Apprenticeships are real alternatives to university

Mr Clark, heard from around 12 apprentices from the Tunbridge Wells and wider West Kent area at an event hosted at Salomons Estate during National Apprenticeship Week.

One of the overriding messages was that not enough is being done to promote apprenticeships in schools, which are not seeing them as worthy as academic degrees.

Joining the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Climate Change was Kent County Council’s Principal Apprenticeship Lead, David Knox, who explained some of difficulties they have in promoting apprenticeships in the county.

“We work to promote apprenticeships within schools as a viable option,” he said. “The problem we have is that many schools measure their success by the number of children that go onto university, but that is not the only measure of success and we want to demonstrate the benefits apprenticeships can bring to schools.”

He added that there were currently 450 apprentices in Kent, which was a ‘vast improvement’ on the number they had before the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy was introduced 18 months ago.

Under the scheme, employers with an annual salary bill that is more than £3 million are required to pay 0.5 per cent each month, which the government then feeds back to the company on a monthly basic specifically for apprenticeship training.

“It is early days for the levy but it has been successful at getting more money into apprenticeship training. The key thing is the quality of training, which is something many of the big employer organizations say is strong and getting stronger all the time,” said Greg Clark.

“Apprenticeships, I think, are really important for two reasons. First for the level of skills we need in the workforce, as we know that is key to our prosperity, but also being aware that people will change career during their working life, so it is important to see how apprenticeships are working,” he continued.

“I want to hear from the apprentices to see how we can make things better for them, what their experience is and what advice they are giving on how we can improve things.”

Mr Clark heard from a range of apprentices, many of whom said that not only was the prospect of student debt a reason why they opted for an apprenticeship instead of university, but also how they found apprenticeships a more direct way into the exact career they wanted to pursue.

The apprentices came from a number of businesses in the region, ranging from large retailers to small publishers, engineering companies as well as local law firms, and the individual backgrounds of the apprentices were as equally diverse, from school leavers to people in their 40s.

“A lot of people later in life think they have the missed the opportunity to have a new career or to advance to a higher level in their own company. So to see people of all ages benefit is very welcome,” Greg Clark said.

“One thing that has become clear on hearing from these apprentices is that with university applications we have a very simple system—it is just a single UCAS form—but to apply for apprenticeships it is more complicated so we can perhaps look at ways to make it more straightforward,” he admitted.


Joanna Howell, 45, from Crowborough, is on an apprenticeship with Marks and Spencer.

“I have a son so being a mum and going to university to study was not an option for me. I really didn’t do that fantastically at school, either.

“At Marks and Spencer, I think they recognised that I wanted to progress and was interested in other aspects of the business.

“My son is doing A-levels and the apprenticeship works with my family life.”


Kaylee Peneycad, 30, from Tunbridge Wells works as an apprentice with AXA PPP Healthcare.

“I work managing a team but I wanted to further my skills.

“I’m really loving being an apprentice. It is hard work–I’m doing a BA in business management, which is a four year degree, but AXA has been amazing, and through the Apprenticeship Levy, they are paying for my degree.


Olivia Gould, 20, Langton Green is an apprentice at Langton Green Primary School.

“For me, it is a better route than university because I get direct experience of teaching that I wouldn’t get just doing a degree.

“I’m also earning while learning and not building up student debt.


Rosie Harvey, 19, from Tunbridge Wells who is an apprentice at Cripps law firm.

“Rather than do a traditional law degree I’m earning and learning, but more than that I am doing things that undergraduates training in law have to wait four or five years to do. So it is a more direct way of getting into your profession.”

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