University vs. Apprenticeship - What Does It Add Up To...???

Out The Window. Once upon a time the accepted norm for many upon leaving school was to go into a good old-fashioned reasonably paid apprenticeship. Now, as such apprenticeship opportunities and jobs in general seem to have diminished dramatically, more young people are being encouraged to go on to university in the belief that this will somehow improve their chances. However, unless you are studying for a specialist job that you know you have waiting, it appears that for many, gaining that degree does not necessarily guarantee you any chance of a better opportunity in life. Nevertheless, on the reverse, it can set you back considerably financially. With university fees now set at £9,000 per year, students, depending on whether they have to relocate or not, can accumulate debts between £30,000 and £60,000 during their university period. It gets worse if you then take into account potential loss of earnings, wages you would have otherwise been paid, say £10,000 a year after tax for arguments sake. This can then amount to a differential of £60,000 to £90,000 plus. The current financial logic is supposed to mean that if you invest in the university approach in the short term, the quality of job, and therefore the salary, would be substantially higher in the long term. Thereby allowing you to claw back your lost earnings and repay the debt incurred. However, if there is no job waiting for you, this reasoning somewhat goes out the window, leaving you with just a very large bill for a very expensive and rather redundant education.

Reasonable Balance. The time frame for both apprenticeship and university is very similar, however, whereas university is in a sense an extension of your academic school years, an apprenticeship is an actual job - even though you may be making the tea at first. Potential earnings at university are generally restricted to part time work, if you can get it, and non-existent if you can't. Hence the accumulation of what can be a considerable debt. On the other hand, with an apprenticeship, you are bringing in a reasonable full time wage right from the start. At university the emphasis is more on detailed academic knowledge with no practical job experience, whereas in an apprenticeship you are getting a reasonable balance of both. In employment terms practical job experience is as valuable as any level of academic knowledge and in many ways more so, as many find out when they leave university to seek work. All in all, if you need such detailed specialist knowledge and training and know there is a job waiting, then university seems to make perfect sense. If this is not the case, getting out in the world and getting on with life in an apprenticeship, for many, is a much better option. It provides a better balance of knowledge and practical experience and the bulk of money is coming in rather than going out. Bearing in mind also that you can still study and improve academically on the side if you should so wish it is, for many, a better prospect all round.

Even Better: I considered myself very lucky when I left school and apart from previous paper rounds and a bit of shop work, I started my full time work doing an apprenticeship as an engineer with the GPO (now BT). This involved working in a practical sense right from the word go, but was also intermingled with sessions at three different training schools, plus sessions with engineers in the field working on external plant and customer apparatus, as well as some day and block release at college to further studies in maths, physics and telecommunications' systems. Not bad! Of course, as I was actually in employment I was also getting paid a wage right from the start. Even better!

Today's Opportunities: When looking at today's opportunities for school leavers, there are serious problems it seems. There simply aren't enough jobs of any sort and there aren't enough apprenticeship opportunities either. What apprenticeships there are can be pitifully paid, or worse still, not paid at all. It seems employers are just using the current job climate to squeeze even more for less, adopting a take it or leave it attitude. Consequently, young people are often led to think that the only way to guarantee a reasonable job is to go down the university road. Nevertheless, many are finding that despite three, or even four years of commitment and hard study and the considerable financial deficit incurred, they are employment wise, still no better off. Employers want applicants to have some practical experience, and as university graduates have none, this too works against them. Some even have to resort to working for nothing for long periods to try and build up some of that practical experience. Experience that they would have got automatically with an apprenticeship but did not get at university. Others, applying for jobs in the absence of anything else, are simply told that they are now over qualified. It seems for many that despite considerable effort and dedication, they still cannot win in today's world.

Less Reward! I really think over the past few decades we have taken away so much from our future youth. It must be soul destroying for many kids nowadays looking at what recent governments have done for them. Job opportunities and prospects look set to remain slim, and for some they are simply non-existent. Houses are ill-affordable and for most, facilities less prevalent all round. Every greedy bigwig wants to squeeze more and more out of their employees and employees are being forced to accept less reward for more effort, or go without the work. Society, on behalf of most, it seems, is very poorly managed and hasn't generally been improved by any recent government. Why is it exactly that the people we pay so generously to manage our lives (or should I say pay themselves so generously) fail us so miserably? We need to give more opportunity to our young people. More jobs, more apprenticeships and perhaps a little more leisure time as well. After all, modern technology should bear some of the burden nowadays. That should enable people to be paid a bit more for doing a bit less, not the reverse. Likewise, we in today's society should be able to give our kids more of an opportunity and more of a start in this world, not less! If governments can afford to invest so much in the form of student loans that all too often get students nowhere, can they not also invest much more towards apprenticeship development rather than sweeping things under the university carpet?

Mixed Feelings: My own daughter, Katie, has just started at L.I.P.A. university in Liverpool, something I had mixed feelings about for several reasons. Based in Paul McCartney's old school, it is by all accounts an excellent facility and she did extremely well to get offered a place. She is sacrificing quite a lot to do it but is nevertheless keen to give it a go. I hope she does really well and she always has been like a dog with a bone, quite determined when it suits. It is also a well rated university that generally yields good results. All of these being points in her favour, with a bit of luck she won't just come back with a red football shirt and a Scouse accent. But who knows whether it will benefit her work and her life? For all the sacrifice, will it help her to achieve things she couldn't have achieved in other ways? Only time will tell. One thing we do know, if she sees it through, she'll incur the current obligatory large financial deficit.

Expensive Lesson! Being largely self-taught in all the things that matter to me, I don't think you necessarily have to go that far, or perhaps spend that much, to learn what you need. The knowledge comes from without, but the will comes from within. You can get lessons, tips and information from all around, especially now that we have the internet. I know of many young people that have gone down the university road in the belief that it will pay dividends and yet I don't know of one that has actually ended up with a job and salary worthy of their commitment and sacrifice. On the other hand, amounts accrued through debt and loss of earnings are staggering for a young person setting out in life. Is it worth it? Well, it's an experience and an education, but for most, it's still a rather expensive lesson it seems!
Crosstalk by Taz: October 2013