Andrew Morley.

To study, or not to study – is this really the question?

Apprenticeships or academic study? What is the best route to a career in the construction sector? Andrew Morley says getting the right training is what counts. 

The debate comparing apprenticeships and academic study is as old as time and despite arguments on both sides; the question remains a topical one. So, are apprenticeships a genuine alternative to university? 

On one hand, research from Sutton Trust shows that the best apprentices can earn £50,000 more in their lifetime than university graduates, yet apprenticeships are perceived to be less valuable than degrees – and this perception appeared to be engrained in UK culture.

On the other, the government released figures earlier this year that showed there had been a dramatic increase in higher apprenticeships and yet, they are targeting businesses to create three million more apprenticeships by 2020 in a bid to encourage even more people into apprenticeships.

The important thing is getting it right

For us, the question is not whether one is better than the other - we’re a large employer of both - the most important thing is that each individual picks the option that is right for them and that businesses don’t put the numbers first.

Creating poor quality, low value apprenticeships or graduate opportunities isn’t going to be beneficial to any party, but this is particularly true for businesses in the engineering and rail sectors where crucial skills are at an all-time low. At Amey, we’re in the mind set of leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of great talent and this means making training and development exceptional for all.

Historically, apprenticeships have seen less investment in recent times which has only served to broaden the skills gap, particularly in trade skills. That’s why it’s never been more important for businesses to invest, not just financially, but in time and effort to enable in the transfer of knowledge, technical expertise and valuable life skills.

Making the most of every opportunity

This was part of the thinking behind our recent apprentice exchange with Great Western Railway (GWR). We recognised that even though our apprentices are gaining great experience on one of the biggest rail projects in the UK, working towards qualifications (yes, apprentices can study too) and their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, by partnering with GWR we could expand both their professional and cultural experiences. 

Building both hard and soft skills is key to creating a dynamic, highly-skilled workforce and having great people is the biggest driver to commercial success. As today’s business leaders, it’s our job to help both graduates and apprentices develop into well-rounded professionals and the leaders of tomorrow. 

If we look after our people, the numbers will follow.

Andrew Morley is an On Track Machine engineering competency manager at Amey.