True value of apprentices

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Apprentices have never had a higher profile. Jane Scott Paul, Chief Executive of AAT, finds that many employers are now recruiting apprentices straight from school instead of graduates.

With the average university fee hiking up to approximately £9,000 next year – many young people are looking at alternative routes into their chosen careers.

Should employers now be looking to school leavers instead of graduates for their next generation of managers? University is no longer a viable option for most young people and it’s fair to say that university has for some time not been a guaranteed route into a large majority of graduates’ chosen careers. Recent research commissioned by AAT and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has revealed that an estimated 55% of this year’s university leavers will graduate into unemployment or unskilled roles.

While many young people may feel a door has been closed with university fees being hiked up, it’s actually a really exciting time for ambitious school leavers and businesses alike.  We are currently noticing a big trend with employers recruiting school leavers over graduates through apprenticeship schemes. Proctor & Gamble, for instance, have adopted this approach solely recruiting school leavers for their European Finance Centre and lots of other companies of varying size and scale are following suit.

Why? Firstly school leavers tend to have a strong idea about the career they want and therefore are determined to work hard to achieve their goals of getting into their chosen career rather than it just being something they “fell” into.  They also have a strong sense of pride and willingness to learn.

They don’t come with huge expectations and are aware how lucky they are to be earning, training and working at the same time. They also tend to have a good work ethic and are used to a school routine – this lends itself well to the office environment.

School leavers also have a strong sense of loyalty to their employer and apprentice scheme.  They invest in the business and the business invests in them. This sense of ‘worth’ instils confidence in the school leaver and as they climb the career ladder they of course add more value to the business. School leavers are not just stop gapping before something better comes along.

Not only can apprenticeship schemes be more cost effective but all businesses across all sectors must appreciate the benefits of ‘cherry picking’ highly motivated young people.

While, of course, I understand that there will always be some professions which will always need graduates of a certain calibre, I do think there are still many businesses nationwide that haven’t considered hiring anyone other than a graduate and it’s these employers that should think again.

I’m excited by our apprenticeship programme and the new school leavers joining us this autumn. They have the right foundations that our business needs. If they work hard, maintain a positive attitude and are supported properly, then they will go far.

In this fragile economy all employers should wise up and see the potential of a school leaver, knowing what a sound and solid investment it can truly be.

Jane Scott Paul was AAT's Chief Executive between 1997 and 2014.

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