Is an apprenticeship for you? An alternative to a traditional degree

Kyle Lawrence, 22, from Essex, is an apprentice at a logistics company, working to move clothes around the world. “We bring things in from east Asia and get everything booked into containers or on a plane,” he says. With the office closed and some ports shut, it’s perhaps a job you’d most expect to have been strongly affected by coronavirus. But he’s able to work from home and continue his learning via virtual workshops and webcam chats.

Other apprentices are having similar experiences. Sophie Bettelley is an apprentice nurse with Northamptonshire health and care partnership. She’s glad to be able to continue doing phone consultations during the pandemic. Bettelley has been ringing people who are at high risk to check if they have access to food. “There’s a lot of pressure but it’s a privilege to be able to help,” she explains.

Doing an apprenticeship can be a good way to weather the coronavirus downturn. Apprentices are recruited throughout the year, so if you’re not sure about university, there’s no harm taking your time and waiting to see what comes up. A lot of employers have furloughed their HR departments and as they start to come back on board, more jobs are likely to be advertised.

But not all industries are secure and apprentices are employees, so they are subject to the same issues as other working people. Currently, those employed in the motor, retail and hospitality sectors are most at risk – though this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been made redundant.

Jessica Suffield, 19 from Bradford, is in her second year of an apprenticeship at Porsche. Although she’s been furloughed, she has carried on learning from home, with online exams and video calls with her assessor. “The company has paid us the extra, so we’re still getting 100% of our wages,” she says. “I feel supported and I think I’m in a better position than my friends who went to uni.”

According to David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, many companies will not be recruiting as many apprentices as normal. “We expect young people seeking apprenticeships to find it much more difficult this year, but are working hard to secure opportunities with employers,” says Hughes.

Degree apprenticeships are potentially the best of both worlds as you can get a full degree and earn money at the same time. Apprentices are employed throughout the training and spend part of their time at university (minimum 20%) and the rest with the employer. Wales and Scotland have their own approaches, with graduate apprenticeships in Scotland and higher and degree apprenticeships in Wales.

With more than 100 universities now offering degree apprenticeships, Mark Dawe, CEO of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers thinks this could be the safe option. “A lot of these degree-level apprenticeship programmes are in the core of the business where they will still want to be recruiting,” he says.

“Getting an apprentice is much better value to the business than someone coming in cold with a degree.”

Where to find advice on apprenticeships

  • The first place to look for details about apprenticeships is the National Apprenticeship Service website. Enter your location and use keywords to narrow your search.

  • Take a look at company websites, especially if there’s a major employer in the area you’re interested in. Jessica Suffield says this worked for her. “I Googled apprenticeships near me and the company website came up. I applied online and got an interview a month later.”

  • You can find details of higher and degree apprenticeship vacancies on the Ucas website and you can check out university websites and see what they are offering and with which employer.

  • The National Careers Service is good for advice. The process is rigorous. Research testimonies from former apprentices to find out how to prepare.

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