Engineering Apprenticeships or University Degree?

Choosing your career path and essentially what you want to do for the rest of your life is a lot of pressure, so picking between an apprenticeship and a degree is a difficult choice to make. But is there a correct answer?

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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Deciding whether to continue into further education or leave education is a difficult choice to make.

Do you opt to go to university and get a degree or choose an apprenticeship and earn as you learn?

With a subject such as Engineering, this is the question for many and knowing what path to take is the struggle.

This is a long-running debate, and choosing your next step requires careful consideration.

Apprenticeship Pros

More organisations than ever are offering apprenticeship schemes as more and more employers view this training method as a viable alternative to a university degree.

A study by The Sutton Trust has previously found apprentices can expect to earn thousands more in their lifetime than undergraduates from non-Russell Group universities.

A typical starting salary for an engineering apprentice is around £12,000 to £15,000 – although this quickly increases as you hit different levels of qualifications. The average salary an apprentice could expect once they have finished their training is believed to be in the region of £23,000 to £28,000.

With no student debt to contend with, an apprenticeship becomes even more attractive.

The government has been promoting a drive to get more people into engineering, meaning that there are a lot of grants and bursaries available out there – particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The overwhelming positive to an apprenticeship is that it is an effective way of easing you into the working environment, vastly different from being in school or university. An apprenticeship allows you to learn and experience your chosen career and, in doing so, makes you more employable to future companies.

Most significantly, with an apprenticeship, you earn as you learn. The company you work for will see how you apply yourself to the demands of a full-time job whilst completing your coursework.

Subsequently, roughly 90% of apprenticeships are kept on by their employers upon completion of their course. Nearly a quarter of them are promoted within the 12 months of finishing.

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Apprenticeship Cons

Despite the continuing rise of apprenticeships, educated graduates are in high demand, and it looks set to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, a university degree can give you time to decide and understand your ultimate career goal. University allows you to study traditional subjects whilst keeping your options open.

In comparison with an apprenticeship, you could end up limiting your prospects by pigeon-holing yourself into one industry.

Another disadvantage when enrolled in an apprenticeship, is that you may experience a considerable age gap between yourself and others. Connecting with others can be more challenging, and it could be challenging to be taken seriously as a professional.  

When you cannot identify with them, forming a bridge of communication and trust could be tricky. Unfortunately, it is also quite common for apprentices to receive less recognition for their work.

One of the biggest draws of going to university is getting the overall experience. The social aspects are as much part of university life as studying. Taking the route of doing an apprenticeship means you jump straight into working and may not have the opportunity to live a carefree life as a full-time student.

University Pros

The main draw for many that causes them to pick university is to go somewhere new and meet lots of new people. It is the unique experience of learning to live independently and the freedom that comes with it.

Of course, the critical factor in taking a university course is that you are studying a subject you are interested in and will get to study it in great depth.

By having the opportunity to choose your degree, you can either specialise if you have a clear career focus, or you can opt for broader modules to leave your options open.

Indeed, most skilled jobs require academic training and bachelor’s and master’s degrees – Engineering being one such field.

The most overwhelming positive for going to university is that more and more jobs require a degree.

Following on from that, by more jobs requiring degrees, you are likely to look more lucrative to employers than those who do not hold one and, therefore, are more likely to get a job.

University Cons

The overwhelming disadvantage of going to university is the tuition fees. As university degrees become more expensive, the more lucrative an apprenticeship looks.

 

Additionally, not all degrees offer hands-on experience and the chance to develop the technical skills required for the career. While many entry-level roles provide training, the lack of technical skills could prolong how quickly you land a job and kickstart your career.

 

When applying for university, you commit yourself to that course for three years, but the decision you make at 18 years old may not be where you see yourself a year or so down the line.

 

If you change your mind partway through, it is an expensive choice – both financially and in terms of your time. Further, there is no guarantee that you will succeed in your studies.

 

You may be enthusiastic about what you are learning, but the academic rigour required of university studies may not be suited.

 

What is also important to remember is that a job is not guaranteed after university, and not all graduates go straight into a well-paying job. Going straight into work through apprenticeships means those who take that path earn a living whilst working, offering better career progression.

Degree Apprenticeships: The Happy Medium?

In recent years, however, degree apprenticeships have been on the rise, offering for many what could be the answer to their dilemma.

A degree apprenticeship is a job combined with a university degree, meaning you will be working most of the time and studying at university (or college) for the rest.

This means you will get paid, and your employer and the government will cover your tuition fees.

Be sure to check, though, before you apply that you will end up with a degree at the end; some offer a degree level qualification as opposed to an actual degree.

The main advantage of a degree apprenticeship is that it gives you real work experience, alongside the knowledge and theory you get from a degree.

You develop the skills and knowledge for specific jobs and careers, which can help kick-start your career and give you a strong CV tailored to Engineering.

Another advantage of a degree apprenticeship is you will also likely develop transferable skills considered relevant by industry, employers, and universities.

Being able to balance a degree and a full-time job will be challenging and requires a lot of self-discipline. Do not underestimate yourself; go with what you believe will be the best for your future.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that doing an apprenticeship does not automatically mean you cannot complete a degree in future.

There is no definitive answer as to whether an apprenticeship or degree is the “correct” path to take.

It comes down to what works for you and your ultimate career aspirations.

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