Hundreds of Leicestershire students have come to the end of their A Levels and will spend an anxious summer waiting for their results.
Making the decision of what they should do next has always been a tricky one, but not for generations has the choice between apprenticeships and university higher education been quite so tough.
There was a time when apprenticeships were for those going into manual jobs, while university was for those following professional or academic routes. But these days things are not quite so simple.
Increasingly universities are opening their doors to less academic, more vocational courses, while these days apprenticeships are not just the route into work for tradesmen – with everything from law firms to software companies offering increasingly competitive apprenticeship routes.
De Montfort University, for instance, now offers a chartered management apprenticeship with Grove Park wealth management firm Mattioli Woods.
Apprentices there benefit from free university training while getting paid to work and while getting on-the-job work experience.
De Montfort University has started offering new type of apprenticeship. Pictured is the Leicester Business School and De Montfort Law School
As higher education tuition fees rise, the option of a training route where you actually get paid to learn, becomes particularly compelling.
A recent study published by The Sutton Trust, also argued that a high-quality apprenticeship is likely to offer you as much long term financial security as many undergraduate degrees.
The think tank calculates that youngsters who opt to study for a Level 5 higher apprenticeship – equivalent to a foundation degree – will earn around £1.44 million over their lifetime.
That’s almost £52,000 more than a student who studies at a non-elite university. These graduates can expect to take home around £1.39 million.
Students who graduate from the elite Russell Group university, though, will earn around £1.6million. That’s £160,000 more than someone who does a higher apprenticeship and around £212,000 more than a student at another university.
Those who gained a degree from Oxford and Cambridge have the highest earnings power, with average lifetime earnings of around £1.79million.
About 10,000 higher apprenticeships are undertaken each year, the report says, and are available at different levels, including foundation level, undergraduate degree and masters.
A poll conducted as part of the study found that 80 per cent of young people, who said they were more likely to go into higher education than start an apprenticeship, thought that getting a degree would be better for their career prospects.
Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: “If undergraduate degrees are seen as a gold standard, these vocational qualifications are too often seen as second best, or a fall back option.
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“But some of the UK’s most famous and successful entrepreneurs were formerly apprentices – from the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to the billionaire jeweller Lawrence Graff to the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
“Success can come through apprenticeships, but work is needed to boost their quantity and quality and change their public perception.”
One Bristol engineering company can demonstrate the value of this path for a long term career.
New figures show that apprenticeships are more popular than ever – with almost three million created since May 2010 as part of a government drive to create opportunities for all.
The latest official stats show a rise in the number of people reaping the benefits of apprenticeships with around 905,000 people in an apprenticeship in the last year alone.
The figures also show that there are more young people starting apprenticeships, with more than 130,000 starts by under 19-year-olds during the 2015 to 2016 academic year.
Zuzanna Wnekowska is doing an undergraduate apprenticeship based at Airbus, near Bristol
Traineeships play a significant part in the government’s commitment to creating the highly skilled workforce our employers need. The latest figures show that there were 23,900 traineeship starts in 2015 to 2016, a substantial increase from 19,400 in 2014 to 2015.
Traineeships equip young people who are looking for work with the skills, confidence and vital work experience they need to gain an apprenticeship or other job.
But at the other end of the apprenticeship spectrum, some apprentices can go on to achieve degree-level qualifications.
Zuzanna Wnekowska has just started her undergraduate apprenticeship and is based at Airbus’ Filton site, near Bristol.
She is enrolled on a two-year foundation degree programme which will be followed by a top-up third year to gain a full BEng (Hons) in Aerospace Engineering from the University of the West of England.
She said: “I visited and applied for several universities but I started having doubts and looked at other possibilities. I searched for Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Airbus online and started looking at their apprenticeship programmes.
“They seemed to offer great benefits and structure, and a degree so I applied.
“However, I had to be patient – I didn’t get an interview with Airbus until May 2015, and thought I would have to go to university; by then I had already received an offer from Imperial College.
“However, after being offered the apprenticeship I accepted without hesitation. My parents were also really pleased and thought it was a much better option due to the three years’ work experience built in.”
To find out about opportunities at Airbus click here.