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Apprenticeships must get on equal terms with university

Alex Meikle

If I were to give you two options – take up an electrical apprenticeship in which you would earn £60,000-plus over four years, or go to university and be saddled with debts averaging around £44,000 – which would you choose?

There are £100,000 reasons and more why the smart option would be to go for an apprenticeship. 

Of course, it’s not all about the money. An apprenticeship also results in an electrotechnical engineering qualification, opening the door to many more career possibilities and a profession that will provide an income throughout your working life. Engineering technicians can earn around £40,000 a year, while chartered engineers are paid more than £60,000.

Contrast this with the university route, which provides an academic degree, but at significant cost and, in many cases, little certainty about future job prospects. In fact, more than 58 per cent of UK graduates actually work in non-graduate jobs, according to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

It’s widely known that within engineering there is an ongoing skills shortage. However, recent YouGov survey findings, commissioned by trade association the ECA, the Joint Industry Board and training provider JTL, show that very few young people are being encouraged into the industry.

In fact, less than 8 per cent of students aged 15-18 were being advised to seek a work-based apprenticeship after their studies. This compares with some 85 per cent being encouraged to go into further or higher education, such as university study. In addition, more than a quarter of students (28 per cent) said they had never even been spoken to about work-based apprenticeships by their school or college.

Up the garden path

The YouGov survey findings show that too many young people are effectively being led up the garden path by careers advice in schools, which is significantly out of step with the needs of industry and future employers.

“The industry has a great story to tell about the range of career opportunities an apprenticeship can bring”

These broader challenges are also applicable to the electrotechnical industry, with a separate ECA survey finding that more than six in 10 employers believing that schools do not understand the benefits apprenticeships can offer to students.

While there is more that schools can do to improve this situation, the industry must also step up. The ECA and partners are looking into how we can support and encourage industry employees to get involved in governing bodies, where they can have a direct impact on careers guidance – as well as general perceptions of the industry.

Finest ambassadors

The industry has a great story to tell about the range of career opportunities an apprenticeship can bring. Given our industry is constantly evolving and is often at the cutting-edge of new technological developments, there will continue to be great opportunities along the way. 

One approach to raising awareness could be utilising apprenticeship ambassadors, such as recent ECA Apprentice of the Year Jordan Bancroft of Imtech Engineering Services, to talk in schools about the benefits and opportunities from a technical qualification. Jordan, for example, worked on the Olympic Stadium Transformation Project, which converted the stadium into a multi-use sporting venue.

If we are able to use ambassadors such as Jordan to help promote our industry, then in time apprenticeships may ultimately be given equal billing with university study. The ultimate goal – a revolution in career opportunities for young people – is one that we should not pass up.

Alex Meikle is director of skills and employment at the ECA

Readers' comments (2)

  • Can we get one thing clear?

    Apprenticeships and Degree's / Academia are not NECESSARILY 'right' for EVERYONE.

    I say this as CEng BEng(Hons) and a Director of my own Engineering Practice with an APPRENTICESHIP behind him and some one who started, and left a MPhil / PhD as his work was 'to practical'.

    A GOOD Apprenticeship can, and SHOULD take the RIGHT candidate FURTHER than a Degree, but EQUALLY the right Candidate will get MORE out of the Degree.

    ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL - the sooner the 'establishment' realise this and try to make ALL school leavers conform to one template or another the better.

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  • Why can't we go back to the tied apprenticeships of the 60s which worked well and provided quality craftsmen. Does anyone remember the apprentice competitions at Olympia (top floor) and just how good they were? No minimum wage, just the working rule agreement. Structured training under an apprentice master and day release (via the CITB/Government - my firm had so many apprentices and indentured trainees it got money back from the CITB). Your parents were interviewed and signed up to ensuring that you went on your day release and to support you through your apprenticeship. Apprentices were better off than indentured 'professional' trainees in that they were paid by the hour rather than a salary (I started at 19 on a salary of £7.50 a week - £139.50 at todays values).

    I was an indentured QS (IQS - RICS would not let us in if we worked for a contractor), started late at 19 but was a graduate member by 23. All of us were far more use than a degree qualified QS as we did both Building and Civils, Structural/HVAC/Light/Sewage/Electrical/Water Engineering and Technology, Land Surveying, Building Regulations plus Arbitration and Proofs of Evidence; try asking a degree 'qualified QS what he/she covered. One of my college colleagues (a lady - yes back then) went on to be Chief QS of Laing.

    Difficult but worth it; remember that Frank Taylor (founder of Taylor Woodrow) was a carpenter (via an apprenticeship) there are many more.

    Why does a nurse need a degree rather than on the job SEN/SRN and why were the old hospitals far more germ free than their modern counterparts (partly the standard of early nurse training partly no suspended ceilings and hard finishes). Their training was made easier as indeed were the police and other government services and some retail and trade organisations by residence accommodation.

    I think we through the baby out with the bathwater, i didn't do a first degree but now have an MSc in Construction Law and Arbitration and over 50 years (still going) mostly enjoyable time in the Construction Industry almost all over the world.

    Time to think again.

    David A Roberts

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