Apprenticeships or graduate schemes – what route should you go?

February 21, 2023

You might be thinking that the best route into the working world is through a graduate scheme. But have you considered a year-long apprenticeship scheme before going to university instead? It can be the ideal way to earn and learn in a gap year and is a great alternative to a graduate scheme post university. Let’s explore some of the benefits of post-school apprenticeships. 

When you come to the end of full-time education, you have the choice to either enter the working world or continue your education, and you might not be too sure about the right path for you. If you’re planning to take a gap year, why not use the time to earn money while still gaining useful skills that will serve you well when applying for future jobs. 

Deciding between an apprenticeship right after school and pursuing a traditional degree then applying to a graduate scheme can be a difficult decision. You might run into outdated ideas about apprenticeships or bias toward higher education, but it’s important to remember that it’s your future and ultimately, the choice is yours.  

Table of Contents

What is an apprenticeship? 

An apprenticeship is a paid job that combines employment with specific on-the-job training with dedicated time (at least 20% of your paid time) for studying during the work week. They can be used to develop skills for new workers and to upskill current employees. Programmes run anywhere from 12 to 48 months and are available from Level 2 (GCSE level) to Level 6 and 7 (Degree level). At the end of your programme, you’ll undergo an end-point assessment (EPA) and if successful, you will receive a nationally recognised qualification and certificate.  

What are the benefits for school leavers? 

  • Apprenticeships are available for a wide range of professions, with different levels, and you will be able to gain skills for a specific career path or industry. 
  • Higher education is not a requirement to enter an apprenticeship. You need to demonstrate the ability and motivation to complete the course, which could be perfect for someone leaving school 
  • You’ll get to experience the world of work and gain valuable on-the-job skills while earning money and continuing to learn.  
  • You’ll be making industry contacts from a young age, which could prove useful for your future career. 
  • You can choose to go on to university when your apprenticeship scheme is complete and take with you the practical knowledge that real-life work experience gives you. 
  • You also can test if a particular industry is right for you. 
  • As employers are investing time and money in setting up apprenticeship schemes and identifying the skills they want to nurture for their business, it’s often in their best interest to hire you on as a permanent, full-time employee at the end of your programme if you prove yourself. This, of course, does give you a dilemma if you were planning to go to university. 

Getting into an apprenticeship programme is highly competitive as being paid to learn is an attractive proposition for school leavers. However, an apprenticeship is a great alternative to a ‘traditional’ higher education path. You still get to gain knowledge and skills, while earning money, which you could put towards your university course if you eventually choose this path.  

What is a graduate scheme? 

A graduate scheme is a structured, employer-run training programme designed to develop potential future leaders within a company. Usually, they run between one to two years, but they can be longer. Graduate programmes are offered across many different specialties, but in order to be eligible, you need to have completed higher education first.  

With a graduate scheme, you might be able to focus on one particular role within the company, but often, you’ll spend time rotating through business functions which gives you exposure to a range of roles. You may be required to work across different locations, which means if you decide to pursue this option you will need to be flexible.  

Graduate schemes can be incredibly competitive, especially in lucrative fields and high-profile companies. With limited spaces, many hopeful applicants often don’t secure a spot. As a graduate scheme is only available after you have graduated from university, you will have to invest a lot of time and energy into your university choice and degree course, as well as prepping your CV. 


Do employers favour one route over another? 

On the whole, both programmes are highly regarded by employers. Of course, a degree is always respected in a professional setting and educated young graduates will always be in demand. But more and more, businesses are turning to apprenticeship programmes to find and retain quality talent as they provide skills that are needed in the world of work. 

As an employer, there are a number of benefits to recruiting apprentices from school, rather than after university education. It’s a great opportunity to attract early top talent and shape the skills they have that will help you to build the workforce from the grassroots up. 


The deciding factor 

If you’re trying to decide between going to university, with the aim of being accepted onto a graduate scheme, and applying for an apprenticeship programme that allows you to learn while you earn money, then it comes down to what you want to get out of each experience.  

A university degree will give you some soft, transferable skills that you can use in any industry but many courses will not prepare you for a specific job or industry, so an apprenticeship course can give you the head start. If you’re unsure what you want to do after graduation, this might be right for you.  

With an apprenticeship, you immediately enter the workforce, but you’ll also be getting paid to study. Unlike with university, if you are under the age of 25, your employer and the government will fund your training so there are no tuition fees to worry about, plus you’ll be getting experience and gaining connections in your chosen profession from day one. 


Make the right choice for you 

When it comes down to it, you need to pick the path that works for you. Take stock of your current situation (finances, qualifications, etc.) and what your goals and dreams for your professional life are. Make sure you do your research and get as much information as possible before making your decision.  

While both options give you the opportunity for some hands-on training, when it comes down to it, they are very different paths. Both provide you with an inside track with a potential employer, but there are differences in cost, lifestyle, and requirements for eligibility. Either way, your apprenticeship programme should be custom-designed for you based on your education, your age, and the time you’re willing to dedicate to training, among other factors. You’ll gain work experience in your chosen industry no matter what, which could give you a head start over a graduate.  


How we can help 

The Education and Skills Partnership team works with employers and employees alike to design apprenticeship programmes that fit the needs of both employers and apprentices. 

Our learning and skills coaches are highly skilled and well-qualified in what they do. What’s most important to us is that our apprentices feel cared for and listened to and that our courses help them fulfil their potential, progress in their profession, and meet their individual career development goals. 

To discuss how we can support you during your apprenticeship journey, get in touch with our team for a free consultation. 

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