You’re Hired!

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Becoming an apprentice is a great alternative to joining the student ranks. We can earn while we learn, avoid massive debt, and boost our earnings by up to £150k over a lifetime.

When Zara McDermott, star of the 2018 series of Love Island, finished her A-Levels she decided to become an apprentice. She had good grades, some of the best in her year, which would have got her into most universities. But as she told the BBC, “I felt like university was becoming a little bit of a lifestyle choice as opposed to a future career choice. I really just wanted to get myself stuck into the world of work.”

But as Zara found out, there’s still a stigma around apprenticeships in the school system. “My headmaster was like, ‘Why would you go for an apprenticeship?’” Zara stuck to her guns and ended up in an advisor role at the Department for Education.

There’s never been a better time to do an apprenticeship. The government aims to get 3 million people onto one by the end of 2020. It’s core to their further education programme, and there are between 12,000 and 20,000 vacancies at any one time. Over 170 industries now offer apprenticeships, and completing one boosts our earning potential by ten per cent on average. With university fees nearing ten grand a year, apprenticeships are a great way to avoid debt and get a head start in a career.

As Zara’s story shows, at school we’re often told that the only route to success is through university. The message is drummed in from early on: Get your GCSE’s, get your A-Levels and then go to uni. After graduating, we’ll land a graduate job earning good money and live happily ever after. For some, getting a degree is the right path. But for others, it’s not. So if we don’t take the uni route, have we failed in life before we’re even out of school? Or have we dodged a £50,000 debt trap that comes with fewer and fewer guarantees?

One research report showed the average uni graduate has a starting salary of £14,734 for their first job.

That’s compared to £18,463 for those completing an apprenticeship, who could be around the same age. Add to that the fact that apprentices get paid while developing their skills and don’t end up in tens of thousands of pounds of debt. Suddenly, the idea of a degree as the only way to get ahead in a career starts to look

Tom Mynott
Tom Mynott (L) with mentor Kevin Brown at the 2018 National Apprenticeship Awards

Tom Mynott, a software development apprentice at TfL, who won the Rising Star of the Year award at the 2018 National Apprentice Awards, said: “I had an offer to study Computer Science at Bournemouth University but I changed my mind when I got the offer letter. I feel like I’ve learned a lot more than I would have done at university. I’m now saving for a house, I’ve had a career for three years and I’m living a proper life.”

And still, there’s a stigma around apprenticeships. Why? It could be that the hourly rate for apprentices under 19 years of age is a meagre £3.90. But that’s only the minimum an employer has to pay. Many employers top this rate up. And the hourly rate goes up in the second year of an apprenticeship. In 2016 the average hourly rate for an apprentice was between £6.85 and £7.10.

When an hour of student tuition costs up to £25, the apprentice is ahead by about thirty quid an hour.

More and more businesses offer modern apprenticeships. Perceptions of them as the poor man’s route into a manual trade are outdated. They can be a fast track to high status careers, coming with technical training often sponsored by the employer.

Many offer professional qualifications in everything from accountancy and business administration to joinery and plumbing. 170 industries are involved. The range of
options is massive. An apprenticeship is not just for school leavers, either. There’s no upper age limit. In fact, in 2016 there were more 25-49 year olds on apprenticeships than both under 19s and 19-24 year olds.

So, whether we’re finishing our GCSE’s or looking to change our career, an apprentice scheme is a great option. The chances of bagging a permanent job at the end of an apprenticeship are high. As Annie Cook, NHS Career Development Coordinator, says: “The apprenticeship scheme has allowed us to bring in new talent. And 98 percent of our apprentices go on to employment.”


  • In England, there are three levels of apprenticeship: Intermediate, Advanced and Higher
  • In Scotland: Foundation Apprenticeship, Modern and Graduate
  • In Wales: Foundation, Apprenticeship and Higher
  • Apprentices usually work 4 days and study 1 day a week
  • Apprentices earn at least the national minimum wage while they learn and holidays are paid
  • Apprenticeships are funded by big businesses and the government
  • Anybody over the age of 16 can become an apprentice
  • To find out more visit apprenticeship websites for England, Wales and Scotland
  • The websites list apprenticeships on offer and give advice on preparing, applying and interviews.

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