‘An apprenticeship is not an easy alternative but it is breaking down barriers to gaining a degree’
Date: 4th Mar 2019
Kate Danbury, Head of Apprenticeships Hub, tells us why the earn-as-you-learn alternative to traditional learning can be the right route for anyone no matter what the career
For many people, apprentices are still only relevant to non-academic school leavers but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
What’s interesting for me, as we approach the two year anniversary of the apprenticeship levy, is what opportunities this initiative has provided to learners of all ages and backgrounds and how it is benefiting workplaces in all sectors.
First and foremost, an apprentice is an employee: they need to be a dedicated, hardworking individual who is a good cultural fit with an organisation and who has strong aspirations to become the professional they will end up as on completion of the apprenticeship.
They also need to be excellent multi-taskers to balance a full time job, study for a degree (and sometimes English and maths level 2 on top), as well as manage their family/life outside of that.
Apprenticeships are offered in so many sectors now - for instance you can become a Registered Nurse or Assistant Practitioner.
Credit where credit’s due; an apprenticeship is not an easy alternative to a standard university route, and should never be seen as the lesser of the two.
The benefits of being an apprentice are multifaceted. As an employee of an organisation you will get support from your employer in terms of a salary, holiday pay, benefits and mentor-ship throughout the apprenticeship programme.
There are no student debts or accommodation costs to pay therefore the barriers to achieving a degree are essentially broken down.
The view that we live in ‘a world in which rich kids do degrees and poor kids do apprenticeships’ is no longer the case when a ‘poor kid’ can achieve a BSc Engineering at the same time as having a job and receiving a wage, and at the end of three years not have any student debt.
This increasingly feels like a world of parity to me.
It’s been heartening at Bucks to see how different our apprentice learners are from our standard undergraduate intakes. We have a 75:25 ration of women to men, with an average age of 36. Our youngest apprentice is 18, and our oldest is 58.
It’s been so encouraging to see so many applications from individuals looking at mid-life career changes, or finally being given the opportunity to progress in a profession that they were prevented from entering through the lack of a degree, and the funding/lifestyle changes they would have needed to have put in place through the traditional learning routes.
We’ve also started to see trends being tipped: an increase in men entering the nursing profession and women studying engineering and STEM apprenticeships.
A good example of this is how Bucks is supporting Sky’s ‘Women in Tech’ initiative with the digital and technology solutions professional apprenticeship.
Who wouldn’t want to work as a software engineer with one of the world’s largest telecommunications organisations, and to achieve a fully funded BSc degree at the end of three years?
There’s much to be said about the mind set of an apprentice as well.
Feedback from academics teaching our apprentices has been incredibly positive: they’ve seen a significant difference in the work and the interactions within the classroom environment when compared to undergraduate programmes.
Apprentices need to be focused, their learning is embedded within their working environment and they are naturally going to need to be resourceful and able to communicate at all levels.
Apprenticeships can be the right route for anyone.
Background and wealth are no longer barriers to achieving higher education qualifications through the apprenticeship route.
It’s truly widening access into the professions, bringing dedicated, focused individuals into the workforce based on merit and experience, not what school you went to or what your parents earn.