Are apprenticeships the universities of the future?
Being 18 years old is a challenge at the best of times with multiple choices to make about a whole range of things but, surely, one of the most difficult decisions must be choosing which career path you’re going to follow.
Traditionally, there have been two main options; head straight into the workplace to earn money or go to university and gain further qualifications in the hope that a well-paid job would be waiting for you upon graduation. While for some careers, for example law or medicine, a degree is still a requirement, for many others degree level apprenticeships such as those offered by our own BGL Academy, are an attractive alternative.
The Sutton Trust’s annual survey of 11-16-year olds has shown that the proportion of young people who think it’s important to go to university to do well and get on in life fell steadily between 2013 and 2018. In 2018, 77% of those surveyed said they were likely to go to university, compared to 86% in 2013. Of those who were likely to go to university, or weren’t sure yet, nearly half were worried about tuition fees and the idea of having to repay student loans for up to 30 years. And of those that said they are unlikely to go into higher education, 44% cited financial reasons.
It’s hardly surprising then that the concept of getting paid to study for a qualification, without the possibility of long-term student debts, is increasingly appealing. Figures released by the Department of Education show that between August 2018 and January 2019, 225,800 apprenticeships were started in England, a 10% increase on the same period a year earlier.
The same figures show that there has been a shift in the level of apprenticeships from lower level, school leaver training, to higher level degree and postgraduate programmes. Of the 375,800 apprenticeships started in the 2017/18 academic year, 4,500 were at level seven which covers postgraduate level courses, compared with 30 in the 2015/16 academic year. In the same period the number of level two apprenticeships, equivalent to GCSEs, fell from 291,330 to 161,390.
Since we set up the BGL Academy in 2018, more than 200 apprentices have joined us and are now at varying stages of their pathway. Our apprentices come from all walks of life; alongside those who have just finished A levels there are some who are returning to work after a career break, as well as existing members our team who want to develop further within the business or take their career in a different direction.
The range of apprentice opportunities we offer varies too. Alongside roles in dedicated areas such as digital or customer services, our business pathway scheme offers the chance to experience a range of our departments on rotation before deciding on a career option. The one thing they all have in common is that they offer the chance to learn on the job and gain valuable experience that those studying at university must wait until after graduation for.
At BGL we encourage our colleagues to continually develop and upskill themselves. For some this means a fixed career pathway but for others it may mean taking a development opportunity in another department. We’re seeing fewer examples of people following what may have been described as a traditional career ladder with people opting for something we call ‘patchwork careers’, applying skills to different areas and reskilling throughout their working life. People are focusing much more on work that excites and motivates them and keeps providing new challenges. Offering opportunities for colleagues to take this approach is good for them as it keeps them engaged and its great for us as we keep loyal people who have multiple skills and understand our business from different angles.
Having said all of this, though, our thriving graduate programme continues to be a key source of talent and something we want to continue to develop and grow. More than 20 graduates will join us this year and many of our former graduates are now in management positions within BGL. The expansion of routes into our business is not a replacement for graduate schemes, far from it, it’s about providing more opportunity to more people at different stages of their lives. The one thing all of our colleagues share is an absolute synergy to our organisational values and a passion and determination to take opportunities and build their careers proactively.
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