What Employers Really Want: Apprenticeships Win Over University Degrees



A new study from the AAT has found that employers value the experience gained from apprenticeships over university degrees. We examine the findings and the wider benefits of apprenticeships. 


University degrees were once thought of as the golden ticket to a steady career path. They were highly coveted by employers and it was thought that teenagers heading off to uni would be guaranteed a leg up on the career ladder at the end of their course.

Recently things have changed and graduating from university with a solid degree mark no longer guarantees a cushy graduate job.

In 2017, the Office for National Statistics reported that that 46.4% of UK graduates were employed in non-graduate jobs, an increase of 7% from the year before.

They define a non-graduate job as positions like sales assistant or hospitality staff that don’t really require higher qualifications.

This level of graduate underemployment means that the next time you pop into your local Starbucks, it’s likely that the friendly barista could have a first-class degree they’re not getting any use out of!

So, what’s changed? Why are employers no longer snapping up all the graduates they can conjure up?

A recent study by AAT sheds some light on this. Their findings indicate that employers are now placing higher value on actual work experience and practical knowledge than degree qualifications.

AAT’s study of 1,000 employers found:

  1. 49% preferred candidates to have experience from an apprenticeship or previous role.
  2. 71% said this is because it shows that candidates have demonstrated their skills in a practical setting.
  3. 62% said it indicates they have a better understanding of the world of work.
  4. Only 24% preferred candidates to have a degree qualification.


The survey investigated what employers want most when hiring new staff and found that experience, attitude and transferable skills ranked high. This is possibly why employers feel that the experience gained from apprenticeships is so valuable.




What is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a paid job that combines work and off-the-job training or study which usually results in a nationally recognised qualification.

They offer the chance to achieve a qualification but still develop the knowledge and practical skills that can only be gained from work experience.

Apprenticeships have been commonly stereotyped as only being an option for those who are unable to get into university. This is an outdated assumption which is being erased as more bright and talented school leavers choose apprenticeships as their chosen career path.

There’s also a common assumption that they’re only available in manual roles or within industries like manufacturing.

Apprenticeships for these jobs do still exist, but apprenticeships are now available across a huge number of sectors including HR, management, accountancy and engineering.

Attitudes have been a bit slow to change, but apprenticeships are now being seen as a legitimate alternative to university degrees.

It’s not surprising when you consider the choice is now between racking up to £40,000 of student debt before graduation and entering a competitive job market with little experience or gaining practical experience and a recognised qualification whilst actually earning money!



Why are Apprenticeships valuable to businesses?

Apprenticeships are not only a great alternative to university for young people leaving school or college, they also have huge benefits for businesses.

A study by the CIPD in 2017 uncovered some impressive findings about the positive impact hiring apprentices can have for employers.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  1. Apprentices add £1.4 billion to the English economy.
  2. Apprentices have helped boost productivity at 90% of firms surveyed.
  3. 90% of employers say apprenticeships are a cost-effective way of building workforce skills.
  4. 80% of employers hiring apprentices have maintained or improved future skills in their business.


Apprenticeships are a win-win opportunity for both employees and businesses to develop and grow their skill set and we hope to see many more young people choosing this path for their future career.


 Looking to hire an apprentice? Our Apprenticeship Consultants would be happy to give you practical and straightforward advice.


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