University is not the only way forward
FOR UK teenagers, university may seem to be the default — we take GCSEs, A-levels, then pack our belongings, say goodbye to our parents and embark on higher education. However, university is not the first choice for everyone. Although fees have risen, a degree can no longer guarantee job security. So instead of walking across the stage in cap and gown, many school leavers are treading alternative paths. Apprenticeships, starting your own business and internships are all increasingly attractive — not just as a back-up if you fail your exams, but as a real alternative.
Apprenticeships are often overlooked and occasionally looked down upon. However, they allow you to gain skills in disciplines such as sales, marketing administration and IT and you will be earning from the outset.
As any good Jewish boy or girl knows, accountancy and law are the second and third most desired professions (after, of course, the holy grail of Becoming a Doctor). What you may not know is that you can train as an accountant or lawyer without taking a university degree. Many smaller accounting firms provide training places, allowing you to qualify over several years. Similarly, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives offers a blend of earning and studying. You may lose out on long holidays but you will gain financial stability.
Job security is a massive motivator for school-leaver schemes. It was one of the prime reasons why Gideon Caller opted for a higher apprenticeship. Gideon had strong A-level results and offers from top London universities. But his was the first year to pay annual fees of £9,000, meaning he would leave university with least £27,000 of debt and an uncertain future. He applied for a school leaver’s role at PWC and was accepted into the tax department.
“I have found it hard to watch friends graduate with strong degrees from good universities and then struggle to find work,” he says.
Many high-profile figures eschewed higher education — Alan Sugar, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates all started globally successful companies without degrees or diplomas. We would still advise all budding entrepreneurs to gain experience, find a mentor and seek lots of advice. But if you are selfemployed, a lack of qualifications will not be a hindrance to progression.
There are also a range of companies offering internships to exemplary A-level students. Valued for their freshness and eagerness, interns have a foot in the door and can learn on the job.
And, of course, there is no rule that you have to attend university at the age of 18; you could wait. A choice affecting the next three to four years of your life should not be made lightly. Going on an organised trip to Israel, travelling or touring will allow you to learn, grow and perhaps even pick up a new language — a highly employable skill.
Starting university is an auspicious occasion and it can feel as if your entire school career is predicated on the moment when you receive your results and know for certain where you are going to study. But, there are other auspicious moments — starting your first job, earning your first pay cheque, travelling to exotic locations — that offer just as much richness and opportunity. So ask around, consider your options and make an informed decision about the right path for you. Emma May is head of employment at Work Avenue. More information at theworkavenue.org.uk
Internships are one entry point to the world of work