Debunking apprenticeship myths

19 December 2016 | Careers Advice | Thomas Peacock

For some reason, apprenticeships are still viewed as a secondary option to university for school leavers, despite the advantages they can offer as a serious alternative to university. So, let’s take a look at three of the biggest myths surrounding apprenticeships and examine exactly why apprenticeships are being undervalued.

Apprenticeships are for people who didn’t do well in school and couldn’t get into university.

While some employers will not look for previous work experience, as the whole point of an apprenticeship is to learn on the job, they may still take school results into consideration. In fact, most intermediate apprenticeships, the most popular kind in the UK, require you to have between 2-5 GCSEs grade A*-C, including Maths and English. 

Additionally, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly competitive as more and more people are considering them as a serious post-16 option. In 2014, the Telegraph reported that an average of 12 school leavers were competing for the same apprenticeship, so getting onto one is not as easy as some think.

Apprenticeships offer a hands-on, practical approach to earning qualifications, while degrees offer a more academic pathway – it’s all a question of how you learn best. That some people value apprenticeships less than degrees doesn’t reflect on the quality of the pathway that apprenticeships offer - in fact, you can even do degree apprenticeships which means apprentices can achieve the same qualification as a university student, just without the £50,000 debt.

They’re low paid.

It’s true that the minimum wage for apprenticeships is lower than the National Minimum Wage – as of October 2016, the hourly wage for apprentices is £3.40. However, this only applies to those under 19 years of age, or those in the first year of their apprenticeship. So if you’re 19 and in the second year of your apprenticeship, you’re entitled to the National Minimum Wage of £5.55. Some employers, such as Barclays, may even pay their apprentices the National Living Wage, even higher than the minimum wage.

Moreover, unlike university students, apprentices earn while they learn, which means at the end of their course, they won’t have any debt, which for those going to university can be anywhere up to £50,000 at the end of their degree. In fact, according to government figures, around 29% of graduates are now earning less per hour than those who have completed apprenticeships.

They’re bad quality and don’t offer the same prospects as a degree.

It’s a myth that you need to go to university to get a degree. According to, “There are currently 75 higher and degree apprenticeships available, with more in development, including foundation degrees, HNDs and full honours degrees.”

So if you were a prospective employer, who would you choose – a graduate without practical experience, or an apprentice, who already has the qualifications and technical know-how needed to get to get the job done?

Nowadays there are lots of high-quality apprenticeships available in a variety of roles, ranging from the traditional trades, to IT, Digital Marketing and even Law. Top apprenticeship employers in 2015 included BAE Systems, Deloitte, J.P. Morgan, Network Rail, BBC, and Capgemini – so, if apprenticeships are such bad quality, then why are so many big names investing more and more in them?

To give some examples of what some companies can offer, check out these this slice of the selection we have here on

Accountancy at CIPFA: An accountancy apprenticeship with CIPFA will offer the chance to learn on the job while offering the chance to gain formal qualifications – and offers a salary higher than the minimum wage for apprentices.

Engineering at Arcadis: With an Engineering apprenticeship at Arcadis, you get the chance to train on the job for the majority of the week, while having one day a week for technical training, while offering you a range of workplace benefits.

In an age where student debt is increasing at an extortionate rate, viewing apprenticeships as a secondary option to attending university just doesn’t make sense, especially when you can now earn the same qualification while getting more exposure to working life than a graduate typically would.

To meet a range of top apprenticeship employers and find out even more about all the high-quality apprenticeships on offer, why not come along to WhatCAREER Live in March and October 2017.

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