Apprenticeship or uni? You can do both!

05 July 2018 | Focus | Guest Author

Combining on-the-job training with studying at university, a degree apprenticeship is perfect for someone who wants the best of both worlds (or just can’t decide).

So you’ve got your A-level results that you’ve worked so hard for. But what next? Do you go and spend three years studying for a degree or do you get a foot in the door of the industry you’ve dreamed of working in for years? Well, if you have the ambition, you don’t have to choose. The degree apprenticeship is here to save the day.

What is a degree apprenticeship?

A degree apprenticeship combines full-time paid work with part-time university study, offering apprentices the chance to gain a degree while undertaking on-the-job training. (And you’ll earn the equivalent of the degree qualification received by someone who has spent three years at university as a student.)

It is a partnership between employers and higher education institutions, such as universities. Introduced in 2015 as an alternative to traditional apprenticeships, they take between three and six years to complete, depending on the course level. Currently, degree apprenticeships are only available in England and Wales, but applications can be made from anywhere within the UK.

How does it work?

At the end of the scheme, apprentices will undergo an assessment testing both their capability in the workplace and their academic prowess. The apprenticeship programmes can be structured in two ways: either the university and employer come together to design a specific degree course, or workplaces can implement an existing degree programme to deliver the academic knowledge required by the profession. Either way, those on degree apprenticeships gain knowledge, skills and relevant work experience, valued by organisations.

Because degree apprenticeships combine working with studying, apprentices have flexibility in how they split their time between the two. There is also the option of distance learning or block learning (where you do a chunk of full-time study away from your full-time work). Each scheme will have an appropriate programme set out by the employer and the university working together – designed to provide you with the relevant skillset for the career of your choice.

What makes a degree apprenticeship different? What are the advantages?

If you wish to, you can complete a sandwich degree instead, which would provide a year of work experience in industry. However, degree apprenticeships build on this model, with apprentices being employed and earning a wage from day one. Upon successful completion, you’ll gain a full bachelor’s or master’s degree, which you won’t get with a higher apprenticeship.

What about the fees?

As with other apprenticeships (but unlike a standard university course), the fees that come with a degree apprenticeship are covered by the government and the company – so, no student debt! While you won’t be eligible for student loans, you will still be paid at least the national minimum wage for apprentices, with many places paying much more than this (not to mention receiving wage reviews just as any normal employee).

In May 2017, the government introduced the apprenticeship levy, which requires companies to pay a certain amount into an apprenticeship fund. So, businesses that pay more than £3million in wages yearly will pay 0.5 per cent of this amount into the fund to cover training and tuition fees. Small businesses will receive a contribution towards funding from the government – up to 90 per cent of the total cost, with the employer paying the remaining 10 per cent. It’s thought that organisations in England will be investing at least £2.5billion into apprenticeship schemes by 2020.

How can I ace the interview?

Remember you are being interviewed as an employee and a student. It’s important to show enthusiasm for the subject and do your research on the company and the industry. Take a look at the candidate profile and make sure to emphasise your matching strengths with examples of when you demonstrated them. Arm yourself with plenty of relevant questions to ask the interviewer, such as “what will my normal working day look like?” or “what is the culture of the company?”

What industries can I go into?

Degree apprenticeships are only available in vocational subjects that demand a high level of academia, meaning the choices are narrower than other apprenticeships. However, the disciplines still cover a breadth of industries, from solicitor to tailor, construction to PR, dental technician to chartered surveyor, and even aerospace engineer to nuclear scientist.

Will I be guaranteed a job?

A job won’t be guaranteed at the end of the course (although it is a possibility). However, you’ll still be an employable graduate with the added bonus of a few years’ worth of relevant work experience under your belt.

Nevertheless, those on degree apprenticeships tend to have closer ties with their employer, and already being employed puts you in a good position for when you finish the course.

Am I eligible?

Each apprenticeship programme will have different entry requirements, but candidates do need good A-level results or a certain number of UCAS points. Specific A-level subjects may be necessary depending on what you want to do. Furthermore, candidates will need a willingness to work hard, great time- management skills, confidence, maturity and an ability to learn independently. Remember, a degree apprenticeship is just as academically challenging as a standard degree but with the addition of doing paid work.

So, how do I apply?

The National Apprenticeship Service is a good place to get more information or you can visit the government’s Find an Apprenticeship service at gov.uk/apply-apprenticeship to be redirected to the right place.  

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