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Charlie Mullins: A-level students should consider apprenticeship route

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From companies employing hundreds to the one-man-band looking to take on their first employee, a workforce armed with the right skills, in the right sectors, is absolutely essential.

One of the key ways to bridge the skills gap is for the education system and the world of business to work together in harmony making sure that we educate and train people for the industries where they are needed.

This is happening in further education, where colleges and training providers have latched on to this challenge and are delivering vocational courses and apprenticeships either in partnership or for the benefit of employers.

On the other hand, the Higher Education is still operating in a bubble where self-preservation exists over what’s needed for the good of the country.

The university sector has its good points, but people need to be under no illusion that it is an industry. And as an industry it cannot survive without paying customers. The ironic thing here is that companies who train apprentices are also undeniably money making operations, but universities somehow still manage to hold the moral high ground of the ‘educator’.

So, amid all the photos in the papers and online of teenagers jumping for joy waving their A-level results above their heads came the news last week that, despite the overall pass rate dropping for the first time in 32 years, students who achieved lower grades are being told they have an opportunity to go to university after 30,000 new places were created.

All of these extra places come with a price tag and they’ll go to young people who don’t have a reason to go to university other than somebody told them it would be a good idea. 

Add the fact they probably don’t have a career path in mind and we’re left with a higher education system full of Mickey Mouse courses fuelling the country’s ever-growing skills gap.

There are some careers where a university education is essential and those who follow this path accept that £50,000 worth of debt is a necessary evil to get the career they want. 

But for the others being targeted by universities, and society for that matter, they are caught up in a swindle by reinforcing the myth that whatever else happens you are always better off with a university education. 

This is, of course, rubbish, and I’ve met plenty of people lured by this trap who wish they’d never gone to university. This, however, is not something I’ve heard from qualified tradespeople when they talk about their apprenticeship!

These are people who have gained specific skills, can ply their trade anywhere they choose and don’t have any training-related debt. Which model best serves society? It’s a no brainer.

Charlie Mullins is CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers

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