A recent study conducted by leading student-focused research company trendence UK has revealed that school students are still far less likely to consider an apprenticeship over university. With the apprenticeship levy enacted in April, this raises the question of whether schools are doing enough to effectively advise their students about the increased range of opportunities available.
Canvassing 12,800 students across the UK, the survey gathered student experiences and thoughts about career planning, university and work.
One major trend that emerged was that university remained a clear preference among the majority of school students. It was found that, by year 12, the majority of students had decided they wanted to go to university rather than undertake an apprenticeship. Overall, 70% chose to apply to university, while fewer than 10% were determined to do an apprenticeship.
What has led to this stark difference in interest?
One surprising result of the survey is that 31% of students made the decision to go to university in primary school, while decisions about possible careers are left until much later.
To provide some context, over half (52%) of students reported that they started collecting information about different employers and career areas in year 10 and year 11, and over two thirds (36%) had decided on a career by year 12.
According to David Palmer, UK research manager at trendence UK, this information ‘diminishes the influence of the careers information provided in students’ later years and reinforces the notion that university is the default path post-school’.
These trends can be partially explained by examining the kind of careers advice students receive in school: only 18% of the students surveyed said that they received enough information to ‘make a decision’ about taking an apprenticeship. Meanwhile 55% of students said that the amount of apprenticeship-related advice and information they’d received was ‘not much’ or ‘none at all’.
Yet the lack of adequate information about apprenticeships is not down to a lack of interest: 44% of those that are not satisfied with the amount of advice received want to know more about alternative routes. In fact, of those that said they wanted to go to university, 77% would change their mind if offered the right incentives.
‘In this study, students are telling us that they are interested in apprenticeships, but they simply aren’t being given the information they need to make an informed decision about non-university career options’, David explains.
Virginia Isaac, chief executive of Inspiring Futures and president of the Career Development Institute, said:
"Apprenticeships could, in fact, be much more popular if students had better knowledge about what they are, especially if this information was provided earlier in their studies."
Overall, the survey results demonstrate that more information needs to be provided to school students about apprenticeships. To some, university is still considered an instinctive pathway from a very young age, but students are increasingly seeking information about other opportunities, which means that apprenticeships need to be better presented as a viable route.
Finally, Virginia suggests another key factor that could be crucial in redressing the balance of careers advice:
“Employers are also integral to increasing interest in apprenticeships. It’s important that especially those struggling with an adequate pipeline of applicants for their school leaver programmes ensure that they work with schools and share the responsibility of providing the full picture of career prospects.”