Many of those who work in the education sector would agree with each other that apprenticeships – or at least those who are choosing to undertake them – have undergone a period of transition.
Over a number of decades, the British public embarked on a gradual but sizeable shift in perceptions.
Studying A-levels and going to university was once a pursuit reserved for those at the top of their class in the most academic of subjects. As more colleges sprang up and the number of subjects that could be taken at degree level grew, an increasing number of pupils began to consider further education.
However, with astronomical tuition fees, graduate employment figures dwindling and skills shortages in some of the vocational disciplines that provide the backbone to the economy, that trend appears to be reversing.
Perceptions of apprenticeships
Official statistics released by the House of Commons for the 2012-13 academic year show that apprentices are on the rise, with some of the most talented young people (and mature apprentices in many cases) choosing more vocational routes over university.
The results showed that 510,000 people undertook an apprenticeship course in the UK, compared to just 231,000 three years previously. The top three sectors that take on apprentices are business, public services and retail – a far cry from practical areas like construction, joinery and electrician courses that would have previously topped the list.
There are a number of reasons why this could be the case, mostly resulting from a government drive to reshape the education system and battle an unemployment problem that has been hugely exacerbated by the financial crisis.
Age of apprentices
Perhaps the most striking shift is the fact that it is no longer seen as a necessity for young people to enrol on an apprenticeship as soon as they leave school. In the past, the vast majority would be between 16 and 20 when deciding on the industry they wanted to enter, but now the uptake of applicants in their mid-to-late 20s or even 30s has grown significantly.
The proportion of apprentices over the age of 25 has more than doubled over the last three years, rising from 18 to 45 per cent.
This trend may well have come from a greater acceptance on the part of British society for people to make important career choices later on in life – perhaps in line with the fact that we are living – and therefore having to work – for longer.
Apprenticeships were once wrongly thought of as a pursuit for people wanting to go into hands-on, heavy duty industry – and as a result this led to the highly stereotypical view that they were a route into employment best aimed at men.
However, the parliament figures also reveal a refreshing statistic that shows the majority of new apprentices are now women, 55 per cent to be exact.
This is perhaps further evidence off the fact that it has always been perceptions – as opposed to any deep-seated deficiencies in the system – that have been holding back the apprenticeships industry.