A good weekly wage, strong qualifications, and effective preparation for the world of work: with so much to offer, it isn’t surprising that more young people are considering a degree apprenticeship for their next step.
We’re very excited about apprenticeships as a pathway for more young people towards a career they love, and it looks like we’re not alone: Unifrog’s Horizons report has shown a rapid increase in the proportion of young people shortlisting apprenticeships in the last three cohorts, from 28% to 34%.
In addition, there’s been an even greater surge of interest in more advanced forms of apprenticeships. Looking at the cohort of 2019 leavers, a quarter of all Unifrog students shortlisted at least one degree level apprenticeship, compared to just 15% two years earlier.
Getting paid to learn
An increase of 10 percentage points over two years is quite a surge, so what is it about degree apprenticeships that makes them so appealing? For Christopher Norman, a Digital Solutions degree apprentice at Staffordshire University, a key incentive was “getting paid to learn”, and the promise of an immediate income appears to be equally important to Unifrog’s users, who rank ‘weekly wage’ above all other factors when weighing up apprenticeships. Given the sometimes modest initial wages on offer for apprenticeships (the minimum wage is £3.70 per hour), it’s unsurprising that students are keen to find the best-paying opportunities.
And this is where degree apprenticeships really do shine. At the time of writing, a quick search on Unifrog’s Apprenticeship tool throws up the following high-paying opportunities, amongst several others: a General Management Degree Apprenticeship with Transport for London (£429 a week), an HR Degree Apprenticeship with BP (£428 a week), and a Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship with Marks and Spencer (£416 a week). When compared to annual student fees of up to £9,250 for a university degree, it makes sense that a potential annual income of more than £22,000, for the same level of qualification, is a tempting prospect for many school leavers.
Another appeal for Christopher was hands-on experience: “I was concerned about how effective an undergraduate degree would be for preparing me for the world of work and wanted to find an opportunity that provided real life skills to give me a head start in my career.”
Christopher’s desire to gain ‘real life skills’ is perhaps not surprising when we consider that, according to a survey carried out by The Chronicle of Higher Education, many employers place more weight on experience than academic credentials when evaluating a recent graduate for employment, particularly within science and technology. This is another area where degree (and other level) apprenticeships excel: the majority of an apprentice’s time will be spent in the workplace, where they will develop a skill or trade through hands-on learning.
Are degree apprenticeships set to become as popular as university degrees?
Despite their recent increase in popularity amongst students, it looks like degree apprenticeships have a way to go before they’re as prevalent as university degrees. According to Department for Education data, only 3,100 students under 19 started a higher or degree apprenticeship in England in 2017-18, compared to around 205,000 English 18-year-olds being accepted to UK higher education institutions in 2018.
Unifrog’s Horizons report points to several possible reasons for this, one of which is a lack of widespread availability. ‘Distance from home’ was the second-highest ranking factor for students weighing up apprenticeships and, given that most apprentices will need to travel to a workplace every day rather than stay in purpose-built university accommodation, students considering apprenticeships might feel more geographically constrained in their choices than those selecting university courses.
Another issue might be a prevailing stigma surrounding apprenticeships. Professor Alison Wolf, an expert on education and skills from King’s College London, once spoke about previous reforms to vocational education being “a great idea for other people’s children”, suggesting that more affluent parents don’t push their children towards vocational routes. Unifrog’s data suggests that stigmas around apprenticeships (even the highest levels of apprenticeships) do persist and that fewer students from well-off backgrounds are exploring these opportunities. 31% of high-attaining students from state schools shortlisted a higher or degree apprenticeship, compared to just 19% of high-attaining students from independent schools.
A final limitation worth considering is lack of awareness. For Christopher, higher education seemed like “the only viable pathway when in sixth form”, and it wasn’t until his mother suggested the idea of a degree apprenticeship following his work experience placement that he began to consider it. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that degree apprenticeships are a relatively new pathway for young people and, as the number of universities that offer degree apprenticeships continues to grow, it’s possible that students’ awareness of degree apprenticeships as a viable alternative to traditional degrees will increase correspondingly. In the meantime, Christopher suggests that teachers “do what they can to present all the options to students and develop students’ readiness for the world of work as much as possible.”
If you or a colleague would like to find out how Unifrog can help you to do just that, get in touch with a member of our team today by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (020 3372 5991) - our platform has a wealth of tools and resources to help your students find their perfect pathway, and we’d love to introduce you to them.
To read more about the key findings from Chapter 3 of the Horizons report, click here to download a full copy.
Horizons report, Unifrog
The Role of Higher Education in Career Development: Employer Perceptions, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Apprenticeships and traineeships data
End of cycle report 2018, UCAS
Does Education Matter?: Myths about education and economic growth, Alison Woolf