Apprenticeships: could they appeal to graduates?

  • Becky Kells
  • 04 January 2019

Doing a degree and an apprenticeship are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many graduates have expressed a desire to complete an apprenticeship after university. What is so appealing about doing both—and should employers market their apprenticeships to graduates, too?

Traditionally, students are presented with a choice when it comes to their futures: attend university, or do an apprenticeship. With this in mind, employers tend to market their apprenticeships to school and college leavers, and direct their graduate jobs to university students.

In reality, the paths of students are not as clear-cut as this. Apprenticeships that are equivalent to a degree level qualification (Higher Apprenticeships) are becoming common across a wide variety of sectors: law, banking and finance, accountancy and retail to name but a few. Degree Apprenticeships take this a step further by including a university qualification as a core component to the apprenticeship. Upon finishing their programmes, degree apprentices will have years of direct experience at a company, no student debt, as well as a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree.

As Higher and Degree Apprenticeships become better understood by school leavers, their appeal has risen: even among those who are considering going to university. Out of the school leavers we surveyed in 2018, over 38% said that they would do an apprenticeship after completing a university degree.

Additionally, soon-to-be graduates who know about apprenticeships are noticing the appeal of them. Over 47% of graduates would consider doing an apprenticeship after completing university: almost half of graduates. 

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why UK students—who are likely to be saddled with more than £50,000 in debt—would embark on a different type of training immediately after completing their degrees. But there are a number of reasons. There were 14 million graduates living in the UK in July to September 2017, and the competition for graduate roles at top companies has only increased on an industry-wide basis.

With this in mind, doing an apprenticeship as a graduate looks all the more appealing: it’s the chance to build a close relationship with an employer, network within the company, and undergo role-specific training tailored to the current and future role.

A key question for any student deciding between a degree apprenticeship and a graduate pathway would be salary. Graduate scheme starting salaries are still slightly higher than those offered to degree apprentices, but factor in the degree costs–paid in full by the employer–and the pay difference makes a lot more sense.

For example, business management graduate schemes tend to pay a starting salary of £25k. The chartered business management degree with IBM has a starting salary of £18k, while the EY Degree Apprenticeship in business leadership and management pays up to £21,750 as a starting salary. A digital marketing graduate scheme at a media agency pays £23,000 per year, while a digital marketing Degree Apprenticeship at Nestle pays £17,200 plus benefits. While there’s still a salary difference, it’s a small one when the lack of student debt is considered.

Employers have made some changes to their graduate schemes in order to align them with the ambitions of recent graduates. For example, by aligning their graduate schemes to a Level 7 Apprenticeship Standard, employers will enable their graduates to obtain the equivalent to a master’s degree. For example, EY’s tax and assurance graduates who work in England and either joined the firm in September 2017, or will join in September 2018, will now complete a Level 7 Apprenticeship.

This goes one step further to normalising apprenticeships as a method of career development that can work in addition to a graduate degree, rather than instead of it.

However, when it comes to promoting apprenticeships to graduates, there’s a gap in the market. Our research shows that 70% of employers market their apprenticeships exclusively to school leavers, meaning that graduates who do hear about them are doing so indirectly. A lot more could be done in this area to promote apprenticeships to the graduate market.

The skills acquired by graduates over their time at university could be matched to apprenticeships at a diverse range of sectors. The opportunity to further their academic skills in a working environment is an appealing one. By targeting graduates for Higher and Degree apprenticeships, employers would be able to select candidates from a diverse talent pool.