Don’t look over there, degrees are where it’s at, all the cool kids are doing them…

What do you get when you cross free training, almost guaranteed job and some pocket money? Something that is more compelling than a third rate degree from a failing institution. I’ve issued caution and sagacious words to a small but disinterested audience on this matter for some years now but it does seem that the tipping point has finally come.

For too long and too often apprenticeships were seen as the sickly cousin of the degree when it came to accessing one’s career of choice but now those perceptions are careering around the corner at a rate of knots. If corners do indeed have a place in maritime analogies. The doubling down on the issue of fees, the interest rate hikes on those loans, the grotesque grade inflation and the opening of ever more ‘new’ universities (although perhaps the parentheses should be around universities) have all conspired to make the modern apprenticeship feel like a more appealing prospect.

It’s by no means perfect, the apprenticeship levy has been a confused and muddled affair that has done little to positively impact the students and the refusal to fall into sync with the traditional academic year is a confusing one. But for the obvious kinks that are being worked out, I do think a rosier future lies ahead.

The Sutton Trust have conducted a survey of teens and whilst not exhaustive does suggest a change in attitudes with 64% of those surveyed  saying they would be either ‘very’ or ‘fairly interested’ in pursuing an apprenticeship over university. A figure which represents a 9% swell since 2014.

The larger issue which is one which I encounter all too often in schools and with students I speak to is that the schools aren’t keeping pace with changing attitudes with a whopping 40% of students having never been spoken to about apprenticeships. And there lies the rub, until schools start openly presenting the alternatives as equally valid the parental and societal bias will be upheld.

I have long advocated for university but question its necessity for huge swathes of students who are going predicated on advice that is outmoded and actively untrue about its necessity to access so many careers. Like the Child Snatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, schools are proactively peddling lies and luring children towards a self serving end. Now we can debate how cynical that is but it’s fair to say that a school’s reputation can be won or lost based on their students’ destinations and apprenticeships aren’t getting the kind of mad love they deserve in schools and colleges.

Child Snatcher0001
Lies, lies and damned lies. Too much focus on university over apprenticeships has left students retraining at greater cost later in life.

Speak to anyone in business and the last thing they are clamouring for is more graduates with an inflated sense of self worth and 2:1s in Law and Psychology from a bronze provider. They want bright, practical, ambitious apprentices who are prepared to do some work, get stuck in and learn about the work from the people who are actually doing it. But with a bowel emptyingly concerning figure of nearly two thirds of teachers refusing to recommend or promote the route of apprenticeships to students with good grades, the apprentice schemes are being cut off at the knees.

If apprenticeships are to thrive, we need to overhaul the careers guidance in this country in tangible ways, which means educating and informing the teachers who are  tasked with this stuff to get over their university at any cost thinking and take practical advice from people who actually know what they are talking about. If the students are ahead of the curve and the teachers are slower on the uptake then that’s something that should be front and centre of a national debate. Not hiding away in the dark recesses of the internet on a blog like mine.

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