Are degree apprenticeships the best kept secret of a generation?

If I said that today’s students could get a debt-free degree, graduate with 4 years’ work experience and earn a respectable salary while doing so, would you believe it?

Degree apprenticeships have arrived and, according to UCAS, there are a growing number of young people snapping them up. These new degrees are changing the way students experience university; balancing full-time work with study and then immediately applying what they learn to a job. It’s a quiet revolution against the traditional 3-year campus experience, which can lead to low employment, in-flexible working, employer knock-backs and, at worse, standing in long queues at the job center.

It’s true – a traditional undergraduate degree isn’t worth the same as it was 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, it was no walk in the park for the class of 2008, who left the green pastures of university life and stepped into the world’s first global financial crisis. But, relatively speaking, employers (myself included) are expecting a lot more from young people entering the workplace for the first time. I was recently interviewing for a communications position and it didn’t escape my attention that most candidates had masters qualifications, and some, even PhDs…  Jesus. How do these people fit it all in? How do they afford it? Why is a PhD student applying to work for me?

This is why I think degree apprenticeships are awesome. Instead of compounding the problem of education inflation – the injustice of a Doctor of Philosophy working for an English grad – they are taking a refreshing and proactive approach to educating students for gaps and upcoming opportunities in the employment market. Finally!

How do degree apprenticeships work?

Apprenticeships aren’t a new thing. For years school leavers have opted to learn a trade or practical skill on the job. Degree apprenticeships take this winning format and turn up the volume. Apprentices receive executive-level professional training, higher level teaching and work a full-time job with regular opportunities for progression.

Another way to think of degree apprenticeships is a reboot of the placement year. Rather than cramming all of your work experience into a single year, it’s now spread out over four or five to give you a more realistic and immersive understanding of work. Invaluable stuff.

Yet, despite all the benefits offered by a stable income, secure job, and a fully funded degree, take up for these new qualifications is still relatively low. Why?

One reason is their scarcity. Most employers are only just catching on that degree apprenticeships are a viable way to recruit and develop talent. Another is the pervading attitude that apprenticeships lead to low employment – an outdated view held by generations who went to university for free and walked into jobs with only a degree to their name.

Making way for a new kind of education

Times are changing. The UK’s leading online student community The Student Room recently surveyed their users to discover a shift in opinion amongst young people. 61% of prospective students are now interested in apprenticeships with 48% believing that apprenticeships do not lead to low employment, turning their back on the views championed by their parents and, sometimes, even secondary school teachers.

This was the case for one of Aston University’s degree apprentices, who had to challenge the will of her tutor to get where she is today: working in marketing for Microsoft. I wrote about her story recently and, as you can imagine, it got a lot of attention. Since starting her qualification, she has been promoted to Events Manager and now probably earns more than I do with 10 years work experience. She’s 19.

The bottom line is that degree apprenticeships are creating exceptional people. If you are a student, my advice is to get in now, while the competition is still relatively flat. Similarly, even if you already have your degree, there is nothing stopping you from doing a degree apprenticeship post-graduation, transforming you into some supercharged graduate-apprentice. After all, degree apprenticeships are not just aimed at school leavers.

What’s next?

Within a few years, I expect students will see degree apprenticeships as a mainstream route and places will become much, much tougher to secure. From business to engineering and manufacturing, there are a wide variety of options available for those keen to start earning earlier. Depending on the choice of apprenticeship, students may even graduate with professional status – this is important. New graduates often have to take costly professional qualifications on top of their degree to keep pace and be recognised by their sector. A lot of my millennial peers are now doing professional qualifications to this end, if we have had the option of degree apprenticeships, we could have saved ourselves the trouble.

Young people today

Young professionals today are expected to be superhuman. Very few employers now ‘take a punt’ on a new graduate coming through the door, if they even open it in the first place. Employers want experience, they want people who can innovate, and within weeks of working, expect to see value added.

Degree apprenticeships give employers a stake in an apprentice’s future. It’s a huge advantage. A long-term apprenticeship – rather than hopping between internships and placements – will give apprentices deep, specialist skills and experience. The sort of thing I like to see in a portfolio.

So, do you believe it? A job right from the start and learning based on what you do, rather than what you hope to. A full salary and the chance for a young professional to get their career going the second they are done with school. The opportunity to progress, every year, without the headache of finding a job after university. Degree apprenticeships are ambitious and screaming out for generation z.

But keep that to yourself.

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