Since the National Apprenticeship Service launched in 2009, apprenticeship programmes have become an increasingly popular choice amongst school leavers everywhere as an easier way into the career of their choice. There's a good chance that you have friends or family members who have already chosen to be apprentices, so you'll have already seen the benefits for yourself. However, despite there now being over a half million new apprentices each year - more than the number starting their first year at university - not everyone understands what a modern apprenticeship is really about.
According to a recent study, some 16-24 year olds are under the impression that vocational education is only for school leavers who lack the grades to be accepted onto a university course. 36% of the students questioned were told by teachers that they'd be 'more successful' throughout their career if they chose an academic route such as uni.
The reality is that an apprenticeship programme isn't an inferior achievement to university at all - it's simply an alternative option. Research has shown that both apprentices and graduates typically have the same career opportunities available to them with similar levels of happiness, job satisfaction and salaries. As an apprentice, you can easily reach the same level as a graduate in the majority of industries - and by avoiding a full three years of study (and the debt that comes with it), you'll be employed, learning and earning from day one.
Apprenticeship programmes blend practical hands-on learning at the workplace, often with elements of classroom-based teaching to help you achieve a number of qualifications. Over the period that you're an apprentice, you'll earn a salary and will likely be offered a permanent job afterwards. Within the IT sector in London, an apprentice's salary typically jumps to between £14-18,000 during their second year at the company.
Unfortunately, some of the negative assumptions about apprenticeships stem from older generations, parents and schools whose perceptions are based on the way that apprenticeships were in the past, before the National Apprenticeship Service was launched to support learners and help them to earn official qualifications.
For almost half of those people questioned in this study, Mum and Dad were named as the biggest influence to decisions about their future careers - so it's important that your parents and teachers understand your options as well as you do. The National Apprenticeship Service website is a great resource for information on any type of apprenticeship, with an entire section dedicated to explaining the benefits to parents and answering their questions.
A friend's first-hand experience of an apprenticeship programme will provide you with a non-biased account from someone you trust, but it's also worthwhile reaching out to training providers directly for guidance, as their experience with helping previous apprentices will have given them an important insight into what an apprenticeship can and can't do for you.
As the founder and CEO of Just IT Training - which will place 350 learners into apprenticeships this year - Simon Perriton has over 13 years of experience helping young people to get their first IT jobs by providing expert training and advice. Follow Simon on twitter at @SPerriton or email him at email@example.com