Why are we not talking about degree apprenticeships?

By Becca Dean, August 23, 2018

Last week FE weekly published an article on degree apprenticeships, questioning whether they are a viable alternative to University.

Put simply, there are huge benefits to degree apprenticeships, both for the apprentice and the employer:

  • The average starting salary for degree apprentices is £18,000
  • They work in their chosen field for up to five years, becoming highly skilled at the job, gaining valuable experience and filling often chronic skills gaps
  • They support employers and universities to better work together creating meaningful conversations around talent solutions
  • The apprentice receives time off for training and study, bringing new skills back in to the business
  • Apprentices come out with a degree and avoid the £9,000 a year annual fees of University

As I was reading the article I thought back to my time as a teacher and asked myself whether I could have done more to promote apprenticeships to my students. I definitely spoke to my students about both degrees and apprenticeships as viable routes to employment but was I fully equipped to really promote them both equally? How much did I really know about degree apprenticeships and the benefits to the young people in my classroom? On reflection, as a busy teacher in an inner city London School I do not remember being given the time or adequate resource to give relevant information about any type of apprenticeships to my students. In fact, in a study published just last month by The Sutton Trust over a third of teachers polled, said they were unlikely to recommend apprenticeships due to a lack of sufficient information- that needs and has to change.

Teachers are not the only ones confused. A recent survey by The Chartered Management Institute of 1,004 UK parents of 11- to 18-year-olds, found that only one in five had any knowledge of apprenticeships. Worryingly, awareness of these programmes was much worse among families from some of the least advantaged communities across the UK. Parents are the primary source of careers advice for young people, so how do we raise awareness?

The FE article also stated that only 117 degree apprenticeship are currently on offer across the UK. So, how can we raise awareness or ask that they be considered a viable alternative when your comparing that to the 30,000 university courses that were available through clearing this A-level results day? More degree apprenticeships will become available later in the year, but surely at the time of year when young people are most focussed on their future after leaving school, universities and training providers should have been fully prepared for this moment! Without providing a viable choice, they are left with no other option. It’s a huge disservice to those young people for whom University isn’t the right option.

Given there are so few degree apprenticeships there’s no wonder teachers are not equipped to promote them and parents are not aware of them.

But lack of availability or awareness isn’t the only reason apprenticeships are not well promoted. It’s complicated. There’s a huge lack of clarity as to how apprenticeships really work; a load of outdated perceptions that surround them; and a huge need for training providers and employers to work together to manage the supply and demand. If these stakeholders are not on the same page and working together how can we really make apprenticeships a viable alternative to University?

From my time as a teacher and as founder of The Girls’ Network I have encountered countless talented, bright young people for whom University isn’t the right option. I’ve joined Further my Futures to open up access to apprentices, to employers and to provide young people with an easy, clear way to access them. We believe that cutting through the complexity around apprenticeships we can empower businesses to lead a change in post-16 education.