Alternatives to apprenticeships: school leaver programmes and sponsored degrees

19 February 2016 | Careers Advice | Thomas Peacock

There are plenty of great alternatives to apprenticeships, if you decide that’s not the career path for you but don’t want to follow the traditional university route or go straight into regular work. School leaver programmes and sponsored degrees both offer top quality education and training, as well as the advantages of workplace experience.

A school leaver programme is aimed at young people with A-levels who want training as well as a competitive salary, often with an internationally renowned company. Plus that added bonus: no student debt. Most companies sponsor or part-sponsor their trainees’ education and, in return, trainees work full-time or part-time for them. Programmes can last three, four or even six years, juggling work with study; often four days a week at the office, one day a week at university, and studying at home.

Some programmes focus on attaining a bachelor’s or foundation degree, while others are built around a professional qualification. A few will combine them both, offering trainees the chance to obtain a degree and a postgraduate professional qualification.

School leaver programmes tend to be offered by large companies in industries like accountancy and finance, engineering, retail, hospitality and tourism, and IT, and trainees receive support from senior colleagues, who give regular feedback on their performance. This support and feedback will most likely be given in a structured way, for instance, in regular appraisals with a line manager.

Applicants should be determined to work hard, but the rewards can be huge. People on school leaver programmes often finish with a degree they haven’t paid for, as well as years of on-the-job experience. Like apprenticeships, a wide range of high-profile businesses offer school leaver programmes, such as PwC, Deloitte, IBM and RBS.

Sponsored degrees are schemes during which recruits study for a degree. As well as studying at university, they are often regarded as permanent employees of the company and receive a salary. Sponsored degrees do vary though, and can be divided into three types: Sponsored degree programmes, sponsored degrees and student sponsorship. We’ve broken them down for you below, so you can figure out which is the best option to pursue. 

Sponsored degree programmes

These are often devised with a particular university, so students have little choice over what university or course they do. However, they’ll often have their entire course fees paid by the employer, or at least receive a bursary or scholarship towards the costs.

Students might attend university on a part-time or distance learning basis (e.g. one day a week) while working for the employer, or they might attend university full-time, spending holidays working. The employer might also offer students a guaranteed job on qualification or a place on their graduate scheme.

The balance of time spent at university and in the work-place will vary from scheme to scheme, so it’s a good idea for prospective applicants to check. 

Student sponsorship

Some companies offer sponsorship to high-achieving students irrespective of their degree course and university. Students have been known to approach companies before they attend university in the hope of some form of sponsorship.

This is probably the most informal sponsorship programme, the employer might cover a student’s fees for part of their university education or give a one-off token amount to the student. In return, students might take up a summer placement with the company or work with them after university.  As the rules can vary, some students might actually have no obligations towards the company at all.

Sponsored degrees

Some universities provide degrees that are sponsored and devised in partnership with a number of employers and/or professional associations. These are more common in sectors like engineering and accountancy.

Students might be sponsored wholly or partially, and might complete a placement with an employer linked with the course.

Students on these types of degree aren’t permanent employees and will only earn a salary during their placement year or summer internship, but they often land places on the graduate schemes via fast-tracking, and generally benefit from some top quality experience in the workplace.

So there you have it: alternatives to apprenticeships and the standard university route, that don’t skimp on education or training. It really is possible to have it all!

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