AAT parent: how I was proved wrong about apprenticeships

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AAT research has shown that parents are less positive about apprenticeship schemes than employers. Nick Wilkinson was one of them. When his daughter Katie decided to do an apprenticeship in accounting, he was hesitant. Here he explains how she changed his mind and, in doing so, pushed him outside of his parental comfort zone

I had no expectations of my children going to university, but didn’t want to see them waste their academic ability either. Like many people, I thought apprenticeship schemes were a slow track, low-paid option predominately for more manual based jobs like working in the construction industry.

I’ve worked in stock control all of my career, having spent nearly 20 years working for kitchen manufacturers, and six years at Unique Party – a manufacturer and distributor of party goods. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Huddersfield Polytechnic.

When my 18-year-old daughter, Katie, came to me in 2011 and said she wanted to pursue an apprenticeship scheme, I could tell she was adamant about not going to university. She was naturally worried about investing three years of her life at university and building up a huge amount of debt, and I understood that this would be a massive burden.

My parental concerns over apprenticeships

I’ve always tried to provide guidance and support so that my children can make their own decisions in life and stand on their own two feet. But my main concern at the time was that some companies see apprentices as cheap labour rather than an investment for the future. I didn’t want Katie to get left behind without any form of further education beyond A-Levels and without any promise of developing a career.

My redeeming belief was that I knew the situation was influenced by the attitude of the apprentice, and a positive attitude with an eagerness to learn and contribute is a major advantage.

How my daughter changed my attitude to apprenticeships

Katie did really well at school, she enjoys learning and picks things up quickly – this much was evident in her exam results. She also knew the industry she wanted to work in so had invested time to research the other options available to her. With these attributes on her side, I knew she would succeed.

She is now two years into her apprenticeship scheme at Kirk Newsholme studying the AAT Accounting Qualification. As a trainee accountant, her role involves completing VAT returns and end of year accounts. I’ve been surprised by how quickly her role has developed – she has taken on many responsibilities and has grown both professionally and personally and has become an important part of the business.

How my opinion has completely reversed

It’s safe to say that my views are now completely reversed and I now see apprenticeship schemes as a valuable route into a professional career. They give young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn, get experience and climb the career ladder without tainting them with the debt that graduates now face. We’re also now beginning to see the stories of many successful entrepreneurs who left school early and didn’t go to university which helps to demonstrate there are other routes out there.

I believe that attitudes towards apprenticeship schemes are changing, but it will take time for vocational qualifications to reach the status that higher education has held within our society for years. As parents, all we can do is support our children along the pathway that is right for them – sometimes you might have to push yourself and what you believe outside of your comfort zone and have faith that your child will do what is right for them.

AAT’s apprenticeships study

AAT’s research was conducted with more than 1,000 Netmums members, and highlights a lack of understanding amongst parents.

The key findings include:

  • 81 per cent of parents are unaware that a Higher Apprenticeship is a university-level qualification.
  • 73 per cent underestimated the amount that a young person’s lifetime earnings are boosted by doing a Higher Apprenticeship.
  • 72 per cent believed the starting salary for a young person doing a Higher Apprenticeship at a top firm like KPMG to be significantly lower than the actual £20,000 figure.

You can learn more about Higher Apprenticeships on the AAT website.  

Read more about Netmums, the UK’s fastest-growing online parenting organisation.

Nick Wilkinson is a former writer for AAT.

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