More than 680,000 young people have applied to start university courses this autumn, dwarfing the numbers who will enrol on apprenticeships. But are they all making the right choice?

While a university education is essential for some professions, the development of higher-level apprenticeships means that they too provide comparable progression opportunities, combined with on-the-job experience, across a vast range of careers and industries.

In comparison to university enrolments, apprenticeship new starters stood at only 288,800 for the period August 2021 to April 2022. Although this number had increased by 14.1% on the previous year the number of young people taking this career path option is lagging behind enrolments for university, but why?

Four young people who have taken the apprenticeship route with Seetec Outsource explain how it has helped them progress in their careers.

Niamh Stapleton, 19, from Kent, started a Level 4 (Foundation Degree level) apprenticeship in Communications and Engagement with UK Sport in November. For a keen dancer and sports enthusiast with an A Level in PE, Niamh felt it was the perfect opportunity.

She explained: “I never considered an apprenticeship, I had tunnel vision about going to university. I think it’s changing, but there’s still a stigma around apprenticeships. Some people think they need a university degree to advance further in life.”

“I feel I’m ahead of people who are studying PR at university. I understand my theory lessons because they complement what I do and I am able to put theory into practice.”

She believes schools should do more to highlight the advantages of apprenticeships and the range of options available.

Chloe O’Donnell, 20, from Kettering,
agrees. She was considering applying to university for graphic design but was put off by classes taking place online because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She too took a gap year, working in a Covid vaccination centre, until a friend highlighted a Level 3 Digital Marketing apprenticeship with the Staff Development team at Kettering General Hospital.

“It really appealed to me. There was a lot in the job description I didn’t know but I wanted to learn.” This included videoing and video editing, photography, designing posters and social media work.

“I’d heard about apprenticeships in school but didn’t know there were so many opportunities,” Chloe explained. “I think it was just expected that after A levels, what everyone does is go to university.

“Apprenticeships are brilliant, I think they are overlooked because when you leave college, so many people want to go or have to go to university and think it’s a more grown-up choice. But university isn’t for everyone.

Linard Laith, age 22, from Ealing

Linard studied for his A Levels at Drayton Manor High School where he was good at maths and science but was unsure about his future career direction.

“I stumbled across apprenticeships. It got me thinking that I could earn money and get a qualification, there wasn’t so much pressure on me because it’s very flexible and I could change career path if I wanted to.

“There are so many different apprenticeships, it’s a great opportunity and a great alternative to university, you can still get to degree level if you want to.”

Linard who joined Catalyst Housing Group as a Level 3 Business Administration apprentice concluded: “Now I’ve completed my apprenticeship and have a permanent role, I also have more of a plan. I want to go into finance and accounting and get a qualification in that, I’ve grown a passion for it since working with Catalyst. It’s opened my eyes about what opportunities I can go into.”

Samuel Ashby, aged 22, from Hockley, Essex

Sam was in the sixth form at the Greensward Academy in Hockley when he realised that classroom-based learning wasn’t the way forward for him.

Fortunately, he was invited, through a friend, to take up a Customer Service apprenticeship at Hockley Airsoft Arena, a shooting range and skirmish experience site, which also has an on-site shop.

“I hadn’t looked at apprenticeships,” Sam explained. “It’s a different environment. At school, you learn in a classroom with a teacher. With an apprenticeship, you learn within the business, you get one-to-one sessions with your tutor and have the ability to email them, which worked better for me.”

Sam started his Level 2 apprenticeship and quickly progressed to a Level 3 Business Administration apprenticeship.

Owner and Director Amanda Hall, who runs the business with her husband Albert, explained: “Sam was our second apprentice, the first being our daughter. My husband and I both see the value of education and the doors it can open for our business growth and personally for the apprentices. Sam has worked so hard and done so well, the transformation from how he was when he joined us to achieving a distinction for his level 3 is incredible.

“We’re a small family business and we all work closely together. We’ve had two more apprentices and, as we develop and grow as a business, I want to develop them and expand their potential. I want to have people who already know the business moving into supervisor roles.

John Baumback, Seetec’s Group Chief Executive Officer
, who started his career as an apprentice with Seetec 39 years ago and progressed to the helm of the £129 million turnover employee-owned business, said: “Apprenticeships offer a fantastic route into a wide range of industries and careers, but we need to do more to make apprenticeships a more attractive option for young people.

“Perceptions of apprenticeships are changing, especially with the introduction of degree apprenticeships but schools and parents still tend to focus on university. As the country battles with the rising cost of living crisis and skills shortages apprenticeships need to be at the forefront to aid our economic recovery.”