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Exploring apprenticeships

Why uni was never right for me

5 reasons why I chose apprenticeships over uni

By Dom Cowley Nov 10, 2020

10 years ago, asking someone whether they'd consider completing an apprenticeship programme over going to university was almost seen as a form of blasphemy. Back then, the usual apprenticeship programme would typically be packaged up with a low salary, short duration and often a lack of future opportunity upon completion. Fast-forward 10 years and the landscape of apprenticeships has completely changed, and as far as I'm concerned, it's changed for the absolute best!

5 years ago, having started my A2s in Year 13, I made the decision to focus my attention on finding the perfect apprenticeship opportunity for me, one that would give me unique experiences and exposure to the world of work. I knew that this decision wouldn't be one that was overly supported by my school, with the expectation that most students should aim to go to uni and complete their UCAS applications accordingly. I always questioned why this was, surely uni is right for some and not right for others? This is something that I still completely believe to this day, 5 years down the line and feeling enriched with experiences, networks and opportunities I've been given.

Here are my top 5 reasons why I chose to pursue an apprenticeship programme over going to university after completing my A Levels.

That head-start feeling 

I felt pressure when applying to apprenticeships at first. Mainly, due to the fact that I knew many of my classmates and friends had positions at uni secured, giving them the freedom to 'relax', safe in the comfort of starting their courses in September, grades permitting. I wasn't in such a secure position. However, I knew that my decision would be the best one for me. I knew that completing an apprenticeship programme would give me the skills, confidence and platform to take my career to the next level. Within 3 months of starting a Level 3 Business Administrator programme with Unilever, I saw so many skills improve at a drastic rate, including organisation, communication and presentation skills, delivering tasks and projects to senior colleagues and being trusted to make a genuine impact to the company.

Today at the age of 24, I feel I've had a real kick-start to my career. I'm now approaching my fifth year of employment and my fourth different job role.

Working hard to play hard

Working had never been something I'd really put any sustained effort in to before starting my first apprenticeship programme. Many of my friends had part-time jobs through school & college, working in local shops and restaurants among other roles. More often than not, I felt like I lacked the confidence to shine even in a part-time role. This meant that growing up, especially in my teenager years, I always felt a reliance on my parents when asking for money, whether that would be to go down to the shops or fund something larger like a holiday, I never felt like I was financially stable and able to support myself and the things I enjoyed doing outside of school. This was definitely one of the main motivators behind starting my journey in the world of work. Now more than ever, apprenticeship programmes are highly competitive, meaning the salaries that come with them are too. The average starting salary of a degree apprenticeship programme in 2019 was £17,800. 

Top tip: I've managed to save well but also enjoy the freedom I've had without any debts that come along with going to university. Due to this, I'm aiming to buy my first property in the near future and continue to enjoy working hard, earning money and being able to love what I enjoy doing outside of work. If you're starting an apprenticeship or looking to start one in the near future, make sure to create a quick budget overview of all your incomings and outgoings. Take my advice and save as much as you can from the beginning!

Made to feel on a par with others

A common perception of apprenticeship programmes which I absolutely cannot stand is that apprentices are treated differently to other employees, this simply is not the case! Apprentices bring fresh ideas, new ways of thinking and will often challenge the norm. Employers want fresh faces who will contribute new ways of doing things. Organisations, now more than ever, want to have workforces that are representative of the general population, with people from as many different backgrounds as possible. Attitudes towards apprentices were something I did a lot of research in to. On the whole, the response I saw was overwhelmingly positive, a testament to the true value and growth of apprenticeships in the last 10 years. In my own experience as an apprentice, I was given the support, encouragement and empowerment to challenge decisions, lead on projects and deliver true value to the company. I felt like I was seen as a full employee and on an absolute par with graduates who were entering the business from university.

My experience of being an apprentice has taught me that it's more important to showcase what you can bring to an opportunity in terms of your personal skillset than the qualifications you've achieved on paper.

Which course would be for me? 

From the very get-go, I was never overwhelmingly certain on which university course would be right for me. Having really enjoyed the A Levels I chose to study, including English, Business and Politics - there was never a strong pull towards any one subject. This was also a big factor in my decision to choose an apprenticeship programme. Dedicating 3 years and £27,000 (more expensive now) in course fees to something I wasn't fully dedicated to didn't sit right with me. Completing an apprenticeship programme instead made absolute sense for me. Learning on-the-job, being given the time and support to understand the knowledge of my programme and then being given the trust and freedom to apply this knowledge to my day-to-day responsibilities allowed me to grow as an individual and ultimately gain a recognised, valued qualification in both Business Administration and Project Management. Did I mention that this was all given to me for free!?

Top tip: Whether you're looking at university or apprenticeship courses, always make sure you do as much research into these as possible to find out what they're all about and what skills and knowledge you'll gain from them. A good place to start would be Fledglink's article: Apprenticeships vs University, which weighs up the pros and cons of both. More importantly, make sure the course will excite you. Take a look at what you're currently studying or what you've studied in the past; have you enjoyed it? Could you see yourself studying it in more depth? You might just want a completely different challenge and that is absolutely fine!

Opening future doors

Today more than ever, being able to show as many different experiences as possible on your CV is a MASSIVE bonus. This shows recruiters, whatever position you're going for, that you've learned a range of different skills, been involved in different tasks and projects but also have connected with a range of different stakeholders. This last point is one that's helped me hugely to unlock future opportunities and open 'new doors' for my career. Having completed my two apprenticeship programmes at Unilever, I used the network that I'd built over the previous three and a half years to find my next opportunity, knowing I could confidently contact a number of people I'd met to approach them with my skills offering and how I could help their business. This is something I believe would have been more challenging and more competitive having been a graduate straight out of university with relatively limited experience of a corporate environment and job role. The fact I can showcase a prestigious, global company like Unilever on my CV will always stand me in good stead when looking for new opportunities, however and whenever they may come. The future is exciting!

Top tip: When using platforms such as Fledglink, don't just connect to people with no aim. Make sure that you will be able to get something from them, even if that's a very small thing. You never know what knowledge or doors that person may open for you in the future.

Making the right choice for you

I want to emphasise that the above points are by no means disrespecting the concept of going to university. For many young people, it's absolutely the right thing to do for their career paths and next steps. If you feel like you're currently sitting on the fence and undecided, I would highly recommend looking further into apprenticeship programmes and what they can offer YOU, the sky is truly the limit. Check out the Careers of the Fledglink app to find out more about what organisations are offering apprenticeship programmes and how you can get involved.

Choosing to complete apprenticeship programmes was the best thing I've ever done and they've prepared me, given me confidence and excited me for what lies ahead for my career.

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