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Rob Alder

AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)

Head of Business Development

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Why apprenticeships are thriving alongside Brexit uncertainty


Amid the uncertainty that Brexit brings for business, apprenticeships are growing in popularity as a practical and cost effective way to upskill the nation’s workforce.

The tide is starting to turn when it comes to attitudes towards degrees versus apprenticeships. Years ago, apprenticeships were seen only for those that were unable to get into university. Today, good apprenticeship programmes are as highly competitive as universities but arguably are more beneficial for both the future employee and employer.  

In a recent poll, 76% of Brits stated that on-the-job training is more important than a university degree for accelerating their career growth.

Why choose an apprentice alongside a graduate?

According to research commissioned by AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) conducted among 1,000 organisations, employers prefer candidates to have experience from an apprenticeship more so than having a university degree.

The advantage of hiring apprentices is that they work on-the-job from day one, which means they are getting work experience while studying and businesses can mould them to fit the way they work.

The nature of modern apprenticeship programmes means you don’t need to worry about a potential employee having a degree.

University graduates on the other hand can know the theory but won’t necessarily have any relevant work experience.

Apprenticeships train students on-the-job and, because your company trains them from the very beginning, you can ensure they are skilled in exactly the areas your company needs – creating your ideal candidate.

Additionally, people who go through apprenticeship programmes have a relevant qualification and aligned skills with knowledge that employers want, so they are more work-ready than graduates and can meet the challenges that businesses are facing.


It’s hard to predict at this stage the impact Brexit could have on the UK’s skills.

The government has been pushing for a major increase in the number of apprenticeships as they can really help raise the bar of the nation’s skill set and increase the UK’s competitiveness.

By enabling young people and existing staff to invest in their own skills, apprenticeship programmes can up the standard level of your workforce’s skills to help your business get ahead in this more competitive and uncertain operating environment.

The nature of modern apprenticeship programmes means you don’t need to worry about a potential employee having a degree, as the high quality of many apprenticeships, which include degree-level qualifications, will mean their skills are honed to your particular sector.

By offering apprenticeships to existing staff you are investing back in the people who have been loyal to your company, whilst improving the knowledge and ability they bring to the role.

CEOs and degrees

Many people still wrongly think you need a degree to become successful.

According to AAT’s research, 79% of young people (16-24 year olds) incorrectly identified a number of industry leaders as having a university degree.  

Big names in business are investing more in apprenticeship schemes as a good way of sourcing new talent.

These include Evan Williams - co-founder and former CEO of Twitter (87%), Anna Wintour - editor in chief of Vogue Magazine (88%), Dragons' Den investor Deborah Meaden (88%), co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates (74%) and founder of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson (82%). In fact, none of these leaders has a degree.

This comes despite the majority of the public stating that on-the-job training is more important than a degree. It seems there is still some uncertainty among Brits about whether a degree will pay off.

Apprenticeships versus degrees in the future

Apprenticeships have changed beyond almost all recognition in recent years.

Big names in business are investing more in apprenticeship schemes as a good way of sourcing new talent and they are now being offered in almost every sector.

Individuals can train to become solicitors, nuclear scientists, accountants and cyber security analysts, to name just a few roles, and almost every business will find an apprenticeship scheme that’s right for them.

Within the accountancy sector, apprenticeships are up 12% year-on-year, with some large employers such as global accounting firm KPMG increasing their apprenticeship intake.

The pendulum is definitely beginning to swing more evenly between graduates and apprentices.

There is still some way to go to change people’s perceptions of apprenticeships, however. Too often, degrees are still thought of as life-long stamps of professional competency when this is not necessarily the case.

We are in a time of significant technological change and disruption, and the pace of change is set to accelerate even more.

For example, the 2018 World Economic Forum report found that by 2022 the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted significantly.

This means that a highly skilled and adaptable workforce is becoming vital for business success.

It is therefore imperative we encourage more alternative education options to thrive.

By encouraging more young people to consider apprenticeships, businesses will have a rich new talent pool to draw from.  

If you’re interested in finding out more about apprenticeships we recommend these websites: the National Apprenticeship Service, Scottish Qualifications Authority, and White Hat. 

Interested in this topic? Read Cultivating a company culture fit for apprentices.

Author Profile Picture
Rob Alder

Head of Business Development

Read more from Rob Alder

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