22 June, 2024

Treading the right career path

22 August, 2017

As the topic of GCSE and A-Level results becomes a key talking point around the breakfast table in many households across the UK, a group of engineering apprentices is urging young people to be calm and consider the full range of options – whatever their results. With more and more firms offering attractive schemes, young people still considering their career options having decided not to go to university (or not being in a position to do so) could do well to give serious thought to the possibility of serving an apprenticeship in engineering. In many instances, the demand is there, the life-long career opportunities are in place and opportunities to advance through a company – often to the very top level – have been proven. Moreover, many people who have chosen this path have found themselves in a fulfilling and enjoyable profession that is able to sustain them throughout their life. Indeed, according to the latest research by the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC), 98% of engineering apprentices are happy with their career choice – and this finding spans apprentices at all levels, from Level 2 (intermediate level) to Level 6 (degree level).

One example is Millie Coombes, IAC member and a rail telecoms design engineer at Atkins. “Since starting my apprenticeship, I have never looked back – it was definitely the right option for me,” she said. “I really don’t think I’ve missed out by not going to university. I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects and absolutely love what I do. I started on a decent wage and in four years I hope to have enough to put down the deposit for a house. Whatever results you’re expecting to get, there’s bound to be an apprenticeship out there which will suit you. If you don’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day, there is an alternative – but don’t just take that from me, nearly all of our survey respondents this year said they were happy they’d chosen to do an apprenticeship.”

The IAC was set up by and for apprentices to give them a greater collective voice. The group is supported by Semta, the national engineering skills body. Semta CEO Ann Watson made the point that there will be many young people out there who still won’t be sure what they would like to do next. She added that a recent poll by the Sutton Trust shows an increasing number are considering an alternative to higher education. “For those who are creative, who are problem solvers and who want to tackle our society’s biggest challenges, an engineering career could be the perfect fit,” said Watson.

The IAC’s report shows that just 21% of engineering apprentices were encouraged to take up their apprenticeships at school or college. The group has highlighted a ‘perception gap’ as the cause of this, with many educators not understanding what apprenticeships offer and how they could benefit the young people they work with. However, as Millie Coombes pointed out: “You can do an engineering apprenticeship up to Master’s degree level these days – whatever the perceptions young people may have picked up, it’s not a second-class option but a tried and tested route into a sector where your skills are in demand and will be highly valued.”

The IAC states that this ‘perception gap’ has been fuelled by poor-quality careers guidance, with only 22% of apprentices who fed into the IAC’s research being given good quality advice. The research shows more apprentices found out about their apprenticeships through their own initiative (50%) and online research (48%) than through any other method, with careers advisers (8%) and teachers (9%) bottom of the list. It seems clear that the level of professional advice and guidance has been found somewhat wanting. The bottom line is, if the right knowledge and advice is imparted at an early stage in a young person’s career plans, this can reap lifelong benefits.

Ed Holden


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