Choosing to Earn While You Learn
For decades, governments of both stripes have been pushing the message that a place at a university is available to all. The implicit ideology being that having a degree is a necessary requirement for finding a well-paid and fulfilling career.
In 2020, Covid-19 restrictions denied many students face-to-face time with tutors and peers, leading to concerns around a possible drop in university applications. However, applications reached their highest-ever levels in the following years and with a record 767,000 received by UCAS in 2022, a record for full-time undergraduate places.
While no one disputes the moral position of fully democratising access to higher education, it may not be affordable, or appropriate for all. In the current cost-of-living crisis the parents of those young people who don’t qualify for a student loan may feel unable to help support them for a proposed three or more years of study. And those who qualify for loans may be reluctant to commit to future debt in these uncertain times.
While some professions such as medicine require completion of a university degree as the starting point for training the talent of tomorrow, for tens of thousands of the unfilled job roles in the UK economy a university course may not be the answer. There is no need for young people to take on high levels of debt, or for parents to make great sacrifices, when modern apprenticeships offer the chance to earn while you learn.
University is also not the preferred route for many 16-year-olds who are keen to leave school and find a job. Many decide to continue to A’ levels but even amongst this group, university is not the default ambition. Apprenticeships are available at different levels. Level 2 is equivalent to GCSE, Level 3 is equivalent to 2 A’ level passes, Levels 3 & 4 are an alternative to a foundation degree or the first-year of undergraduate study and Degree Apprenticeships Level 6 & 7 are equivalent to a full under-graduate or Masters’ Degree. With so many important job functions requiring hands-on skills and practical experience there are literally thousands of different apprenticeship options available.
Filling the skills gap
The well-documented skills shortage also highlights the need for mechanisms that equip people with workplace-ready skills. A recent report by the Construction Skills Network predicts that the industry will need an extra 225,000 workers by 2027. According to a survey by Hays Recruitment, 94% of employers reported a digital skills shortage in 2022, and research by Skills for Care recently concluded that another 480,000 adult social care workers would be needed by 2035. This is a crisis for all private and public sector organisations.
Many roles in these short-staffed industries can be accessed via an apprenticeship, that offers people a paid job with structured training. As mindsets change and memories of old-style apprenticeships as cheap labour with no future job opportunities fade, the government is now promoting apprenticeships as the solution to help the economy fill the skills gap.
The apprenticeship advantage
Unlike a more academic course of study, apprenticeships provide well-structured opportunities to learn on the job, with some classroom-based and online learning alongside – usually equating to one day per week. Full immersion in the role gives apprentices a deeper understanding of what is involved in the day-to-day of the job. They develop current and future-appropriate skills and have professional mentors in the workplace to guide them, as well as tutors to help them develop learning skills and techniques.
In many cases, completing an apprenticeship is a direct doorway to permanent employment at the end of the course. Even when an employer is only able to retain the best of the cohort, those apprentices not offered a permanent position will have had the opportunity to build a valuable skills base with contemporary industry experience, that can help them secure a role elsewhere in the sector.
It is of course vital that employers provide an apprenticeship in partnership with a well-respected learning provider to ensure quality in training. The college and online learning-based element of apprenticeships helps people gain important skills beyond the specific practical skills for their future chosen career. They learn to develop soft skills such as working with customers and colleagues, good working practices like time-keeping, and learning skills such as how to revise and sticking to a regular learning timetable.
Digital transformation is sweeping through many industries and sectors and digital skills are now considered key. Parallel digital transformation in the education sector means learners are acquiring digital skills while accessing course content, monitoring their own progress and for assessments, helping to ensure they have the appropriate digital skills for future employability.
A sustainable skills pipeline
Apprenticeships aren’t just for young people leaving school and college. Many employers are now using this route to retrain and upskill existing employees of any age. They can access funding for these trainees in the same way, ensuring that everyone can benefit from developing an up-to-date skillset.
The battle for talent is already sharpening employer appetite for developing their own sustainable talent pipeline by investing in training, upskilling and apprenticeships. The focus on developing employable skills has been increased with the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022. It introduced mechanisms that enable employers to be more involved in shaping course content and delivery with learning providers. This ensures better alignment of course design and resources so that apprentices have the appropriate and up-to-date skills required by their industry and businesses in the local area.
The importance of being able to earn while you learn, being able to support oneself and/or save for the future instead of accruing student debt, will be increasingly important to young people who need a sense of security about their futures in these uncertain times. Hopefully, the economic imperative to explore apprenticeship routes will signal a sea change, as more candidates see the value of apprenticeships and can develop the skills the UK economy needs, while building towards their own future careers and financial security.
Apprenticeships provide a valuable opportunity to learn a trade or skill while earning a wage, but success depends on the quality of training and support provided by training providers and employers. Advanced Education offer an unrivalled suite of solutions; bksb provides online learning resources to support English and Maths skills development, while Smart Apprentices helps manage apprenticeship programmes with tools for tracking progress and communicating with learners. In addition, our newest member PICS, is an ILR designed to help training providers manage apprenticeships, funding, and compliance requirements.
Being a part of Advanced Education means all your data is connected and you can hit the ground running with our integrated platforms. We support apprenticeship success by providing personalised learning resources, streamlining administrative tasks, and tracking learner progress in real-time. With the help of Advanced Education, apprentices can achieve their career goals while earning a wage, and training providers can deliver high-quality programmes that support their apprentices' success.