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Apprenticeship or University – What is the Best Choice?


The part of my role that I love the most is meeting people from a wide range of backgrounds and gaining an insight into their lives. One of the questions we are asked on a regular basis is from parents whose teenagers are about to leave college and go onto the next stage of their lives:

“What track should I be encouraging my teenager to go down, to ensure that they have a rewarding career – both personally and financially?”

The answer to this varies depending on the individual teenager. There is no “one size fits all”. In the past, with the student loan from university study forming what can be a much of your lifetime burden, the apprenticeship side meant that once studies were completed, the apprentice was often in a stronger financial state much earlier than the university graduate.

Now that we have the first year of university study taken care of, with the promise of more years to follow, the financial side may not be so much of an issue. Does this mean that we should encourage all students who are capable of gaining a university degree to go down this track?

I met with a candidate the other day who had started her life with a Bachelor of Arts, which led to a Master of Strategic Studies. She told me that her passion when she left school was to become a hairdresser. Her parents put their feet down and told her that wasn’t an option, and that she was going to university. She toed the line and did what was expected. Now about to turn 50 and having what most would see as a very successful career, she still wished that she had trained as a hairdresser.

The one main advantage, with the financial issue removed, that an apprenticeship has over a university degree, is a guaranteed job at the end of it. We see a huge number of university graduates who are initially faced with working either in hospitality or retail, struggle to get a role, even at administration level. Meanwhile the qualified apprentice, who has already demonstrated how well they perform in their chosen trade, is fought over for their demonstrable skills. The brightest within the Trades sector often end up owning their own businesses and living an enviable lifestyle.

My daughter who is a qualified Early Childhood Teacher had two options to gain her qualification. She could go to university for three years, and other than practicum, where she would be placed in an early childhood centre for short periods of time, she would come out with her teaching diploma but limited experience. Her second option, which is the one she took, was to go through Te Rito Maioha (Early Childhood NZ), where she worked in a daycare centre three days per week (where she was paid), spent a day in the classroom, and a day studying. She completed her teaching diploma within the three years and came out of that with three years’ practical experience too. She chose to stay at the daycare centre she had trained at during the later part of her study, and now manages one half of the centre.

My son is a qualified Skipper. He spent 18 months on fishing boats, which was a hard slog, but came out with his Skippers ticket. He recently spent two years skippering tourist boats up and down the Yarra River in Melbourne and for the last three years has run Darryl’s Dinner Cruises up in Paihia. It’s a pretty idyllic lifestyle. The interesting thing with him is that although he is bright, he didn’t really enjoy school. Now he happily goes back to gain extra qualifications including an Engineering Ticket to complement his Skipper’s Qualification. He is also upskilling himself in other areas towards his current goal to become a Life Coach.

I’m not saying that everyone who is faced with this choice should decide to go down the apprenticeship track. However, I am saying that as parents we should be aware of the options and ensure that our teenagers feel comfortable with making an informed choice, that fits their strengths and passions.

It’s true that young people’s interests will change as they grow, but the great thing is that there are now so many opportunities for learning (even concurrently with full-time work), and there are more different types of jobs than ever before. As their passions change, there is now the option to study, upskill and follow a different path as they progress through life.

This is reflected in the way that the employers and recruiters are looking for people too. No longer are we confined to considering people for a role who have done that exact same job before. Instead, we’re looking at key competencies, behavioural patterns, and psychometric analysis; the factors behind success in a role. This makes it more viable for professionals who want a taste for something new to change course completely, and embark on new careers, discovering different industries throughout their working-life.

While that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to just give any old job a go, it does give people a future where they have more flexibility to pursue the things they are passionate about. A future where, perhaps, some people might choose to not choose between an apprenticeship and university; where the answer to that question can be “one”, “neither”, or “both”.