The image of a typical apprentice doing some form of manual labour is fairly well-ingrained in our national psyche and might be one that is slow to alter but more young people than ever are choosing this route into a professional career. “Non-academic” apprenticeships might immediately spring to mind but there is a new generation of Higher Apprenticeships for a new generation that can lead to degree-level qualifications.

A university degree has traditionally been viewed as essential to progress in certain careers and the percentage of graduates in the UK has been rising steadily this century – from 24% in 2002 to 42% in 2017 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, there have been significant changes recently that could see this trend change.

Apprenticeship Levy

There is also now a very real alternative for young people to gain degree-equivalent qualifications (along with highly marketable business skills) without going to university at all and incurring the financial burden of student debt. Instead young people can embark on a Higher Apprenticeship scheme such as a Project Management Apprenticeship without the debt and without the uncertainty of satisfactory employment afterwards.

With the introduction by the UK government of the Apprenticeship Levy, large organisations now have a financial incentive to take on and train young people on a Higher Apprenticeship scheme and many are already doing so. This means there are many more opportunities for young people at the start of their career to become qualified, gain valuable real-world experience, earn money while training and avoid student debt.

The Increasing Burden of Student Debt

The increasing burden of student debt is coupled with new graduates finding it harder and harder to get a job once they are qualified.

Of course, plenty of people would argue that student debt is a price worth paying for the higher lifetime earning potential that you would have as a graduate, but even that trend has been bucked by research conducted for the Sutton Trust which showed that higher apprenticeships can, in fact, lead to greater lifetime earnings than undergraduate degrees from certain universities.

I don’t think anyone would argue that a degree from Oxbridge or any other Russell Group

University would be a sure way to a higher salary but those universities only comprise 24 out of a total of 130 universities in the UK. That leaves over 100 from which graduates have no more certainty of higher lifetime earnings than someone with a Higher Apprenticeship. In fact the Sutton Trust research showed that in some cases those with higher apprenticeships earned £100,000 more in their lifetime than others with degrees from non-Russell Group universities. When looking at average lifetime earnings across all universities higher apprenticeship earnings are the same as for graduates.

What Could The Future Hold?

While it might be premature to talk of schemes like the Project Management Apprenticeships being something of a revolution in the business world they will change the environment surely and steadily as more and more companies look to offset their Apprenticeship Levy by investing in training project managers of the future.

As that change starts to happen, hopefully, there is also a change in perception by the wider business world and young people themselves of how they regard higher apprenticeships compared to degrees. For them to be truly successful, higher apprenticeships must be perceived to be as good as if not better than certain degree qualifications.

Claire James