From September 2012, universities in England can raise tuition fees of £9,000 a year.

Many potential undergraduates will balk at this amount and may find themselves reconsidering their next step. So what’s the alternative to a traditional degree route? Neelam Shah investigates the appeal of apprenticeships…

Going to university isn’t the only route to success, as leaving university with a huge student debt to pay off and still risking not getting the job you wanted is a big risk. These days students have to think really carefully about how the degree they choose will enable them to get a career at the end of it all.

If you want a career in medicine, dentistry or law, then there’s no real point in taking four or more years out doing a degree then realising it’s been a waste. With some careers, a degree is a must, and can be considered an investment. With other career areas, apprenticeships could offer an even better opportunity to get your foot in the door without saddling yourself with debt.

Students should really investigate whether going to university is necessary for their particular area of interest. They shouldn’t be at all pressured into doing so either; parents need to realise that things have changed.

Getting a degree isn’t the only route to a career or employability success – in fact, it is wise to consider other options available such as work experience placements or apprenticeship programmes. They can give young people valuable practical life skills, which will make them more employable and allow them to enter the job market.

400,000 apprenticeships by 2014

So what about availability then? The good news is that the UK government has pledged £1.4bn and a promise of 400,000 apprenticeship places by 2014. Anyone in England who isn’t in full-time education or doesn’t hold a university degree is eligible, so it’s not just for young adults. Apprenticeships enable you to enter the employment sector armed with valuable knowledge and experience of your chosen industry.

Apprenticeships can assist businesses across all sectors by offering a route to secure fresh new talent. Apprentices learn on the job, building up practical knowledge – it’s often argued that university can’t prepare you for the workplace in this way. If you want to try something new and get practical, hands-on experience and learn at the same time, then why not try applying for apprenticeship schemes suited to your area or subject?

Apprenticeships offer a choice of careers

There are over 180 types of apprenticeships in career areas such as administration, agriculture, media, construction, hair and beauty, travel and tourism, cookery, health care, public services, manufacturing, hospitality, finance, insurance and real estate, digital photography, fashion and design, music studies, and engineering.

About apprenticeships

Apprenticeships - equivalent to five good GCSE passes. Apprentices work towards a work-based learning qualification such as a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) to Level 2; Key Skills and in some cases a relevant technical certificate.

Advanced Apprenticeships - equivalent to two A-level passes. Apprentices work towards a work-based learning qualification such as a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) to Level 3, Key Skills and in some cases a relevant technical certificate.

Apprenticeships are becoming more and more popular. Last year, there were more than 250,000 apprentices in England alone, training in over 180 different types of apprenticeship. As you get paid throughout, you have no worries about paying course fees or student loans.

Earn while you learn

There is no set salary for apprentices. However, a recent survey showed that the average wage per week for an apprentice is now around £170, and in some job roles, around £210 per week. This is dependent on your employer and the type of work you do. As your skills develop and you begin to progress, your pay will increase accordingly.

Research shows that apprentices can earn, on average, over £100,000 more throughout their lifetime than other employees. There is no deadline to complete an apprenticeship placement. It can take between one and four years to complete depending on the framework and structure of the course, so commitment is vital to see the qualification through.

Benefits of an apprenticeship

As an apprentice, you’ll be entitled to paid holidays, a monthly salary, and support during training. Employers are increasingly seeing the value of the practical skills, experience and expertise acquired during an apprenticeship. Businesses and companies looking to flourish in the current climate will require hard working, skilled and enterprising apprentices.

Applying

You may have to go through a selection process and you’ll have to demonstrate an interest in the area you’re applying for. You might have to complete an assessment or test, then an interview to see if you are the right candidate for the apprenticeship.

If you are motivated, passionate and committed to your chosen field, then an apprenticeship route could be a practical and potentially lucrative choice.



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