An increasing number of students are turning to apprenticeships over university degrees to secure top jobs in law, accountancy, engineering, IT and journalism.
Teenagers who received their A level results last week are opting for vocational training over full-time education to avoid student debt and job uncertainty, according to Jewish businessman Spencer Mehlman, who founded the UK’s leading apprenticeship website: “Not going to uni”.
“There’s a significant increase in the number of young kids looking to take on apprenticeships,” says the managing director who launched the company in 2008.
“Last year we processed 56,000 applications, but this year we generated 115,000. That alone provides a scale of the industry at the moment.”
Figures show an increase in apprenticeship uptake since annual university fees were raised from around £3000 to £9000 in 2012. This year a survey commissioned by the Department for Business showed that qualified apprentices scored four per cent more on an employability scale in comparison to university graduates and that a higher apprenticeship could boost earnings by more than £150,000 during a person’s lifetime.
Mr Mehlman says: “There’s now a lot of debt associated with going to university — £30,000 is a lot of money for a young person to start their working life with. Plus, in this climate, going to university is no longer a guarantee of a good job when you leave.
“A top apprenticeship can equal a university education. There are other ways to success than a degree.”
The career path has evolved from its blue-collar roots as he claims that the most popular apprenticeships are in accountancy, engineering and IT.
Mr Mehlman says: “An apprenticeship no longer means becoming a plumber or electrician. It can be in social media, marketing or property management.”
The website works closely with company representatives at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lloyds Bank, the BBC and Jaguar among others to secure top apprenticeships for applicants.
Former JFS student Steven Phillips, 20, secured a job in IT via the website after his A level exams.
Mr Phillips, who completed his apprenticeship after a year and a half and is now in full time employment, says: “I’ve completed my IT training in half the time that it would have taken me to complete a degree.
“I’ve earned money while training, have five IT qualifications and I’m now on a salary similar to a university graduate — so I can’t complain.
“If I hadn’t heard about this route I would probably be at Birmingham University studying computer science. This was the best decision for me.”
Mr Mehlman, a former education consultant, has noticed “a huge change” in the approach of parents.
He says: “Parents used to steer their child away from our stall at school leavers’ exhibitions. But now they bring their children over to us.
“The change definitely came about when higher university fees came in. Parents are making a business decision and recognise that apprenticeships can be a better return on investment.”
The website is the Essex-based director’s second business enterprise. The 47-year-old left school with five GCSEs, all at C grade.
“That never held me back,” he says. “I was best in work than academia — and so are many others.”