Mapping out your career path at the age of 17 can be somewhat confusing; you often find yourself having more questions than answers. Do you want to go to university? Are the expensive fees worth it to attain your dream job? What even is your dream job? Do you want to move away from home? What other options do you have?
Sometimes all these questions can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you’ve just left school and are pressed to make a decision – yesterday.
But if you’re not completely sold on the idea of going to university, don’t worry: there are plenty of other ways you can start your career. Like doing an apprenticeship, for example.
But are apprenticeships really a good idea? Check out the advantages and disadvantages of a government-funded, work-based training programme below and decide for yourself!
1. You’ll arm yourself with experience
Apprenticeships enable you to stay ahead of university graduates by providing you with hands-on training and give you real experience in the working world. Simply put: you’ll gain valuable experience within your chosen industry, helping you boost your CV and making future employers view you as an asset to their organisations.
2. You’ll broaden your skill set
One of the main benefits is that you’re able to build new and develop key skills that employers look for in employees, giving you an advantage over other candidates when you start looking for a ‘real’ job. Companies value skills like communication, IT, numeracy and teamwork – and the more you have to offer, the better your chances will be at landing a job.
3. You’ll earn while you learn
What’s better than receiving a salary while gaining your diploma? Although the wage is lower, it’s still something, right? In the UK, apprentices are paid the standard national minimum wage (£4.30) although many employers do tend to pay higher than the standard wage. Many university students that are already head over heels in debt also end up doing free work experience to gain the knowledge in the desired field, which means that you’d be one step ahead.
4. You’ll have no debt to pay back
According to the House of Commons Library, student debt in the UK has risen to £160 billion, as of March 2021. This is a quite daunting figure.
There are millions of students that spend their entire working life repaying their loan. However, when undertaking an apprenticeship, you will finish debt-free.
5. It will increase your confidence
The idea of having your first interview and not being successful can knock any young professional’s confidence. This confidence barrier can come in the form of uncertainty about job expectations or an unrealistic picture of the chosen career path. Those that have finished an apprenticeship may see that their confidence levels are high due to already having work experience under their belt and feeling like they already fit in.
6. You’ll gain a new qualification
By the end of the programme, you’ll be able to add another qualification to your CV and, in effect, present yourself as a knowledgeable and experienced professional to potential employers. You’ll also have the opportunity of moving to another department that may be of interest to you or the chance to bag yourself a full-time job at the end of your apprenticeship.
7. You’ll get paid holidays
Receiving a wage to go on holiday can be such a relief! You can go away, have a good time and know you’re getting paid for it, too. University students don’t have this luxury; they either have to save or use part of their loan to be able to travel.
8. You’ll get a secure income
The average length of time to complete an apprenticeship is three to four years, although this can vary depending on your choice of trade and the range of skills you can learn with your current employer. An Intermediate Level 2 Apprenticeship usually takes around 12 to 18 months and an Advanced Level 3 Apprenticeship takes around 24 months to complete.
In short, for that amount of time, you will have a set monthly wage. Apprentices do not tend to struggle to find full-time employment once they finish, and often end up staying with their sponsored company for some time.
9. You’ll get access to higher apprenticeships
Working towards a recognised qualification like an NVQ or a BTEC can help you pursue higher education, so going to university at a later stage needn’t be off the cards. In addition, higher apprentices, involving foundation degrees and HNDs, receive a wage of £170 to £300 per week.
In order to qualify for a higher apprenticeship, you must be 18 or over. Usually, applicants who have already done an advanced apprenticeship or who have a minimum of two A-levels will be eligible.
10. You'll have a wide range of choice
A lot of people think that apprenticeships are concentrated solely in areas like manufacturing or automobile repair. However, apprenticeships can be situated in a broad array of fields, such as finance, human resources, IT and marketing. Ultimately, you have many career paths to choose from when you undergo an apprenticeship.
When you are young, and you are trying to find your footing in the working world, it is always imperative to broaden your horizons and ensure you have exhausted relevant possibilities.
1. You won’t get access to certain careers
It can be extremely challenging if you attain an apprenticeship and later on in life decide that you want to change career paths. Having an undergraduate degree is an essential requirement for certain careers, particularly in areas such as medicine and science.
2. You won’t experience university life
Part of being a young adult is having the opportunity to go to university and experience the lifestyle. By jumping ahead and straight into the working world, you will miss out on the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience.
3. You’ll have greater responsibilities
Taking part in an apprenticeship will also come with a lot of responsibility, including getting to work on time, being on a schedule, taking care of your finances and, most importantly, completing all your working daily tasks. This added stress can take a toll on a young adult’s wellbeing.
4. Holidays are short
The benefit of being at university is receiving those extra-long holidays. However, when you're completing an apprenticeship, you will have the national holiday allowance which is 5.6 weeks if you are in full-time employment.
5. The competition is tough
Apprenticeships are in high demand, so you may find that it’s quite hard to get onto one compared to going to university. If you really want to get on an apprenticeship, then you need to make sure you have put some work into your application. Have a look at our tips on how to find an apprenticeship to ensure you have covered all areas.
6. The salary is lower
Starting salaries for graduates tend to be higher. According to the 2020 Graduate Labour Market Statistics report, graduates aged between 21 and 30 years old earned £9,500 per year more than non-graduates.
7. You might experience an age gap
Unfortunately, when you enroll in an apprenticeship, you may experience a considerable age gap between yourself and others who work within the same field. As a result, connecting with others can be more challenging and you may also find it difficult to be taken seriously as a professional in this field of expertise.
In most cases, cooperating with your colleagues will be an instrumental part of your job, but when you cannot identify with them, forming a bridge of communication and trust could be tricky.
8. You'll receive less recognition
It is quite common for apprentices to receive less recognition for their work. Although it can be frustrating, it is expected as you are going to be working with professionals who have relevant qualifications, plenty of experience and additional training in that field.
9. Your professional growth could be limited
One of the reasons why people enroll in an apprenticeship is to grow professionally. While many companies do a great job of training apprentices, growth opportunities could be limited as you may receive less responsibilities than others who have a different training background. As a result, this could prevent you from climbing the ladder, garnering promotions and earning career development opportunities.
10. You may need additional certifications
Is the apprenticeship your ticket to a top-notch position in your desired career? While being an apprentice will help your career trajectory quite a bit, you will likely need to attain additional qualifications, such as certifications or post-secondary education.
Apprenticeships can be a rewarding experience for anyone who wants to explore different avenues after leaving school.
While there may be some cons (much like anything else!), it is up to you and your career goals to decide whether the advtanges of enrolling in an apprenticeship outweigh the disadvtantages.
Join the discussion! Have you applied for an apprenticeship before? How was your experience? Drop us a comment in the below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 23 August 2017 and contains contributions by Andrew Moran.