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A-Level students ‘still see university as safest option for job prospects’

16 Aug 2018 By Hayley Kirton

Apprenticeships ‘less well known’ and ‘misunderstood’ counterpart to degrees, say experts

Experts are advising A-Level students collecting results today not to default to a university degree, as official statistics reveal apprenticeship starts have failed to recover to pre-levy levels. 

The Department for Education (DfE) announced this morning that “over half of [A-Level] entries were in subjects that open doors to the widest range of courses at Russell Group universities, with the proportion continuing to rise year on year”. The government statement also said today’s results indicated there would be a “record rate of 18 year olds” going to university next month. 

Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser at the CIPD, noted that while A-Level students planning to go on to university enjoyed “quite a clear pathway”, the apprenticeship route was less clear.

Crowley called on businesses to offer more high quality apprenticeships, adding that, until that happened, “many young people will opt to choose what, in their view, looks like the safest option”. 

And Becci Newton, associate director at the Institute for Employment Studies, told People Management, that, compared to university degrees, “apprenticeships remain less well known, misunderstood in respect of the range and levels of occupations they cover, and the application process is not as straightforward for colleges to support”. 

“Both are good options but the higher education route is currently much better understood by young people, parents and providers,” Newton added.  

Research by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), released earlier this week, discovered that employers prefer candidates with a relevant apprenticeship or work experience rather than a degree. 

“Many people still think that having a university degree will be most valued by employers, but our research suggests this is not always the case,” said Suzie Webb, AAT’s director of education and development. 

Steven Medley, an apprentice engineer at telecoms company Maintel, said his apprenticeship had helped further his interest in the field while he became Cisco-certified.

“I get to travel the country, visit different customer sites and get involved in new products on a regular basis,” Medley added. “It’s safe to say I’m never bored and I’m always learning.”

But official statistics suggest apprenticeships’ popularity has waned since the 2017 introduction of the apprenticeship levy. Figures published today by the DfE revealed there had been 22,300 apprenticeship starts in May 2018, up 73 per cent from 12,900 the same month the year before

However, May 2017 marked the first month of the apprenticeship levy, when the system received a significant shock. FE News reported that, compared to May 2016’s 36,700 starts, this year’s starts are down 39 per cent. 

Meanwhile, research published earlier this week by the DfE cautioned that employers were not always aware of what technical qualifications were available, so “some qualification types appear to be less highly regarded depending on the sector”.

The report, which was carried out by consultancy CooperGibson on behalf of the government department, concluded “tailoring promotional messages to local/employer need would be advantageous and may increase take-up”.

However, the department’s wider research into Level 4 and 5 qualifications – which includes NVQs and foundation degrees – suggested people with such education enjoyed good employment prospects, while the qualifications could plug skills gaps in the ICT and engineering sectors.

“We want everyone to be able to access high quality technical education and training so they can get the skills they need,” said apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton. “Having these skills can change people’s lives, leading to a rewarding career and fantastic opportunities.” 

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