Thursday, 25 August 2016

Learning the trade

There has been much recent discussion in the media as to whether the “graduate premium” obtained from gaining a degree justifies the cost of student loans. There’s a serious point in this, that, as the proportion of people taking degrees increases, the advantage it will give them over the rest of the population is inevitably going to diminish.

It seems that, unless you take a degree in one of the intellectually demanding STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), or in one such as law and medicine that leads to a learned profession, a degree as such is not going to enhance your life prospects anywhere near as much as it once did. I did an arts degree in the 1970s which opened the door to a professional accountancy career, but if I was in the same position now I’d undoubtedly choose a different subject.

In response to this, there have been several recommendations that ambitious young people who can’t quite get on the top-level degree courses should consider apprenticeship schemes offered by major employers. One significant advantage of this is that you start earning immediately and don’t end up with student debt around your neck.

The hospitality industry has long had a reputation for low wages and lack of career development, but some of the major players have now joined in and started apprenticeship schemes of their own. There’s plenty of opportunity for advancement and, while wet-led pubs may be struggling, the trade as a whole, including hotels and restaurants, is in robust health and isn’t going to disappear any day soon.

So, if you’re considering doing a media studies degree at a former Polytechnic, taking out an apprenticeship in the hospitality trade may well prove to be a much better long-term career bet, not to mention leaving you free from student debt. But it will bring forward the evil day when you are actually expected to do some hard work.

Incidentally, there’s a well known pub in Isleworth called the London Apprentice. There used to be one of the same name in Shrewsbury – maybe implying someone who had run away to join a trade – but it was later renamed the Severn Apprentice and has now been demolished.

14 comments:

  1. Agree, and Apprenticeships (particularly within the NHS) have been one of the big successes of recent years. My heart wants my 17 year old son to go to Uni in Manchester for the "experience" but head says do an apprenticeship and get your Accountancy qualification quick.

    Wetherspoons are a good example of the hospitality industry promoting and developing their own apprentices.

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    1. The big accountancy firms offer some of the most prestigious post A-level apprenticeships.

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  2. What WOULD you study now, in hindsight?

    And is 51 too late to start an apprenticeship at Spoons?

    You know, when I encountered Nigel F in an award-winning "micropub" in Thanet over a year ago, he was going on to an enraptured little family about this very topic: specifically, the superiority of the German apprenticeship focus. (Germany's actually suffering from the exact problem though: all the kids are going to university, and big business is VERY concerned about a lack of apprentices. Interesting how big business are solidly behind Merkel's immigration direction, too.)

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    1. Not sure, probably something more academically rigorous such as mathematics or law.

      Interestingly, accountancy firms don't tend to think having an accountancy degree gives you any advantage over people with degrees in other disciplines.

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    2. On starting apprenticeships later in life, I'm sure some are OK, but I've heard some only take under 19s since they can be paid the lower apprentice minimum wage.

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  3. This is boring - Talk about draught bass or something.

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    1. Shall I do the definition of craft beer next, then?

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  4. The problem with Hospitality as a career is you have to spend several years being shoddily treated, by both customers and employers, for low pay. And if you mention you work in the trade, you'll be looked down on by other people for not doing "better". If you can somehow get through that, then you have decent prospects. But I suspect most people (and especially young people today) are too thin-skinned to manage it.

    A lot of people are dicks towards staff in menial jobs, and see them just to serve their whims. A quick read of the Northern Snippet blog will show you just how awful some people can be. Until the general public learn to treat service staff better, it's not going to be seen as a desirable career path for young people.

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    1. If major companies want to attract bright A-level students they will need to make sure they don't treat them shoddily. I accept they do have an image problem to overcome.

      But surely a major part of learning the job in any customer service business is experiencing life at the coal face.

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  5. Better an apprenticeship than a lifetime of student debt. I'm also moved to observe that catering and hospitality are where many liberal arts graduates spend much of their working lives.

    All right for those who like fries I suppose.

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  6. I visited a brewery a few days ago (obviously I'm visiting breweries every few days this year for the book and getting sick of it) and spent a good half hour or so chatting to their apprentice brewer.

    He seemed to have his head screwed on. Young chap, probably about 20. Had done a bit of home-brewing, been an apprentice for a year or so and had a guaranteed job at the end of it. Knew a lot about the London brewing scene and was clearly enthusiastic about the industry and his future within it - had aspirations to start his own commercial brewery eventually once he'd learned a bit more about the practical side.

    For want of a better phrase, 'craft beer' is one of the few expanding industries out there. Young'uns could do a lot worse than following this guys lead and getting on the apprenticeship ladder in the world of beer.


    Except, of course, young people 'aren't drinking any more' according to some sources...

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  7. As an International Relations graduate, that graduate premium is often bollocks. I'm doing a job a 14 year old could do for 30 p over the over 25 minimum wage ;)

    Of course I don't earn enough to repay the Student Loan Company since it effectively operates like a de facto graduate income tax being repaid through PAYE.

    I can't help suspecting many of the stats on a grad premium are from a time when there were less graduates, and perhaps more jobs and far less mostly illegal less unpaid internships.

    I'd be a bit cynical about apprenticeships though - some are clearly just ways of paying less to under 19s due to the lower apprentice minimum wage, eg apprentice photocopier, batista etc in what would previously have been actual jobs.

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    1. The apprenticeships designed to attract bright 18-yos as an alternative to university are a completely different kettle of fish from the minimum-wage ones aimed at 16-yo school leavers.

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