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Top apprentices earn £50,000 more than graduates, but attitudes still need to change

Top apprentices can expect to earn £50,000 more than graduates in their lifetime according to a new study by the Sutton Trust, a charity working to improve social mobility through education.

Safeera Sarjoo
12th February 2016
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Results showed that the most highly qualified apprentices – those who have studied to level 5, equivalent to a degree – would amass roughly £1.5mn in their career compared to an individual with an undergraduate degree from a non-Russell Group university.

This calculation in Levels of Success: The Potential of UK Apprenticeships factors in aspects like student debt levels and the cost of going to university as well as the fact that apprentices earn whilst they learn. The study also revealed that graduates who did go to a Russell Group university would earn £1.6mn in their lifestyle, which isn’t actually a huge pay gap.

We’ve always supported the development and creation of apprenticeships across industries but despite advancements being made, there is one thing that remains a challenge the government and educational bodies have yet to tackle - attitudes.

As significant as these results are, the study also reveals startling statistics that give us further insight into current attitudes towards apprenticeships. A shocking 65% of secondary school teachers would either rarely or never advise students to take up an apprenticeship, while 4 out of 5 students would opt for university with the belief that a degree offers better career prospects.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said,Today’s report shows that the best apprenticeships offer similar financial security as an undergraduate degree.  Although the Government’s target for apprenticeships to 2020 is three million, we’ve only had 30,000 higher apprenticeships in the last two years. We need more good apprenticeships to offer genuine alternatives to A-levels and degrees.  We also need to tackle the ingrained negative culture of apprenticeships that exists amongst teachers, parents and young people alike.’

Lampl is right to be concerned – we are essentially limiting people who take the vocational route over the academic by not creating higher level apprenticeships. It does raise the question as to how many of the proposed three million apprenticeships will surpass an intermediate level.   

A staggering 60% of apprenticeships are currently set at GCSE level and are seen as being on par with work experience placements. This feeds a negative attitude across different groups towards apprenticeships and hinders them from reaching their full potential.

Research by Oliver Wyman suggests that the best apprenticeships are disproportionately populated by people from wealthier backgrounds, whilst those from less advantaged backgrounds are able to benefit in the same way as standards are stagnant. A failure to provide higher standards in turn affects this group in the longer term with their lifetime earnings being marginally better than secondary school qualifications alone.

If we want to utilise apprenticeships and make them effective social mobility vehicles then attention must be given to improving their standards so people across a range of backgrounds have access to a full scope of levels of study.


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