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Misplaced snobbery is robbing our youngsters of career options

It’s fantastic to see no less a person that the head of universities admissions service UCAS supporting my life-long appreciation of apprenticeships, and the fact they are undermined by “misplaced snobbery”.

Clare Marchant has pledged to tackle the “outdated stigma” surrounding vocational qualifications that has put off many thousands of youngsters from earning good money by learning an honest trade.

For decades kids have been brainwashed into believing that going to university is the key to a glittering future, while those who should know better either dismiss apprenticeships or ignore them altogether.

Clare admits this undoubted snobbery is deterring people from entering vocational training. A report published by UCAS reveals many sixth formers are unaware of the options available to them – with a third of pupils at schools and half of those at colleges saying they weren’t even told about apprenticeships.

The truth is that many of those who go to university emerge with a Micky Mouse degree that doesn’t offer automatic entry to the workplace. In such cases, they often still need to gain work experience or take further courses to learn more specific skills.

Universities are big business pocketing exorbitant fees for often sub-par courses. Last year it was reported the average pay and benefits package of a vice chancellor in the Russell Group of universities was £380,000. Our prime minister is entitled to £161,401.

No wonder going to university is so heavily promoted! But in the three years it takes to get a degree, apprentices will have been earning while they learn – an experience that can give them the necessary launch pad to secure a well-paid job in their chosen career.

Meanwhile, the average UK student loan debt stands at an eyewatering £35,000.

The reality is that apprenticeships are far from second-rate. I find the quality of teaching and training on the job, and as part of apprentice’s college courses is first rate, giving employers the confidence that they are developing someone with the right skills, knowledge, and attitude.

This country is already suffering from a host of skill shortages, from heating, electrical, and mechanical engineers, to truck drivers and web designers. In 2019-20, the number of those aged 16 and 24 starting an apprenticeship fell from 265,000 to 171,600.

As a former apprentice myself, I know the value of learning on the job – it provided me with the building blocks to found Pimlico Plumbers.

UCAS has highlighted the complete lack of information on apprenticeships and says its goal is for the service to be as strong for potential apprentices as it is for prospective undergraduates.

We urgently require a shake-up of the careers service and the quality and quantity of advice handed out in our schools and colleges.

Attitudes need to change so apprenticeships are considered a first, rather than a last resort. This country must champion apprenticeships and ween the next generation off the university gravy train – and in doing so make a vital contribution to this country’s economic recovery.

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Misplaced snobbery is robbing our youngsters of career options

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