The Path Less Travelled

A-level results day brings the focus on apprenticeships as an alternative path into work

As the dog days of August roll around, that can mean a few things: quieter trains, silly season news stories and of course A level results day. Images of jubilant students sit alongside some looking less than thrilled with the all important grades.

This year was no exception –the proportion of students awarded the top A* and A grades rose for the first time since 2011. Overall, the share of papers gaining A or higher passed the 26% mark, up by half a percentage point since 2016.

But it is expected that University admissions may drop for the first time in a decade, as the cost of higher education continues to rise in comparison with the job prospects such an education may deliver.

For those that didn’t get the grades they were hoping for, or perhaps did achieve the right marks but feel for whatever reason University isn’t for them, there are still a variety of paths open to acquiring the necessary skills and experience to get into the world of work.

Apprenticeships are emerging as a viable route straight into work for a huge swathe of young people keen to get real skills and earn while they do. And the biggest area of growth is in digital, technology and software.

“Digital and IT skills are the most important skills for our economy at the moment,” says Harry Gooding at Arch Apprentices. “When the clients we work with hire apprentices they look at skills way before they look at qualifications like A levels and degrees. It’s about whether the people are digitally fluent and if they’re able to add value straight away.”

However, for a growing number of young people keen on pursuing a career in digital industries, the main fear is that after three years of a degree much of what they have learned will be out of date.

Universities acknowledge that despite their best efforts, staying current and building degrees around the latest developments in the field is almost impossible. Businesses on the front line of technology have to quickly master new tools and drive new ways of using digital technology.

And for some, they will face the prospect of finding a job in a competitive industry with few contacts, saddled with student debts. Given that, finding a way into the industry by gaining real, in-demand skills is a no-brainer.

And to achieve that, fresh new thinking is needed. And that’s where apprenticeships come in. Digital technology apprenticeships match up the very best of leading edge thinking in the industry with a new intake of digital natives able to adapt and respond to what companies need now.

For many businesses the advent of the Apprenticeship Levy has yet to be felt, and there remains a high level of uncertainty a large swathe of UK companies over how the Levy works, whether they qualify, and how to access it. Improving understanding of the Levy is a key priority for training providers like Arch, as well as government agencies.

It is hoped that the Levy may drive a sea change in terms of how businesses address their growing demand for IT skills in particular, Gooding believes.

“Those skills are changing every day, and with apprenticeships employers not only get financial support to pay for the training, but also they get to write the standards and specifications themselves. It’s a great opportunity not just for young people considering the next step, but also companies in need of skilled people right now.”


Christian Doherty has been a business journalist for 14 years covering subjects ranging from skills, HR issues, management, finance and regulation.

 

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