Parents, should your child enter an apprenticeship or university?

23 November 2016 | Advice for Parents | Guest Author

Advising a teenager is never easy, even more so when the teenager is your son or daughter. As a parent, I ask myself, am I telling them the right things, am I advising them to do the things I would have done or what is best for them? Is their world so different from mine when I was their age?

These days there is a tug of war raging between pursuing a university degree and gaining experience via an apprenticeship. Is there a “right” answer or is this a case of different but equal?

The pros and cons of both paths have been, and will continue to be, expounded by supporters on both sides for many different reasons. At present, there is a push for young adults to consider apprenticeships in preference to attending university. Equally, there is an acceptance that the cocktail of degrees being offered by a growing army of universities increasingly has diluted the value of having a degree - unless it is from a top university and in a subject regarded as academically rigorous.

In short, organisations, employers, and the Government continue to push to achieve their specific agenda. Therefore what is needed when making this decision is a real and unyielding focus on your own agenda; what is it that you want to achieve? Where do your strengths lie? What are your circumstances? Teenagers, should be encouraged to adopt this approach while taking on board the advice from parents or, as I have frequently been referred to by my sons’ rugby coach, from their ‘service providers’.

Here are three fundamental areas to consider.

    • The first is cost. Yes, in the present climate a graduate will spend in excess of £30,000 on tuition fees. An apprenticeship scheme has no such equivalent personal expenditure. Perhaps the real question here is: do you make decisions based on avoiding threats or seeking rewards? If the former is true, then the £30,000 plus is very much a debt to be avoided. However, reward seekers will be far more inclined to view the £30,000 plus as an investment. It then comes down to the strength of one’s desire to invest in oneself. The suggestion here is to tackle the decision as an investment that demands an acceptable return.
    • This second significant matter that should be a real consideration is the extent to which the individual is academic. This for some might be regarded as insulting and elitist. But is it really? Surely a person’s aptitude regarding succeeding in an academic setting is both a relevant and sensible consideration? Academic success does not automatically translate into success in the workplace; a message that is repeatedly reported by employers far and wide. An academic on an apprenticeship scheme and an individual who struggles in the classroom are both fish out of water.
    • The third is the value that employers put on those who graduate from university compared to having completed an apprenticeship. Ultimately value should be measured by the number of senior managers within the company with an apprenticeship or a graduate background. Also, how transferrable across industry sectors are the skills gained from completing an apprenticeship or a degree? Employers in technical trades may find an applicant who completed an apprenticeship much more useful than a student well versed in engineering and theory, but useful at what position?

As is well known, this is by no means an easy question and there is no right or wrong answer. Ironically, however, hindsight often reveals whether or not the decision made was more or less wise.

Latha Kathirkamathamby
Alexander Partners

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