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Apprenticeship or University: What is the Best Choice?

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A few years ago, I wrote a blog on the choices between apprenticeship or university and the advice we should be giving to our school leavers. There have been a number of changes over the past year that make this an ideal time to revisit this issue.

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 on to 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”. Even though the first year of university is now subsidised in most cases, the student loan from university study still forms a significant debt. Being paid during your apprenticeship means that once studies are completed, the apprentice is often in a stronger financial state much earlier than the university graduate.

So, which is the better choice, pursuing an apprenticeship or going to university?

New Apprenticeship Opportunities Arising

One of the main advantages 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 and struggle to get a role in their desired field, even at the administration level. This has become even more prevalent following the job losses that resulted from the lockdown and the subsequently heightened unemployment rate in New Zealand.

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.

In June of 2020, the government announced a $380.6 million initiative to help keep apprentices in work. The Apprenticeship Boost promises to support up to 36,000 apprentices per year (including new apprentices), by providing a subsidy to around 18,000 employers.

This initiative is part of a wider Apprenticeship Support Programme designed to keep apprentices connected to work, connected to training and connected to their communities while New Zealand recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

We worked extensively with a national agricultural machinery dealership last year, and one area that they have experienced severe shortages in is qualified Service Technicians who have a background in agricultural machinery. Prior to the border restrictions, we were able to bring in qualified, experienced candidates from overseas. This is currently not an option. It has been indicated from a number of sources that even when the borders are relaxed, it is likely to continue to be difficult to bring in skilled migrants from overseas.

There is a definite push to find Kiwis to fill the roles first, which is difficult when we currently do not have enough trained and skilled people qualified in this area. The shortages in certain areas, combined with the increased government assistance, mean that more employers are seeking to engage apprenticeships. They want people who are keen to learn, energetic, friendly and who turn up on time. For those with the right mindset, there are likely to be plenty of new apprenticeship opportunities on the horizon.

Choosing the Right Path

Deciding which route to take at the beginning of your career is a completely personal decision, but it’s important (as individuals or as parents) to be aware of all the available options.

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 latter part of her study and went on to manage one half of the centre.

My son, meanwhile, is a qualified Skipper. He spent 18 months on fishing boats, which was a hard slog, but came out with his Skipper’s 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, as well as upskilling himself in other areas to reach new goals.

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.

If you’re looking for a new job opportunity or need further advice on finding the right move for your career, get in touch with me to discuss your next step.