Hey, beautiful people. You will be completely ambivalent to learn that I just finished my last official day at my current job and am currently walking on sunshine . . . But I’m excited and, as I’m not entirely convinced that reality isn’t just one crazy big acid trip my brain’s concocted, my opinion is the one that matters.
Today, I thought I’d talk to you about one of the less traditional routes that you can take when leaving school – an apprenticeship. I finished mine back in September and stayed on for a few months, but I remember all the burning questions I had when I was trying to decide whether I wanted to continue college or leave. I have a good grasp of the pros, cons, stigmas, false ideas and all the rest. In fact, I’m in a pretty good position to help you out.
Apprenticeships are a route that school-leavers can take as an alternative to moving to the next step of education, or a foot in the door of a career path – or even as a gap year option. I know a lot of school leavers aren’t entirely sure what they want to do after high-school, or after college, but an apprenticeship is one of the options.
So let’s do this.
(Warning: this is gonna be an information dump. Go grab a cup of tea, or something.)
What is an apprenticeship?
A job where you can go in with no previous knowledge or qualifications and you’re trained on the job; usually aimed at school-leavers, apprenticeships offer qualifications that are equivalent to GCSEs or A-Levels.
Why do people get an apprenticeship?
There are a lot of reasons that people get apprenticeships.
- Didn’t do too well in their exams. A good thing about apprenticeships is that you don’t need good exam results to get one. All you need is a good work ethic; a lot of school-leavers that didn’t get the grades they wanted, or have decided education isn’t for them, will move into an apprenticeship.
- Amazing opportunities. Now, there are some truly amazing apprenticeships out there (they’re competitive, admittedly, and good grades are a boost) – apprenticeships in marketing agencies in central London, places like the BBC, etc. An apprenticeship can be an in to a great company – and it can open a lot of doors. Remember, you’re there for a year and they need to train (and pay) you for all that time – which means that by the time the apprenticeship is over, you’re an asset to your company and they’ll want to keep you.
- The money. It’s not as easy as people and parents like to make out for entry-level people to find jobs in this market. An apprenticeship can be a good way to earn money.
- Get onto the career ladder. As I mentioned in the previous point, an apprenticeship usually comes with a permanent placement. If you want to get a job, this can be a good way to go.
- Good option for a year out or a gap year.
- Gain some work experience before progressing to the next step of education.
- Test out your chosen field. You may have ideas for your dream career path – but, while you’re in education, you will have no idea what the actual day-to-day of that career path is like. You might absolutely hate it. An apprenticeship is a good way to test out a career; if it isn’t for you, you have a qualification and some extra money anyway.
- Gives you work experience in your chosen field before forking out £27k on a university degree. This is actually a very large reason that I recommend apprenticeships; it was very re-affirming for me to work in my chosen field for a year. I’ve realised that I love it enough to fork out a degree to learn more about it, yes – but I’ve also realised that I want to do it in a more high-stakes environment up in central London, where I need a degree just to get an interview.
- Hell, just work experience.
- You don’t test well. If you’re smart – but you just don’t test well – an NVQ is a work and evidence-based qualification which is a great fit.
Is the qualification you get with an apprenticeship any good?
In all honesty, it depends. Depending on the level, an NVQ is equivalent to GCSEs or A-Levels – however, if you’re planning to go into the world of academia, it may not be the qualification for you.
In my opinion (as in take it with a pinch of salt) there are two main uses for an NVQ:
- You’re in a situation where you don’t need any qualifications. My best friend, Olly, wants to be a plumber – he’s done his apprenticeship year and is now moving to full time. If he wanted to move to another plumbing business (or, for example, a shop like my dad’s where they sell plumbing kit) he wouldn’t need a qualification – but the training and experience he’s received makes him a great hire.
- You’re in a situation where experience and evidence is equal to or more valuable than a qualification. This is more my situation; while I do want to go on to do higher education, my course is graphic design and the weight is on the portfolio – not the A-grade. I need a qualification . . . but having an equivalent is good enough. There are a lot of courses like this so if you’re in a situation where they’re looking more at what skills you possess, an NVQ is a great qualification.
Although an NVQ is an equivalent qualification . . . it isn’t the original. Some universities accept NVQs – but some don’t. I’d recommend looking at your university of choice (if you’re going down that route) first.
Are apprenticeships just for people that drop out?
Not at all. I didn’t drop out – I actually had really good grades! An apprenticeship doesn’t need to be shunning school; you can always go back.
For me, there were a few reasons that I got an apprenticeship; the main being:
I felt like I was wasting time.
I’m a productive human being; if I’m not, it’s because I’m deep in the clutches of depression and melancholy (and, y’know, Netflix) and I’ll break out of it in a week or two and be productive. I’ve run blogs and a string of sometimes-successful online stores since I was 13; nurtured and hatched schemes and dastardly plans since I was in the pram.
The words “proactive” and “self-motivated” are not just buzzwords that I put on my CV; I need to be doing something fulfilling and worthwhile. My main issues with school came from this; everything felt so pointless. It was such a waste of could-be-much-better-spent time.
Now, I thought college would be my saviour – I’d be studying more direct subjects that I loved and would get me where I wanted to be in life! I could refine my skills; learn more of them!
Yeah, no, that didn’t happen.
I spent my days travelling an hour and a half to a college that cancelled a bunch of lessons and didn’t do much when I was in them anyway. Add in the fact that it was costing me £5 a day just to get there . . . The whole college route, it quickly became clear, was not for me.
I highly value education (hence the travelling so far) and the opportunities it brings, so I looked at my goal universities, checked what requirements they needed and realised that I had options. As I wanted to do a course in graphic design/branding, they placed more weight on experience, passion and a portfolio – not getting 3 A-C A-level results. So I realised that I could do an apprenticeship, gain invaluable experience, go to uni and once I left uni I’d already have work experience under my belt.
Not too shabby.
Is apprenticeship pay any good?
It’s okay, depending on where you work, your skills, the company you work for and the level of apprenticeship you’re going for. A Level 3 pays better than a Level 2, for example. If you’re having dreams of leaving home and living in a swanky apartment by yourself, you should really check those expectations at the door – but you’ll have a good amount to save and spend.
Are apprenticeships only in plumbing and manual labour?
Hell no! This, I will admit, is what I initially thought – otherwise I probably would’ve done an apprenticeship straight out of high school.
You can find apprenticeships in everything from marketing to childcare.
My apprenticeship was in Digital Marketing; I was originally going to try for a graphic design one, but I left it very late and there weren’t any available when I looked.
The pros of an apprenticeship
- A lot more maturity and perspective on life. I admit this probably sounds rather weird to most people, but how many kids straight out of high school have a real grip on life? This isn’t at all a negative, but you honestly can’t appreciate the value of work and money and responsibility until you’ve actually experienced it. Having a full-time 9-5 job will force you to grow up and mature real quick – which can be an amazing thing!
- Work experience. Just having the work experience behind you can be such a confidence boost; you can go off to uni knowing “I can work after this”. You can speak at interviews comfortably; you’re prepared for the working world.
- Looks great on your CV.
- Earning money. Hey – money is always great, right? Even better when you’re being paid to learn!
- You don’t need to know anything going in. How many times have you wanted to go for a job . . . but worried about not having the right skills? Not knowing what you’re doing? As an apprentice, you don’t need to know anything going in.
The cons of an apprenticeship
- Badly paid. Some people use apprentices for cheap labour; that’s just the truth of the matter. Unless you’ve got existing skills, you can be looking at a rather depressingly low wage.
- B O R I N G. Not to be negative, but . . . going from school and friends to working 9-5 in an office, barely seeing your friends because your calendars completely clash (you’ll find most of your friends will work at the weekends) and being surrounded by serious, mature adults is boring. Just keeping it real, kids.
- Depending where you go, you could end up just making tea and coffee. One of the biggest cons I’d say an apprenticeship has is how dependent it is on your employer; you might end up working in a tiny company that’s just looking for cheap labour that doesn’t teach you much of anything and don’t pay you well.
- The qualification isn’t very strong. If you’re looking to do an apprenticeship for the qualification . . . I wouldn’t.
Did you enjoy your apprenticeship?
All in all, yes I did.
I gained invaluable experience and learned a lot – and gained so much confidence and maturity! Honestly, I can’t imagine doing any of the amazing stuff I’ve done this year without doing my apprenticeship; it helped me to grow up and budget, save, travel and work harder (and smarter).
Do I have qualms about it? Yes, I do.
I don’t think my provider did very well – the lessons weren’t fantastic and the support was dismal. I think I did well with my employer because I had a history in content marketing and creation (on my old site that was sold earlier this year), but had I not had that experience I think it would have been a total flop as my employer doesn’t have any marketing experience and was relying on the Apprenticeship hub . . . who weren’t great.
Would you recommend an apprenticeship?
100 x yes.
I’m aware that everyone says it to us (and we then don’t believe it because our schools drill the complete opposite into our heads) but work experience is far more important than grades. I truly value education, don’t let that sentence fool you, but after working full time for a year I can see all the ways in which work experience is more important to an employer.
If you said to me, I have an A* English student that wants to join your content team and a person that’s been working in content marketing for a year, I’m going for number two every time.
The ability to work in a work environment; meet deadlines and targets; be part of a team; be professional; separate personal and professional life; be a grown up . . . these are all skills that you can imagine yourself to have, that you can prepare for, be told about when you’re in a classroom, but until you’re in a working environment and you have to knuckle down and do it, you do not have the opportunity to really test and learn.
In my opinion, an apprenticeship is like a full-time job with training wheels; a safety net. You’re being trained (and paid!), you then have an all-but-guaranteed position in the business you train with and not only that but you’re being educated at the same time. It looks good when you’re applying to university; it looks good when you’re applying for other jobs.
If you’ve just left school and you aren’t quite sure what to do with yourself, or you’re taking a gap year and are kind of unsure as to what you’re going to do during it, an apprenticeship could definitely be for you! Hell, some of them even put you through uni.
That said . . . I’m happy to be free. 3 day work weeks, more time (and energy) to spend doing things I love and the better pay all make for a heady combination. My blog, as I’d love to think you all notice, is doing all the better for it! I’ve got a new job lined up for January with one of the people I’ve been freelancing for and December is going to spent travelling! Who can complain?
Anyways, would any of you try an apprenticeship? Do you have any questions about it that I could help you clear up? Let me know your thoughts down below!