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Most adults would choose university because of ‘stigma’ around apprenticeships

3 Feb 2020 By Maggie Baska

Study finds apprenticeships are considered a better alternative to higher education, but more needs to be done to promote their benefits

Most adults in England think apprenticeships are better than higher education for skills development and preparing for future careers – but the majority would still choose going to university over doing an apprenticeship, according to research.

The study of 2,000 adults in England, published today by City & Guilds to mark the start of National Apprenticeship Week, found that apprenticeships are considered a better alternative to higher education when it comes to value for money (57 per cent vs 5 per cent) and longevity of skills (39 per cent vs 13 per cent).

Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of survey respondents said apprenticeships were good at preparing young people for their future careers, compared to just 52 per cent who said the same for undergraduate degrees.



But despite this, half of respondents admitted they would still consider university as a route to develop their own workplace skills, with just 30 per cent saying they would undergo an apprenticeship to upskill.

Kirstie Donnelly, interim CEO at City & Guilds, said the research showed there “continues to be a stigma attached to taking an apprenticeship”, even though there is an apparent understanding of the benefits.

“Despite people telling us that they are aware of the benefits that apprenticeships can bring, there’s clearly still significant work to be done to make sure everyone understands the array of well-paid and challenging careers that an apprenticeship could unlock,” Donnelly said. She added that more needed to be done to promote apprenticeships within schools and more generally among the public.


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“We would like to see greater collaboration between businesses, the government and schools to promote this fantastic training route to people of all ages,” Donnelly said.

Last week, the latest figures from the Department for Education revealed there had been a 4.7 per cent drop in apprenticeship starts across England, with starts from younger people on lower-level courses seeing the sharpest decrease. The number of new starts from those under the age of 19 declined by 11.2 per cent. 

The only demographic to see an increase was those over the age of 25 starting a higher-level course, equivalent to foundation degree-level qualifications and above.  

The City & Guilds research comes as the government’s latest social mobility barometer, an annual survey of around 5,000 people from across the UK, found many thought apprenticeships provided a good opportunity for progression, but young people believed university degrees would unlock better career opportunities. 

A third (32 per cent) of respondents felt taking an apprenticeship offered young people the ‘best chance’ for career progression, followed by higher education (26 per cent) and further education (14 per cent). But this reversed among young people aged between 18 and 24 – just 14 per cent of this demographic thought apprenticeships were the best offering, compared to 35 per cent who said going into higher education would be a better choice.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said it was encouraging to see apprenticeships “getting the recognition they deserve” as a viable route for skills development, but cautioned apprentice recruitment was being hurt by funding cuts. 

“The problem is that smaller employers are traditionally the ones that recruit most young people and, at the moment, a severe shortage of apprenticeship funding for SMEs is limiting their ability to meet demand,” Dawe explained. “This is something that the chancellor must sort out in his March budget.”

Dawe’s comment was echoed by calls today from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for changes to the apprenticeship system to give SMEs funding to take on and train more apprentices. The FSB estimates that about nine in 10 apprenticeships currently being offered in small and medium firms are held by 16 to 24-year-olds. 

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