Whilst that may be the perception, the facts are beginning to tell a different story.
According to a recent YouGov survey carried out at the start of this year, the proportion of people who think that on the job training or an apprenticeship offers the best career prospects jumped from 29 per cent to 32 per cent in Scotland, whilst 33 per cent said they believed university remained the best option for their prospects, despite the costs. This was down from two to five (38 per cent) in the previous year.
So, what are the reasons for this shifting viewpoint?
Almost 10 per cent of those questioned believed a university education was no longer financially viable; the growth in popularity of apprenticeships could therefore be a direct result of the opportunity it provides young people to earn while they learn and to become fully-qualified in their profession.
This provides a potential platform for young people to be free of carrying significant student debt, which in turn could allow young people to be able to make other financial commitments that they may not be able to achieve whilst still paying off student loans. For those of us still in the throes of clearing our student debt, I have no doubt that this is something that really resonates.
Moreover, a report jointly released two years ago by Barclays and the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests the amount apprentices earn over the course of their lives is outstripping that of graduates by up to 270 per cent.
The report rebuts a range of common misconceptions about apprenticeships, including that they are only relevant for careers in vocational or manual industries; business, administration, and law accounted for the highest number of apprenticeship starts – 29 per cent – closely followed by health, public services, and care at 26 per cent. This certainly goes a long way to highlighting the fact that apprenticeships offer an equally – if not more – viable career path to higher education.
Moving away from the financial considerations, the diversity of apprenticeships on offer also makes them an attractive option.
In Scotland, young people can complete a modern apprenticeship across 108 different framework options, from accounting to rail engineering, dental nursing to procurement.
Arguably, pursuit of a modern apprenticeship in certain professions could see individuals gain their qualification in a shorter timeframe than if they were to choose the degree study equivalent, and now with the introduction of foundation and graduate apprenticeships, there are more ways than ever for young people to be part of the apprenticeship family.
Pupils can now kick start their career while still at school by completing a foundation apprenticeship in their senior phase.
Combining elements of college, school and the workplace, pupils achieve an industry-recognised qualification and develop core skills for their future careers.
It’s a great opportunity for young people to make a smoother transition into the world of work, and for employers to get early access to future talent.
There is also the added option of pursuing a graduate apprenticeship, where apprentices can study to degree level, splitting their time between work and study.
Graduate apprentices have the advantage of putting their learning into practice and solving real problems on real projects, which, for employers, creates a workforce building the skills and knowledge that Scottish industries need.
Through Developing the Young Workforce – Scotland’s youth employment strategy – there is a combined effort from a range of partners, educators and employers in raising awareness of vocational pathways which will continue to contribute to an increase in the take-up of the wide range of apprenticeships on offer.
A growing number of employers are engaging with their local schools to raise awareness of their industry and the career pathways on offer in order to attract their future talent pipeline.
This sustained level of employer engagement with education will inevitably ensure the popularity of apprenticeships continues on an upward trajectory.
Lauren Brown, project manager, Developing the Young Workforce, West Lothian.