University isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be - Russell Coleman

Life used to be simple. You went to school, on to university and then looked forward to a secure well paid job. How things have changed. Most graduates now come out of university knee-deep in debt and if they are very lucky will get a job, although not one in their chosen field and probably on minimum wage.

Scottish industry is crying out for recruits who can be taught engineering and technical skills which will add value to their businesses. University is not for everyone and for many a Modern Apprenticeship could be an alternative route to a rewarding career. The UK is way behind Germany where half of their school-leavers go into vocational training. It is no surprise that Germany is considered Europe’s engineering powerhouse given it’s strong apprenticeship programme.

This seems to be a peculiar attitude problem in the UK whereby technical training is considered inferior to a university degree course. However, last year the prime minister said that apprenticeships were central to the government’s Plan for Jobs with over 90 per cent of apprentices remaining in employment or going onto further training after completing their apprenticeships. The current Prime Minister has also criticised the number of “low value” degrees at universities which do not offer the prospect of a decent job or good earnings after graduation.

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Apprenticeships are not a new idea….they go back to the 12th century, flourished in the 14th century and during the industrial revolution. Act of Parliament in 1964 established the UK’s apprenticeship programme and things have evolved since then until we get to today’s Modern Apprenticeship framework. In the olden days, most apprentices had to pay their masters in return for training, thankfully things have changed and now an apprenticeship offers a valuable route to a well paid job and fulfilling career.

Modern Apprenticeships are a great option for school-leavers (Picture: Apprenticeships are a great option for school-leavers (Picture:
Modern Apprenticeships are a great option for school-leavers (Picture:

Today’s Modern Apprenticeships are a great way for school leavers to get their foot on the first rung of the career ladder. They get paid while they learn, receive structured on the job training and study for a recognised industry qualification. Recruits gain the skills and knowledge employers are desperate for. Research by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) has found that over 80 per cent of companies who employ apprentices believe they make their workplace more productive, and a further 88 per cent of employers believe that apprenticeships lead to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.

A university degree is often quoted as improving earning potential, but is highly dependent on choice of degree, and apprenticeships have a much higher success rate on earning potential. Statistics from NAS show that those who have completed an apprenticeship will on the whole earn more over their working life than those who do not. This could be as much as £100,000 more over the course of their career.

There is much confusion and misinformation about what Modern Apprenticeships are. A YouGov poll in 2016 found that 26 per cent of parents surveyed felt their child was “too smart” for an apprenticeship. I would argue the smart money is on those young people opting for an apprenticeship. Countries such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland hold apprenticeships in high esteem… maybe it’s time Scotland did the same?

Russell Coleman, group training manager, Borders Technical Training Association (BTTA). For further information about BTTA please visit



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