when entering the work place.

Richard Grice is Chief Executive of Pera Training, one of the largest providers in the UK of government funded and commercially tailored training programmes.