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Professional roles: Get a well-paying job, but forget uni debt | Global

When Emily Binge finished A-levels at Pendleton sixth form college in Salford, she did not follow many of her friends who flocked to university. The 21-year-old was in part deterred by the debt she would incur, with undergraduates expected to owe an average of £50,800, according to the IFS. So she chose an apprenticeship at insurance giant Axa.

“It was a no-brainer,” Binge says of the underwriting apprenticeship she started in 2016, evaluating and pricing risk in Bolton. “I’m not stuck with debt. I’m earning money and gaining hands-on experience.” She is also earning professional qualifications from the Chartered Insurance Institute.

Apprenticeships offer abundant avenues into elite professions. School-leavers can skip university and train to become a banker, paralegal or software developer through an apprenticeship.

Many employers now offer the best of both worlds: degree apprenticeships that combine university study with on-the-job learning. In 2017, Morrisons teamed up with the University of Bradford and Sheffield Hallam University to create four degree apprenticeships in retail, logistics, manufacturing, and corporate teams.

Apprenticeships for Deloitte Press Handout for Apprenticeships Supplement

At Deloitte, up to 350 school-leavers will be hired for the BrightStart apprenticeship programme in 2020. Photograph: Deloitte

The grocer hopes to hire 57 more degree apprentices in 2020. The recruits are released for week-long blocks of study at university six times each year, earning a bachelor’s degree in business management or retail leadership in three years. Morrisons pays them a full salary and covers the full cost of attending university.

Alison Guest, a senior people manager, says of the scheme: “It’s tremendous. These young people flourish. They are key to the future of Morrisons.”

In part, the company created the programme in response to the apprenticeship levy, a payroll tax on big business that can be clawed back to spend on apprenticeships. A target for large public sector firms to employ at least 2.3% of staff as apprentices every year until 2021, is also increasing opportunities for school-leavers, says Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers.

Companies say they value apprentices for their innate technology skills and diversity of backgrounds. In 2017, Axa scrapped two of its three graduate schemes to improve social mobility. Like at many companies, the intakes tended to come from private schools, says Emma Austen, head of employer brand and professional qualifications.

Since 2017, Axa’s crop of new and existing apprentices has grown in number from 17 to 130. Anecdotally, Austen says they come from a wider range of socioeconomic backgrounds than graduates because the financial barrier to an apprenticeship is lower than for university. “To serve our customers best we need people in the workforce who are replicas of our customers,” she adds.

At Deloitte, up to 350 school-leavers will be hired for the BrightStart apprenticeship programme in 2020. Initially, they will earn less than the professional service firm’s graduate intake, which reflects the latter’s extra education. But on completion of their respective training schemes, the two intakes are on a par, in terms of salary and seniority (assistant manager or an equivalent rank in their business area, from audit to real estate).

Other than the apprentices’ younger age, there is little difference between the two intakes, says Georgia Greer, head of student recruitment, with both groups working with clients from day one. “Our career opportunities are based on merit,” she says.

Civil Service apprentices can progress fast. Those with A-levels earn about £23,000 initially. Within a decade they could manage a team and earn around £50,000 working in government departments, bodies or agencies such as HMRC. “We offer mentoring and coaching and the chance to move between departments to learn and grow,” says Jacqui Toogood, interim deputy director of early talent.

But competition for places on top schemes can be intense: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer hires just a handful of paralegal apprentices each year. Olivia Balson, director of the law firm’s service centre, recommends showcasing soft skills such as communication, as legal knowledge is gained on the apprenticeship.

She also encourages people to apply: “We want to open up access to the legal profession beyond those who can afford to go to university.”

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