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After A-Levels: Universities promote education, so why don’t businesses promote apprenticeships?

Last week thousands of students were on tenterhooks waiting for the results that would define their last two years of studying A-Levels. But while universities are vocal, what role are businesses playing in this process?
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Every year, students are brainwashed into believing that these exam results from A-Levels are the only route to a successful future career, but that’s simply just not the case.

Although figures show that UK university applications actually decreased by four per cent this year, thousands will still go on to rack up an average of £57,500 in student debts following completion of their A-Levels.

There are, as always, those who will choose to embark on an “earn as you learn” career, such as an apprenticeship, where the end result has a much better prospect of a full-time career. The only thing is there aren’t enough of them.

We, as businesspeople, need to do more to engage with young people and schools, to educate them about all of the possibilities and options available, when it comes to discussing next steps, outside of just A-Levels and university.

If we educate more about how people can learn a trade, gaining first-hand hand experience on the job, and being paid for it, I’m sure that more young people would see it as a viable option. 

Not only would having more people going down this route solve the UK’s skills gap and provide business with access to employable people, but it would dispel the “university at all costs” ideology that everyone seems so obsessed with.

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce and I are clearly drinking from the same teapot. When writing for The Daily Telegraph, he said: “We need to resolve the imbalance between higher and further education, and make sure we achieve parity of esteem for academic and technical education.

“The funding and cultural bias deters young people from earning and learning after leaving school, and from entering industries such as manufacturing and construction, needs to be addressed.”

With the Apprenticeship Levy now in place, there’s no reason why businesses can’t get access to funding, and allow school-leavers to know that there are more places to apply for in the first place.

It is disappointing that there are still too many businesses that see the levy as a tax and won’t use it for its intended purpose. This is frustrating because these are often the same firms complaining that they can’t find skilled people.

So, just like the workplace pension was made compulsory to force people to plan for retirement, the levy has been imposed for the same paternalistic reason, as an antidote to years of companies ignoring the need to train enough skilled workers

I’ve been told by teens that they just don’t get the help, encouragement and information they need when they mention apprenticeships at school. So, starved of good guidance on the alternatives to university, many youngsters wind up sleep-walking into a contract with an “education business” that neither fits their needs, nor guarantees them a job.

I’m not saying that universities should be abolished, as they clearly represent a system that works very well for some people. All I’m saying is that businesses themselves should make greater efforts.

This could be something as simple as business people going into schools and talking to the young men and women who could be working for them in a few short years.

At Pimlico Plumbers, we currently have 42 apprentices on our books; we’ve scheduled an open day to hire some more recruits, and we have plans to open an apprenticeship training centre close to our company’s headquarters.

Apprenticeships are a genuine alternative to university, and are available to all students who are considering their options for a good and rewarding career.

To be blunt, universities are in the business of selling education to young people, while the apprenticeships we’re offering are a commitment to pay them to learn a trade.

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About Author

Charlie Mullins

Charlie Mullins, also an OBE, is the archetypal entrepreneur – having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. From humble beginnings growing up on an estate in South London, he left school with no qualifications, but after a four-year plumbing apprenticeship he started his own firm, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £30m and boasts many well-known names among its many clients including Simon Cowell, Helen Mirren and Richard Branson. He has been a regular contributor on Real Business since 2011 and is particularly about apprenticships.

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