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University vs Apprenticeships

A guest blog by Haider Ali

Apprenticeships: aren’t they for people who don’t get good grades?

I don’t want to go into engineering or construction so it’s not for me, right?

Only a degree can secure you a well-paid job and, besides, aren’t apprentices paid pennies?

These are all valid questions. In fact, these were the exact questions racing through my mind when I was doing my A-Levels just 3 years ago.

My name is Haider and I’m a higher apprentice working in finance at a FTSE100.  I’m going to share what I wish someone had shared with me before I almost talked myself out of making one of the most game-changing decisions of my life.

Throughout secondary school, I was a straight-A student when it came to my GCSEs so the seed of going to university was planted in my mind from quite an early stage, by both my teachers and my parents. Within BAME communities in particular, I understand first-hand that a degree is seen beyond a qualification. It’s viewed as a social status symbol that a vast majority of parents want their child to obtain to be regarded as successful. But the truth is that success is defined by you, not the paths you take.

Before I had even started sixth form, I genuinely expected to be going to university by the end of those 2 years. If you told me I’d experience the things I have and be where I am now 3 years ago, I probably would’ve laughed at you.

At sixth form, I studied A-Levels in Maths, Business, Economics and Biology. I first came across the revolutionary concept of an apprenticeship through one of the career fairs I attended in Year 12. I was so surprised to learn of the choices down this route. I genuinely used to think that the majority of apprenticeships stopped at Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) or Level 3 (A-Level equivalent) and that they were only for blue-collar occupations. However, I learnt that there were higher and degree apprenticeships out there (Levels 4-7) which was really eye-opening. Industries spanned from law, to digital marketing through to engineering and even health care, to name a few. I couldn’t believe nobody had told me about this sooner.

Also, some of the apprenticeships offered were so different to the companies offering them. There are energy companies with HR schemes, retail companies offering IT programmes, and the list goes on. I’m actually doing my own finance apprenticeship in an engineering company. Who would’ve thought it? Some of these life-changing opportunities are hidden where you least expect them.

I was conditioned to believe that, because I got A*/As at A-Level, my value after sixth form would only be enhanced by attending an elite Russel Group university or even the likes of Oxbridge. Anything else was me ‘selling myself short’. You may be predicted As/Bs and realise that an apprenticeship you like the sound of requires 3 Cs. Don’t rule it out. Grade requirements don’t work in the same way as university. Generally, the better the university and the harder the course, the higher the A-Levels you need. Apprenticeships are different. They require well-rounded applicants so grades are just one part of the equation. After all, you will be working as well as learning. You’ll need drive and a genuine interest because these companies will be investing money into you and your growth. Imagine if employers only hired people with straight As and first-class degrees. So many people with incredible careers would be unemployed right now.

To clarify, this is not a rant about me telling people not to go to university. That’s ludicrous. All I’m asking is for you to have an open mind about what route is better suited to you. It’s your life after all, right? Even I applied to 5 universities alongside various apprenticeships to keep my options open. So, forget about what the people around you are doing, forget about the cultural pressures your parents may be projecting onto you for a moment and focus on you. Learn about yourself before you even consider which career you wish to pursue. What are your favourite subjects? What unique skills make you stand out? Could you do some work experience or seek advice from a mentor to learn more?

And once you’ve decided, also appreciate that it’s okay if you decide to switch lanes into different roles and industries later down the line. It’s unrealistic to assume that, as a teenager, you’ll have your whole life planned down to a tee. You’re not a fortune teller. The majority of people in their current jobs probably didn’t think they’d end up where they are now when they were younger. They probably won’t have even imagined what they’ll be doing in 10 years’ time. That’s okay.

If you are someone who wants to carve out their own version of success and feels ready to start a journey into their dream career sooner rather than later, then an apprenticeship could be a better fit for you. You’ll also get the chance to earn a competitive salary (not the pennies that people think) and have the opportunity to learn as much as you are willing to. You’ll be able to create a great social life with people you meet along the way. Please don’t rack thousands of pounds of student debt because of FOMO with regards to the university social life. The end goal here is your career. If a degree gets you there, then that’s great but, equally, there are much more efficient routes of getting there (e.g. degree or higher apprenticeships) which is where your research will come in.

In a constantly changing world, it’s time to redefine what an apprentice is and steer away from these archaic stereotypes. We need more diversity in apprenticeships and I firmly believe that, in the current climate, apprentices will matter now more than ever as we look to rebuild the economy.

Be brave enough to lead the way, don’t always follow the crowd.

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