It’s no great secret that schools are, traditionally, more likely to give quality advice on university applications than they are on apprenticeships. So, it’s little wonder that many school leavers finish education without properly understanding the range of opportunities available to them.
According to new research from Santander UK, only 44 per cent of 15-16 year olds are familiar with apprenticeships, with only 8 per cent considering them an alternative to university.
While advice is improving, there are still a number of common misconceptions surrounding the qualification.
1. ‘I don’t understand what an apprenticeship is’
With university tuition fees set to rise again, an apprenticeship is your chance to earn while you learn. They can last from a year all the way up to four years or more, depending on the level of qualification, with time often spent in college to complement the on-the-job training.
A level two apprenticeship, known as an ‘intermediate’ apprenticeship, will last from a year to 18 months and are equivalent to five GCSEs at grades A* to C. An ‘advanced’ level three apprenticeship takes between 18 and 48 months to complete and is equivalent to two A-levels.
There are also higher apprenticeships available at levels four, five, six and seven. Levels four and five are equivalent to a foundation degree, level six a BA/BSc and level seven an MA/MSc.
Many companies advertise their vacancies on jobs boards such as Indeed. But many others also tweet about opportunities, so be sure to check social media.
2. ‘I’m too old to be an apprentice’
Realistically, this depends on the employer, but anybody of any age can be an apprentice, as long as they are over 16 and have the equivalent of five GCSEs at grades A* to C including maths and English.
Companies will pay the national minimum wage as minimum in most cases. However, the standard wage for an apprentice aged below 19, or aged 19 and over and in the first year of their apprenticeship, is £3.40 an hour. So, if you are 22 and in the first year of your apprenticeship you are entitled to a minimum hourly pay of £3.40, but in you are in your second year, you would be entitled to £6.95 an hour.
3. ‘Apprenticeships are only for non-academics’
This impression is thoroughly outdated, but stems from a time when apprentices were hired by craftsmen to pass on skilled trades. Now, this couldn’t be further from the truth; most, if not all, apprentices are assessed by their learning provider and their company, as well as completing regular coursework and revising to pass exams.
The rise in university tuition fees and the focus by Government on creating rigorous and quality schemes, means that apprenticeships are fast becoming a desirable route into employment. While traditional apprenticeships do still exist, other industries such as accountancy and law are also becoming increasingly accessible without the need for a degree.
4. ‘They are just a way for companies to get cheap workers’
The bottom line is that employers want to hire apprentices to develop their skills and hopefully employ them full-time once qualified: they invest in their training and development. Furthermore, in light of the apprenticeship levy set to be introduced in 2017, taking on apprentices will soon become compulsory for many employers.
As stated above, apprentices can often earn more than the national minimum wage, and since apprentices are actually employed, a pay rise could be granted before they’re fully qualified.
However, if money is still tight, there are a number of different schemes available that provide funds and bursaries to support apprentices. Discretionary learning support, which you can get from your learning provider if you’re experiencing financial hardship, is there to help cover costs like accommodation and travel, along with paying for your course materials and equipment. Although if you are an official apprentice, you are therefore employed by a company and receive a wage so this fund is not usually available to you. However, with permission from your training provider you may apply. It would be recommended to speak directly with the local council about potential financial support for personal funding.
You can access this funding if you are aged 19 or over and studying at a college that is funded by the Government Skills Funding Agency. You cannot claim if you are in receipt of student finance or on a community learning course. The amount you are paid is dependent on your circumstances. You may also be entitled to a 30 per cent discount on travel with an apprentice oyster card, which is valid for one year. Apprentices are also entitled to an NUS card.
5. ‘They aren’t a route into professional fields – what if I want to be a solicitor?’
Apprentices are hired in every industry sector and many of them go on to be successful in their chosen field. If you want to be a solicitor, or work in a similar profession, university needn’t be your only option. Try the ‘Articled Apprenticeship’ for example, offered by the University of Law; a six year scheme consisting of a four year, part-time, Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree and an 21 month part-time LPC.
Law firm, Mayer Brown, became the first in the City to offer the Legal apprenticeship programme. The firm offers a starting salary of £18,000 for candidates with AAB at A-level and A-C in GCSE maths and English.
6. ‘I have more chance of finding employment in future if I go to university’
Whether you attend university or complete an apprenticeship, a degree-level qualification can be gained via both routes. At some companies, like the National Grid, starting salaries for apprentices can reach £25,000 – a tempting alternative to university.
Since apprentices work for a specific company, candidates have a long time to impress and prove themselves to employers. In a some cases, permanent positions may be offered by the company before the apprenticeship is complete.
If that isn’t enough to convince you, according to a recent report from the Sutton Trust, apprentices with a level 5 qualification earn £50,000 more in their lifetime than someone with an undergraduate degree from a university outside of the Russell Group, taking home close to £1.5m over their career.
7. ‘OK, but I can earn more working at Tesco’
There could be some truth to this, especially if you put in the hours; but working any job as a quick-fix because you need money won’t necessarily provide you with the same kind of professional development and acceleration through the company as a qualification would. Chances are, your salary will stay the same.