Forbidden: Insider behind the scenes look at apprenticeships
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Every year thousand of A-level students are pushed into apprenticeships. Students are told apprenticeships does not incur the thousands of pounds of university debt from loans. They are told they can start working sooner when they undertake an apprenticeship and are told apprenticeships are just as good as going to university.
How do you separate fact from fiction? What is the best choice? In this article, I will explore the myths and realities of apprenticeships.
How does an apprenticeship work?
The application process for an apprenticeship is not like applying to university. Universities will open applications on a fixed date, close applications on a fixed date and when a programme is full the university will stop taking applications for that year. A university will run the application process at least once a year.
Whereas for an apprenticeship, there is no fixed date when all apprenticeships’ applications open and there is no fixed date when all apprenticeships applications close. Instead the responsibility falls upon you. You will need to monitor companies for when they offer their apprenticeships and applying. When applying for an apprenticeship you are not applying for a space, but you are applying for a special type of job, an apprentice. This means unlike the university application process, apprenticeships with a company may only come up once or if the company runs apprenticeship programs then they may only come available when there is a need.
If you are offered an apprenticeship, then you will receive an apprenticeship agreement. The agreement will run through the length of your training and ends once you complete the training. If you are an external candidate. Meaning, you were not hired by the company prior to the offer of apprenticeship, then the company is not obligated to hire you and they may pay an apprentice wage, which is based on their current pay schedule.
However, if you are already employed by the company and then offered the apprenticeship. Then, depending on the company, you may retain your current pay and you may be able to return to your previous role after the apprenticeship.
Regardless if you are an internal or external applicant for the apprenticeship, the company may require you to pay for professional testing fees (e.g. Prince2, ITIL, etc) or other miscellaneous expenses relating to your training.
As part of your apprenticeship, you will spend a part of your as an apprentice you will take time to obtain a recognised qualification, which will be stated in your apprenticeship agreement. This will mean when you are training, you will be working for the employer. As a part of your development you will have manager, a mentor, and you will be subject to the same rules as any other employee.
Downside of apprenticeships
There are several downsides to an apprenticeship. One downside is apprenticeships can be competitive. This can be true for apprenticeships that lead to a university degree and where there are limited programs offering the apprenticeship, like nursing.
It is important to note, not every apprenticeship leads to a university degree. Most, lead to a technical qualification and in 2020 the UK government will be starting T level qualifications in education, design, digital design and development. Followed by health in 2021. Technical qualifications will focus on technical, industry placement, maths, and English instead of theory and analysis that is included with a university degree.
Another potential downside is loss of opportunity. Loss of opportunity is an economic term when you chose one solution over another. Whilst there are other ways loss of opportunity can occur, the most common way is choosing apprenticeship over university. This means, you do not apply to university. Instead you apply for a job in hopes that, once the apprenticeship becomes available, you are offered an opportunity for an apprenticeship. If you are not successful, then what? Do you enjoy your current role enough to wait until another apprenticeship opens or have you lost an opportunity to attend university?
A third downside is pay while training as an apprentice. Because, you will be spending a part of your time on approved training courses and come to the role, without the skills someone fully-qualified for the role, your pay in comparison will be lower when comparing to other staff with similar skill set. Once you complete your training, you receive your qualifications, and if you are offered a role then you pay will the same as anyone else who is newly qualified performing the role.
Final downside is time commitment. Apprenticeship requires both studying and working. Balancing the two, especially when the qualification is a foundation degree or university degree, can be demanding. At times, it will mean making tough choices and making a commitment. By making tough choices, it can lead to feeling stress, hurting relationships, and lead to mental health issues like depression or anxiety.
Student debt versus an apprenticeship
Politicians like to talk about burdening students with student loan debt. When the facts are checked the amount of monthly student loan payments is minimal. For example, you do not have to begin repayments until you make £25,752 (for loans taken after 2012) and the payment is charged at 9% based on the amount you make minus the threshold. This means for someone earning £31,000 the monthly repayment will be approximately £39. If you, fall below the threshold there will be no payments due and after 30 years the loan will cancel.
This is in sharp contrast to the USA. In the USA student loans for 4 years of school can easily exceed $100,000 - $200,000. Plus, loans do not cancel, they cannot be bankrupted, and once the deferrals are exhausted will be responsible for paying the loans regardless of employment status. This can mean for a student in the USA they have to continue paying student loans during periods of unemployment and even in retirement. Also, for USA university students, student loan debt can be a large part of their living expense that makes taking a mortgage very difficult.
With the above, it is important to remember not all expenses relating to an apprenticeship will be covered by the employer and some apprentices may be required to pay for their own expenses.
Earning potential – university versus apprenticeship
Some apprenticeships will lead to recognised qualifications that can include foundation degrees or university degrees. From my research, when a like-for-like comparison is done I do not believe an apprenticeship will any way limit earning potential. However, technical qualifications can provide a barrier since soft-skills like communication, thinking about impact, and thinking about the wider audience may not be stressed as much. Limiting skills that are taught in university can mean advancement is slower and it can mean a loss of competitiveness in the job market.
Pulling it all together – What does it mean?
I believe, apprenticeships have been over-hyped as the way to avoid university to get a well-paying job. Reality, apprenticeships can be harder because you are working and studying instead of just studying. Because of the demands of studying, working, and other life stressors it can lead to issues that will adversely impact your life.
Even if you are good at managing your time there is another issue pay. Money is a motivator. Each of us like to think that pay is secondary. I was someone who use to believe that too. Until, I realised when I feel stress on the job, the question I come back to is, is the job worth it? For me to answer that question I always fall back on pay and the benefits I am receiving. If the answer is no, then it can compile the stress or demotivate me even more.
Assuming pay is not an issue for you and you have excellent time management skills, you must ask yourself, what happens if I do not get the apprenticeship you want? What will you be giving up perusing an apprenticeship? Take time to research when are the apprenticeship most likely to come up? How far are you willing to go to obtain your desired apprenticeship? How will you handle if you are not able to obtain your desired apprenticeship? Is there a back-up, alternative, plan?
Finally, sine it is clear student loans are not a financial burden when leaving university, the question needs to be asked, what is better university or apprenticeship? Answer to the question, it lies with you to decide what is in your own best interest.
Please feel free to contact Brighter Tomorrow or leave a comment.
- pay and conditions for apprenticeship
- find an apprenticeship in England
- apprenticeship agreement
UK Student Loan Terms and Conditions 2019 / 2020
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/introduction-of-t-levels/introduction-of-t-levels - UK Government T – Levels [last accessed 5 May 2019]