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University Degree or an Apprenticeship?

 

The debate about university degrees versus apprenticeship is nothing new. The truth is there is no direct competition between university degrees and apprenticeships once they get past the application stage. It is like comparing red and white wine – neither is superior, it simply depends on the circumstance and personal preference.

However that doesn’t change the fact that there is a large number of new school leavers each year who are deciding to take the life altering step towards one or the other. Whether this is you or your child / sibling / friend or family member, it is important to know the pros and the cons of each choice as often the school leaver’s talents could be applied to both: apprenticeship or a degree.

 

Apprenticeships summary

  • Generally more hands on work
  • Provides in depth training in highly specialised fields
  • Earning while studying
  • Avoiding student finance and future debt
  • Smaller groups in class – more individual attention

 

University degrees summary

  • Highly focused on academic work
  • Keeping your career options open with a broader area of study
  • Many employers won’t consider applicants with the right working experience if they don’t also hold a university degree
  • Lesser barriers to further advancement in the long term

Studying at university offers the option to focus fully on studying for 3 (or more) years and offers a greater diversity of employment options after graduation, which comes in handy if you’re not entirely sure which career path to follow.

For many employers a university degree is also a mark of drive and achievement they find crucial when looking for new recruits.

KIRK KINSELL, European president of InterContinental Hotels says:

“University acts as a filter for people who can prove themselves to have goals, objectives and accomplishments and have survived in that environment.”

There is no doubt that the increase in university fees plays a crucial role when it comes to making a decision. A year after the rise in tuition fees, PricewaterhouseCoopers experienced a 200 % increase in applications for education/working schemes following A levels (comparison of years 2008 and 2011).

However the statistic increase of people not going to university will mean less competition for positions requiring degrees in the long term.

Kirk Kinsell says “If we think about today versus 20 years ago, today’s companies put a lot more emphasis on degreed candidates. I think degrees will be even more important in 20 years’ time.”

And it is likely this trend will indeed continue; a report recently launched by Boris Johnson claims that by 2022, 60% of jobs in London will be at degree level. This would suggest that apprentice trained workers will struggle reaching for high level jobs and will likely be eventually pressured into further education.

This being said, there is a probability that any further education will be paid for by an employer, leaving the formal apprentices virtually debt free, which is undeniably a rare occurrence in the current financial climate and may contribute towards overall life satisfaction factor.

 

There has been a long prevailing misconception in relation to apprenticeships best voiced by Steve Holiday, the Chief executive of National Grid:

“What we’re in danger of moving towards is an attitude of ‘if you go to university, you’ll be successful or if you’re not quite as successful, you go down these alternative paths’ “

The sentiment is clearly outdated if not wrong altogether. There is a demand for educated graduates, but there is also a huge need for highly skilled technicians. Many apprenticeship positions are as prestigious as a spot at the top 10 university:

“From receiving 9,000 applications in the year starting August 2009, BT received 33,000 for the following 12-month period for 500 places. In the same year, Oxford University received 17,000 applications for 3,000 places. BT is looking to broaden the scope of its scheme to include more IT roles and may take on up to 250 additional apprentices this year.”

(ANDY PALMER, Head of skills, BT)

 

People who opt in to enrol on in house training schemes or apprenticeship schemes have often progressed into senior roles within the company.

 

IAN POWELL, Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers says:

“Students joining the firm on this route earn a competitive salary while studying for a professional qualification, plus there are no student debts to repay. One of our current board members joined the firm as a school-leaver and is a great example of the fact that those who don’t pursue a degree can make it to the top of the firm.”

 

Whether you decide to go to university, join an apprenticeship or an in-house training scheme, it is, without a shadow of a doubt, worth considering a career in engineering.

(What is it like to be a Woman in Engineering? We asked Claire, our electrical engineer)

The engineering industry in particular has been struggling with a shortage of talent, the problem being more a case of quantity rather than quality however. The companies agree that the individuals recruited are excellent, willing to learn the skills necessary and learning fast. The situation seems to be worse for smaller business, with smaller marketing and recruitment budgets, it is difficult for them to get themselves in front of school leavers and graduates at first place. So what happens then is that a large number of applicants compete for a small number of jobs with the industry giants, and often get discouraged if unsuccessful, finding jobs in other industries, while small companies (especially the ones in more remote areas) are screaming out for suitable candidates.

Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering says:

“However, even if all these issues were addressed and 100 per cent of engineering graduates went into industry (a questionable aim in itself), we still wouldn’t have addressed the skills shortage we’re told companies are facing. In short, we need more engineering students. And this can’t be addressed just by engaging more with young people’, said Morgan. ‘Universities are almost at capacity,’ he said. ‘So even if we did get more students coming through to study STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects, we’re not going to have the capacity. There’s a real timebomb coming up.’

apprentice Zac Huckle

Apprentice Zac Huckle with his mentor

This is why companies like Rotec offer apprenticeships or in house training schemes.

(See interview with Zac Huckle, our engineering apprentice)

 

For anyone considering an engineering career and would like to find out more

about the options available to them please follow:

http://www.tteltd.co.uk/engineering-apprenticeships-or-university/

 

If you would like to search for specific apprenticeships and study courses you can look here:

http://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/apprenticeships/

http://www.notgoingtouni.co.uk/sector/engineering

 

 


 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/may/15/graduate-jobs-university-work-experience-apprenticeships

 

https://www.theengineer.co.uk/issues/april-2014-online/why-are-engineering-firms-struggling-to-recruit-graduates/

 

http://www.tteltd.co.uk/engineering-apprenticeships-or-university/

 

http://www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk/apprenticeships/

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-33254142

 

 

Signed SCCC bat giveaway

Rotec have recently become sponsors of Somerset’s Royal London One-Day Cup shirt. The company has been associated with the Somerset County Cricket club for a few years, but decided to increase their support for their favourite club this year. The privilege carries some benefits of course, such as the gift of a signed bat and a shirt. And what a season to own such a memorabilia! Rotec could not be prouder to have been a part of the County Championships contender’s season.

The company’s managing director Paul Prouse reflects “This was a year to remember, with so many dramatic twists and turns, the whole county was holding their breath until the last moment. The support for the club has been incredible! That’s why we decided to give the signed bat away, we knew it would make someone very happy.” Indeed it did, Taunton’s very own Mike Bird, chosen from over 500 social media entries. (pictured)

Rotec are looking forward to support the club in the upcoming season and wish the team a great break.

Engineering Talks 1.2 : Women in Engineering

Name: Claire Brown

Qualifications: Fully qualified electrician (originally trained via a modern apprenticeship scheme in an industrial environment). Level 2 Hydraulics, working towards Level 3 atmo

Years of working experience:  12 years overall, 7 years with Rotec

Job Title: 5 second silence (what IS my job title?! laughter) I guess the official job title is Electrical engineer.

But you do more than that?

Yes, it’s quite a dynamic group of engineers, so we all need to cover more than our job description. Rotec is good at not ‘pigeonholing’ people and giving us the outlet to apply our skill sets in different ways.


 

What does your typical day look like?

Typical day would be a bit of electrical design, possibly a bit of customer technical phone assistance, a bit of hands on in the workshop, prototype system testing, if there is a customer with a breakdown then I could be popping out on site to assist  and generally giving a hand if we have some industrial projects on. We also have an apprentice – Dan, I am a main point of contact for him, so I also answer his questions and assist him when necessary.

 

How did you arrive at engineering?

I grew up on a farm, was expected to help out since young age and enjoyed the hands on work. I did 3 of my A Levels in science, and worked part time at the local vets which I enjoyed, so I actually considered becoming a veterinarian, but decided I preferred working with a machinery than something with a pulse. I started looking at some of the other options and fancied an off road vehicle design course at Shropshire university. I even went on a weekend taster which was brilliant, very hands on, getting involved in new machinery development process, but then we spent a day with the actual first year students who showed us their dossier portfolios they had created in their first year (which were about 4 inch thick), and I thought I don’t really want to do that!(laughing) That’s what pointed me towards the option of an apprenticeship – an attractive combination of learning and working. I went to the college and they told me about a company who was looking for an electrical apprentice, so I went straight in for an interview, in my little jumper and flip flops. The four applicants (including myself) then went on to do a one week trial upon which I was offered the position.

 

Were any of the other applicants women?

No. I was the only girl on the course that year, but there had been a female electrician two years before (laughing) but I don’t know of any others while I was still at college.

 

Do you think a lot of girls get intimidated by the male dominated industry?

(Claire seems to choose her words carefully) I don’t really think it’s intimidation.  I think that the environment in which most girls are brought up and the way the education system is structured channels girls down a certain route, I don’t think the actual opportunities are opened up to them in the way that it is for men. I think a lot of it has to do with the way the different genders are viewed. Like with me, growing up on a farm I was expected to muck in, including the physical stuff, lifting heavy loads and you find that going to school you are probably stronger than some of the boys (laughing), especially the ones who spend their free time playing computer games. But most girls are brought up in a typical ‘girly way’ which leads them into an office job, or other jobs that generally have higher female representation.

 

So you think other people’s perception is leading girls away from jobs they could be interested in but are not traditionally pursued by a lot of women?

Yeah, like I don’t think I would have gotten the apprenticeship if it wasn’t for the week’s placement. The workshop manager especially showed concerns about my physical limitations, but the younger guys were more open minded and I am stronger than I look (Claire is quite petite)! One day I walked in with this motor, and I just carried it through the workshop and the guys just kind of did a double take, gaping at me like ‘have you just carried that through the whole building’ (laughing) And I was like ‘yeah’… and I got the job!

 

People assume a lot don’t they…

Absolutely! When I go to a site, people don’t always tend to realise that I am the electrician they have been waiting for all morning! (laughing) I don’t think people are being mean or anything, but women in engineering are not common. Once they realise I am there to commission the power unit, their reactions are definitely positive.

 

What’s the most recent project you’ve worked on?

I went to Colombia recently, to repair an air reduction system on a seismic ship which is designed to map the sea bed. That was a great project, it was interesting to get a glimpse of the country, but also to have a chance to observe the dynamic on the ship. The crew was made up off people from about 6 different nationalities: Norwegians, French, North American, Lithuanian, British and Filipinos. They work hard, they work 7 days a week, in 12 hour shifts for 5 weeks, and then they have five weeks off. So you’d think it would get quite intense, but they work so well together! Making fun of the stereotypes linked with each nationality. Actually I was the only woman on the ship, there are usually more women working on these ships, but with the Zika virus threat in the South Americas the company decided to transfer their female staff to regions with less risk.

 

Would you advise girls to go into engineering?

Yes, definitely! Unfortunately I think it is difficult for any young person to make the life changing decision of a career choice at school leaving age. It is even more difficult for girls to choose to take a career path that is uncommon or stereotypically a male job. I have found the engineering industry to be a great choice as I find the work stimulating and varied. It is an industry that is forever evolving as technology changes which keeps things interesting.

 

Did any of your friends also decide to take an uncommon career path?

One of my friends got a university degree in automotive/aerospace industries and she really wanted to get into the Formula 1, but found getting into the industry wasn’t going to be easy. She is so enthusiastic, and so knowledgeable, but when she went up against men with the same degree, they seemed to be given a preference. It took her quite a few years to find a step into the industry and it did not at that point match her degree. I think that sometimes in engineering female staff may have to initially prove their competency to earn the same respect that is held for their male colleagues.

 

Do you think there is any difference in terms of the qualities male/female engineers bring to the company?

I don’t really think so, not when it comes to skill sets, capability or competence. If there are people willing to give you the chance to learn skills women can be just as good as men. Everyone has particular assets that are distinct to them individually. I may not have the same strength that our Big Dave has to loosen a steadfast bolt. But when the bolt gets dropped in the 3-inch gap behind a power unit that’s where the person with a smaller physique comes into play.

 

How do you find working predominantly with men?

Really good! Generally the guys are great to work with. The vocabulary can be slightly more elaborate especially in the workshop or the shop floor environments and even more if something is going wrong! (laughing) If I am working somewhere new I think the guys try to tone it down a little until they get used to me and realise I won’t be offended. I think the dynamic shifts slightly with a woman in the room and I think it’s a change for the better.

 

It would appear that as much as our society has made progress towards equality, we are still some distance away from truly equal opportunities. Girls should be encouraged from a young age to choose a path they have aptitude for, but that is not enough. Women engineers are not asking for new opportunities to be created for them, they are asking companies to make the shift towards welcoming them, and encouraging them to apply for the positions that are out there, giving them the opportunity to showcase their unique skills, much to the companies own benefit. Claire says: The more women can be encouraged into the industry the less likely these preconceptions will be made between male/female job roles and hobbies. Also more awareness of what jobs are actually out there in the engineering industry would be useful for any young person in helping them make their career choice.

 

Author: Sarka Humpolcova

Date: 07/10/2016

Engineering Talks 1.1 : Interview with an Apprentice

Are you currently considering your options following A-Levels? You might find this article helpful: University Degree vs Apprenticeships: Pros & Cons

 

Name: Zac Huckle

Job Title: Engineering Apprentice

What does your typical day look like?

I help out around the workshop, working on hose connections, or try to come up with improvements whether that be the way the shop looks or regarding our internal processes. If there is a call out I join one of the engineers and go out to help on the job.

 

Rotec Hydraulics Plymouth Depot

Speaking with Dave Nance, Rotec Plymouth Depot Manager

I heard there is a bit of a story behind employing our new apprentice Zac?

Yeah, Zac has been with us for about 6 months before he became our apprentice. He first joined us as a warehouse assistant, after a bit of an uphill battle (laughing). He send his CV in and at first I didn’t think his skill set was exactly what we were looking for so I didn’t pursue it any further. However he just turned up at the store one day, and I was really busy, but we had a quick chat and I was intrigued and invited him for an interview. Long story short, we gave him a job! He was great, right from the start he showed great attitude and initiative. He had no trouble following the tasks laid out for him, always going above and beyond of what was required. He has brought a number of improvements to our processes, organising the store and coming up with fresh ideas. We had an apprentice at the time, but it didn’t go very well and when the position opened up Zac offered to step in, becoming an engineering apprentice. Zac is 20, which unfortunately means the apprenticeship cost is a bit higher than usual (The National Apprenticeship Service only contributes 50% as opposed to 100%  t the cost of the course for 19-24 year olds), but because Zac has proven himself on the shop floor and out on site already, it was a no brainer. Carl (Rotec warehouse manager) is not very happy however, because he is losing a good pair of hands now Zac is being sent out on jobs more and more often.

 

 

Speaking to Zac:

What did you do before you joined Rotec?

I actually lived in Canada for almost 7 years before moving to the UK and joining Rotec. I completed my higher education there, after which I became a mechanic. I grew up around heavy machinery, with my dad working in the plant and tool hire industry. I learned how to drive diggers, dump truck and other heavy machinery and wanted to become a truck driver for as long as I can remember, but as I got older I started leaning more towards becoming a mechanic instead. I like working with my hands and love all things mechanical so it was an easy choice!

 

What made you take up engineering then?

Initially it was simply the closest thing to my mechanical background. When I moved to the UK I found out that my Canadian drivers licence couldn’t be transferred, stopping me from working as a mechanic as a driver’s licence is required because of the insurance cover. So I started looking at what I could do and I came across Rotec, luckily, as I really like working here! There’s a lot of variety.

 

Why were you interested in becoming an apprentice?

I feel I was given a chance, that perhaps the company has taken a bit of a gamble on me and I feel that studying and bettering myself will allow me to bring more value to the business in the long term and give back to the company, if you know what I mean?

 

This week was your first day at college, and I understand you were put through some vocational tests and received the highest scores all the way across the board (10! Congratulations btw!). What were the tests focused on?

I was asked to do a variety of tasks based around metal work.

 

We are looking forward to following Zac’s journey and future successes. He is currently based in our depot in Plymouth (lucky man, you can judge for yourself).

 

Author: Sarka Humpolcova

Date: 07/10/2016

Rotec Hydraulic depot in the Plymouth marina