What's the alternative?

With university fees set to rise, many people are considering all their options before signing up to start a full-time degree that may leave them with big graduate debts. S&YP takes a look at some of the choices out there.

Whether you want go to university or not, it is always sensible to look at all the options and take advice from as many places as you can. Our economy needs a highly educated and skilled workforce and if you know what you want to do, you can make a career start by getting a suitable job, earning some money and gaining valuable experience.

Sponsored training

If you fear the debts that can come with a full-time university education then there’s another route that many people are now pursuing. Consider joining a company with a significant in-house training programme, or one that is willing to sponsor employees to take a degree course. They can be hard to find in the current economic climate but they are out there and can lead to a degree, plus bonus experience, without the high cost.

They can also look good on the CV when you begin to take your first steps up the career ladder.

“From an employer’s viewpoint it is generally acknowledged that working at a job while doing your degree requires sacrifice and 'stickability' – and these are attributes that employers look for,” highlights Trevor James, director of Employment Skills at Amersham and Wycombe College.

Melbourn Scientific is one such company that offers on-the-job training, often with day release to local universities.

“This training can offer practical and analytical skills, and may give trainees access to state-of-the-art equipment which they wouldn't have the chance to use in a university environment,” says the company’s ceo Mark Hammond. “Internal training programs offered to staff can promote professional development and provide technical training.

“Upon finishing their training, an employee who has completed a day release degree not only has an academic qualification, but also relevant experience. This overcomes the problem faced by so many graduates that all jobs require experience, but they have no way of gaining it.”

Apprenticeships and internships

Increasingly, employers are looking at apprenticeships and internships as ways of recruiting their talent.

“They can work with a young person for a longer period and ensure their selection is right - and you can earn while you learn and can confirm, or otherwise, your career choice,” says James. “You might want to start by visiting your local college to see what they have to offer. There will be a variety of vocational and academic course to choose from, you will save money by staying in your home area and they will talk to you about apprenticeships – where average earnings are around £170 per week.”

Apprenticeships can offer a range of benefits and they can even provide you with an advantage over a graduate when it comes to job applications - and that’s if you don’t get offered a full-time position at the end of the apprenticeship, which many people do.

“Engineering involves practical and intellectual skills, but often graduates lack many of the skills that are essential for a thorough understanding of the subject. The practical skills that degrees provide don't match those developed through a hands-on apprenticeship. Also, apprenticeships can offer skills that go beyond technology. Knowledge of all aspects of the business, for example, is useful to manage effectively staff on the shop floor,” says Charles Maltby, technical and commercial director, Shearline Precision Engineering.

“Apprentices acquire technical and communication skills, and often gain valuable team working experience. These skills will boost the apprentice’s CV and be applicable to future roles,” Maltby adds.

The financial rewards

It is a fact that the better level of education you have the more you are likely to earn in your working life, but it doesn't make every graduate richer than a non-graduate.

“Many people who combine work with further education and training in the three years their contemporaries are at university find that they are further ‘up the ladder’ than they would have been by going to university -  and have earned money, rather than building debt, during that time,” James concludes.

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