Apprenticeships can be a confusing thing to navigate, especially if you’re in a situation like I was where schools provide very little information about them. It is hard to know whether they are right for you and making the final decision can be nerve-wracking. There are many factors to consider like salary and opportunities for progression. Without proper guidance, the decision between traditional education and an apprenticeship is a difficult one to make.
It is important that you weigh up your options. Making a list of advantages and disadvantages can be very helpful to justify a choice and look at things more logically. This article will help you identify these pros and cons, hopefully making the decision much easier.
By reading this article, you will have a clearer understanding of some of the benefits and drawbacks of an apprenticeship.
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What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships can have a variety of benefits from free qualifications to professional work experience. They provide an exciting opportunity to learn while in a career of your choosing so, upon completion, you have had practical experience in the field. Funded by the government, they come at no cost to the apprentice and are open to anyone from age 16 upwards.
What kind of experience do you get from doing an apprenticeship?
The biggest draw to apprenticeships is the practical experience you get from doing one. At university or college, you spend time in a classroom being spoken to and given homework about a topic. However, when it comes to applying that knowledge in a professional setting, most students would struggle.
Studying to be an accountant, for example, is going to be completely different to actually being an accountant. With an apprenticeship, you would get the experience of dealing with clients, negotiating and even writing formal emails, which may seem simple, but is not taught in a lecture hall. For more on what you can learn from an apprenticeship as an accountant, look at this article from Asset Training.
Can you get a qualification from an apprenticeship?
Alongside a fulltime job, apprentices study towards a qualification. This is one of the other benefits of an apprenticeship; gaining a free qualification that you might otherwise have to pay for. This is especially true for degree level apprenticeships. To find out more about degree apprenticeships, check out this Think Student article.
Going the traditional university route, the average student is saddled with debt that they will most likely never pay off until it clears. Although the payback for this debt operates more like a tax and is only a small portion of a salary, graduates would much rather have that money for themselves. This problem is completely avoided in degree apprenticeships as the employer pays for the tuition fee of the degree. For more on the qualifications you can get from apprenticeships, check out this guide by Prospects.
For those of you wanting to work in accounting, some employers will even fund an ACA qualification for you to become a chartered accountant during your apprenticeship. This would otherwise come with exam fees if you were to enter as an independent student. For more on accountancy apprenticeships, look at this article by Prospects.
What industry can you do an apprenticeship in?
With apprenticeships becoming more and more popular, the options are much more varied. In the past, apprenticeships were limited to labour jobs like construction workers and electricians. Now, apprenticeships are available in anything from nursing to civil engineering.
The variety now means that learners are less likely to have traditional education as their only route into the career they want. Instead of going to university for years to study law, for example, a student can do an apprenticeship in the field and leave with a rivalling qualification minus the debt. You can find a list from the government website of the available variations of apprenticeships here.
What do employers think of apprenticeships?
Despite what many may tell you, apprenticeships are not looked down upon by most employers. The experience gained along with the specialised qualification can make an apprentice an ideal candidate for a job.
Take software engineering for example. To get into the field, your first thought might be to get a BSc of Computer Science from a prestigious university and maybe do a placement year at a technology company. A lesser considered avenue would be to do a degree apprenticeship at a technology company and get a BSc in Digital and Technology Solutions.
Some may think that the latter degree is less reputable and that employers might look down on the name. However, the fact that the degree apprentice has 4 years of practical experience under their belt makes them much more desirable. Especially in a job like software engineering where experience is almost universally considered more important than qualifications. For more on this, check out this article by Prospects.
What could you do after an apprenticeship?
Upon completing an apprenticeship, there are two common options. You can get a job as a fulltime employee or get an apprenticeship of the next level up to the current one.
Those who choose to get a regular job tend to stay in the company they did their apprenticeship with. Assuming they performed well during the program, the apprentice has established themselves as a good employee with abilities tailored to the company. Thus, they are going to be a more appealing option than an outsider who hasn’t worked at the company before.
This is a huge advantage at companies which are notoriously competitive to get into. For example, getting into Google as an apprentice, though difficult, is going to have a lower barrier of entry than applying for a regular fulltime job there. It is much easier to get in as an apprentice than work your way up to the role you want once the apprenticeship is over.
A third, perhaps less common option after doing an apprenticeship is to go on a gap year. Apprenticeships can have fairly decent salaries, especially as you go up the levels. You can read more about apprentice salaries in this Think Student article.
If you save consistently during your course, you could have a good amount of money to do with what you wish after completion. This could include travelling, picking up new skills, doing classes and you can find even more ideas about what to do during a gap year in this Think Student article.
What are the drawbacks of doing an apprenticeship?
Although apprenticeships have many advantages, they are certainly not for everyone. The specificity of an apprenticeship means they are not made for those who are indecisive about what industry they see themselves in. The popular opportunities are also incredibly competitive, more so than a place at a prestigious university.
The biggest drawback, however is the responsibility. Juggling an academic qualification and a fulltime job is a feat for even the most efficient workers. Without proper management and guidance, an apprenticeship can easily lead to increased stress levels and burnout. It is important to consider how you would deal without before doing an apprenticeship.
How do you choose which apprenticeship to do?
Although there are a variety of apprenticeships to choose from, they tend to be very specific. As they provide a fast-track into a certain career, apprentices develop the skills to become proficient in that role. When it comes to lateral career moves or trying something else out, it might be a bit of a challenge.
For example, doing 3 A-Levels in Maths, Physics and Geography will provide you with good foundational knowledge on the subjects. The variety opens the learner up to a range of career choices in STEM fields.
However, a student doing a level 3 apprenticeship as a surveying technician won’t give them the same scope of knowledge. You can imagine how one of these students might struggle more than the other if they wanted to make a change in career.
What is the social life of an apprentice like?
The social life of an apprentice is definitely going to be different to that of a regular student. Take the average university student for example. They have physical lectures and contact hours in small groups which create many opportunities to interact with age mates. Then there’s societies to join which allows people with mutual hobbies to get to know each other.
Meanwhile, a degree apprentice will have a much smaller cohort. That cohort is also more likely to include people of a variety of ages. It is harder for a school leaver to relate to an older person who might have a family and kids to get back to after a lecture.
In addition, a degree apprentice spends the majority of their time at work where they’ll have colleagues of all ages. The people working fulltime with them are unlikely to be of a similar age as degree apprenticeships attract school leavers as well as career changers. As stated in this Think Student article, apprenticeships can be done by people of any age.
How much do you get paid as an apprentice?
In general, apprentices start off pretty poorly paid. This is especially true for lower-level apprenticeships. In 2022, the minimum wage is £4.81 per hour as stated on the government website here, many companies are happy to stick to that minimum to cut costs.
Furthermore, due to the scarcity of them compared to traditional educational routes, many students feel they have no choice but to take low paying opportunities. It is generally expected and accepted that an apprentice will not be paid extremely well for at least the first year of their program.
Do apprentices get holiday?
Going the regular education route, you can expect to get a long summer holiday and half term breaks every few weeks. However, an apprenticeship is not structured the same way.
Apprenticeships are primarily jobs first as you would be spending 80% of your time there. As a result, an apprentice is entitled to 20 days of paid holiday minimum like a regular fulltime employee. This rule is outlined on the government website and you can read more about it here.
It can be quite a big leap from having regular, guaranteed holidays for weeks to having to schedule days where you wouldn’t be working. Doing an apprenticeship gives you the responsibility of a fulltime job so it’s important to consider if that’s something you could adjust to.
How do you decide where to do your apprenticeship?
Despite apprenticeship opportunities being rarer than traditional education options, there are enough for there to be disparity between programs. Not all apprenticeship courses are created equally.
An apprentice at a larger company is going to have a different experience to an apprentice at a smaller company. A bigger company might lead you to believe they have more resources and higher quality experience. However, it could also mean that an apprentice gets easily lost and forgotten as just another employee with no real, personalised guidance.
This is the kind of thing you only really find out once you have started the scheme. A company is always going to want to put their best foot forward so throughout the application process, you’ll only see the positives. This is why it’s so important to ask questions to current or previous apprentices at the company if possible. For more on the differences between working in a small company compared to a large one, check out this article by Reed.
How difficult is it to get an apprenticeship?
This is another factor to consider when getting an apprenticeship. Depending on the size of the company, you could be competing with hundreds of other candidates for one opportunity. In some cases, websites have gone down as a result of too many people trying to apply to one opportunity simultaneously.
The process itself can be tedious and drawn out, especially if you’re applying to multiple companies. Applying to a job is a waiting game a lot of the time and patience is needed to ensure you don’t get frustrated with how long some companies take to get back to you. To help you with the application process, check out this article by a Think Student writer.
Should you do an apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships are targeted towards hands-on learners who want a qualification backed up by work experience. Considering all the pros and cons mentioned previously, it may be perfect for you.
You should think about what your career goals are and if you have the ability to manage a job and a qualification at the same time. People with poor time management skills, for example, are probably not best for this kind of program.
To further your reading and to help you decide whether an apprenticeship is a good option for you, I highly recommend you read some of the other articles on the Think Student website. These cover varying topics to do with apprenticeships. Some of these are listed below: