With so many local employers now offering higher – and even degree – apprenticeships locally, it is worth taking a look at the reasons why you might choose one of these after sixth form – or a gap year – instead of going to Uni. They are certainly getting attention from schools and can be a very real career choice for you, but it is equally worthwhile reflecting on the similarities as the Universities increasingly offer opportunities with major employers as part of their degrees.

An apprenticeship at any level, is simply a paid job.

The two main differences between this and a regular job are, firstly, that an apprenticeship comes with relevant training and studying for qualifications. The higher the level of apprenticeship, the harder the exams, but the basic principal is the same: you go to work, you get paid and a trainer supervises you getting your qualifications. The second difference is that your apprenticeship is time-limited and finishes after 1 to 5 years – again depending on the level and expectations for study. In this sense, there are natural similarities with higher education: learning, studying, exams and time-limited. So why would you choose one pathway over the other?

And what about higher education?

Higher education (or a degree) is where you take the next step after sixth form and go to an academic institution to study some more. This could be at a university, such as the University of Bristol, at a college, such as Bath College, at a specialist college, such as the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, or at a University Centre such as Yeovil College UC. The higher education qualifications you can study include level 4 diplomas (e.g. HNDs), level 5 foundation degrees, level 6 bachelor degrees and then a range of others including masters and even pHd (doctorates).

So how can you compare them?

A good way to compare like with like – although not in isolation – is to look at the level of qualification: higher apprenticeships are aligned to level 4 or 5 and incorporate a relevant diploma, foundation degree or similar whilst degree apprenticeships are level 6 and above.

If you know which industry you might want to start your career in – e.g. banking – or even which employer you might want to work for- e.g. Rolls Royce – another good way to look at the options is to find out whether they only recruit graduates or whether there is an apprenticeship pathway as well.

Major employers offering higher apprenticeships in the Bristol and Bath region include: Rolls-Royce, BBC, Trowbridge Town Council, Deloitte, Lloyds Banking Group and Leonardo in Yeovil. And employers offering degree apprenticeships locally include EDF Energy, Airbus, ISG, Capgemini, DES (MoD) and BAE Systems in Yeovil. Some very big names which you might well be hoping to work for after 3-4 years at Uni anyway.

What can you expect if you choose higher education?

First and foremost, you can expect academic immersion as you’ll be focusing on your subject area without juggling the day job as well. You’ll also gain a recognised qualification bearing in mind that many employers, such as retail banking, are typically not looking for a specific degree course from their graduates. You’ll get your degree quicker and graduate quicker than if you try to get the same degree as part of your apprenticeship. And you’ll potentially be studying for a Bachelor’s degree (Hons) whereas most higher apprenticeships include foundation degrees or equivalent. And to get into Uni, there’s less interest in any pre-existing skills you may have and greater dependency on your academic grades as a rule.

And what can you expect if you choose a higher apprenticeship?

First and foremost, you’ll be choosing employment – if you want a job, this is it. It also naturally means that you’ll be getting an income and starting salaries can be very generous to entice you into one of these apprenticeships instead of Uni.

On top of this, these apprenticeships are being called ‘debt-free degrees’ as the employer usually pays the fees for you and some employers even pay expenses as well. You can also expect to gain a considerable amount of valuable work-based and transferable skills through the job or from the training courses such as time management, leadership, communication and team-working, and many of these skills will be part of the culture of the company that you will be moulding to fit at a much earlier age.

However, one of the key outcomes of this pathway is that your qualification will most likely be very specialist. Some, such as the accounting qualifications, will be internationally recognised and completed by the graduates when they start so you will potentially qualify quicker. Others could be bespoke to the employer that has trained you and seen as such if you choose to leave at the end of your apprenticeship: it is worth investigating before you apply, but there are huge benefits to be considered.

But these two choices are blurring into each other

Universities are responding to the demand for more employer involvement and have very visible ties with employers through course-work, built-in placements and internships in addition to the traditional opportunities on graduation.

Both pathways can benefit from traditional student benefits such as discounts on UK travel with the 16-25 Railcard, a National Union of Students (NUS) extra discount card and an NUS Apprentice version as well. Many of the larger employers offer student-style events and social activities for their young apprentices and both pathways offer a chance to graduate from a Uni – with a full mortar board and gown – with a level 4, 5 or 6 qualification.

Applying will be online, although different – for Uni you will go via UCAS and for these apprenticeships you will most likely submit your CV and a cover letter with their online application. However, it is not unreasonable to expect an interview from both as they determine whether you would be a good match to their organisation. And the higher apprenticeships will be looking for academic qualifications as well.

And finally …

There’s a lot to consider and often this can be challenged by the natural cycle of UCAS in year 13, but you can still apply for an apprenticeship at the same time and keep your options open until you decide which path you would prefer. As the boundaries between them continue to blur, it is not about whether you want to choose higher education or a higher apprenticeship, but whether you want to immerse yourself in Uni or be based in the workplace instead.

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