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Apprenticeships make more sense than university these days

PUBLISHED: 21:34 07 March 2019 | UPDATED: 21:34 07 March 2019

Vocational training offered by apprenticeships seems more apt than going to university for three years according to Nick Conrad

Vocational training offered by apprenticeships seems more apt than going to university for three years according to Nick Conrad

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Do you regret going to university when you could have had three or four years of on-the-job training? Nick Conrad thinks the appeal of doing a degree is seriously dwindling

Like a third of my generation I went to university. Maybe I wouldn’t have this job without my degree. This is nothing to do with what I learnt on my course, more a national obsession with qualifications. But is the tide finally turning? If so, I hope it washes away the snobbery saddling many with disabling debts in exchange for unsubstantiated promises.

The steady stream of youngsters entering the work market only to find few opportunities, could in the future be viewed as a national disgrace. Have they been sold a pup? Three years of cracking parties and three hour-a-day lectures might be terrific fun - but is it worth the ever-increasing bill? Yes, but only if you are going to get a decent job at the back end of it.

Things have changed a fair bit since I was in a gown and mortarboard - the whole system for a start. Students only start paying back their loans when they start earning a decent salary. That said, it’s still a significant financial commitment and it’s worth exploring the alternatives.

The explosion of courses offered by universities makes education a big business. But flicking through some prospectus leaves me baffled as to why anyone would undertake courses without some guarantee of a job afterwards. Further, universities don’t publish how many graduates went on to work in a sector related job. Of those I’ve recently spoken to only half have worked in the area in which they studied.

Don’t get me wrong, university is vitally important. Further education expands our understanding of the world and delivers outstanding research. It’s the benchmark of any developed society and economy. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Times are changing and hopefully youngsters are making more informed choices about the best way to move into the world of work.

This attitude change is refreshing. Lots of my peers saw university as a ‘rite of passage,’ or one big party! Now youngsters are being encouraged to see this as an investment. Employers also need to modify their outlook when hiring youngsters. It is snobbery rather than skill that has restricted some ‘unqualified’ individuals from gainful employment. Let’s be clear, just because you’ve got a piece of paper or letters after your name doesn’t mean you are any good. You can often get more relevant training by undertaking an apprenticeship.

I never sat down with a financial advisor before I took out a £12,000 student loan. My university never demonstrated any ‘return on investment’ by outlining the percentage of students who go on to obtain gainful sector employment. There was the assumption that a student in my position and from my background ‘absolutely should’ be going to university. Everyone in my family attended university without exception. It’s just what you do. We should be doing more to challenge these assumptions and empower students to question whether further qualifications really are necessary or whether there is another route.

The ‘miss-selling’ of university to millions of my generation has had adverse consequences for their prospects. Inflating dreams has become a national obsession. The exciting, intoxicating and evocative ‘you can be anything you want to’ mantra turns to a mush of debt, disappointment and desperation pretty quickly. Yes, let’s encourage, yes let’s facilitate ambition but not at the expense of reality.

Retrospectively, I sadly feel I wasted three years studying my course when I should have concentrated on subjects which unlock greater vocational options – in my case, law. So, this week, I’m very happy to throw my support behind National Apprenticeship Week. The week is designed to celebrate the positive impact apprenticeships have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy. Combining paid employment with academic study naturally gives the individual a better chance of a job as an outcome.

For those who keep pushing for youngsters to attend university here is the inconvenient truth. Most new jobs now do not require degree-level qualifications. So why bother persevering with this strategy? Well their great merit in pushing for the populous to become smarter. A knowledge economy is appealing. The only problem is it is largely a myth. Developed economies, like the UK, are not brimming with jobs where the employee needs a degree. For every job as a lawyer there are three flipping burgers.

Sadly, until successive governments change course, students will continue to be saddled with debt, which in turn will become the responsibility of the taxpayer. As universities expand and fling open their doors, I doubt we very much will change course.

I wonder if our attempts to create an ‘intelligent economy’ might end up being a rather stupid idea.

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