Time to appreciate value of apprenticeships

Apprentice with Caterpillar ©TUC
Apprentice with Caterpillar ©TUC

Ever since I can remember, I've thought university is not all it's cracked up to be.

But there's so much snobbery around academia and back-patting when young people get into the university of their choice; it's almost frowned upon to have a different view.

From A Levels, I went straight into what essentially was an apprenticeship of two-and-a-half years, on-the-job training, backed up by sessions in the classroom. I came away with a qualification in journalism, 100 words a minute shorthand and a career ahead of me, which, by turning to the dark side into PR along the way and delving into social media, has kept me going ever since.

In my mid-forties, I decided I'd like to get a degree by the time I was fifty, just to see if I could. With the brilliant Open University, I came away with first class honours in humanities with creative writing. It was a wonderful experience and I'd recommend it to anyone.

I have two children – a daughter who didn't go to university but trained as a secretary and is doing very well, thank you, largely because of a well-drilled work ethic and a desire to pay her own way, and a son who got a good degree and is now a successful young engineer.

What gets me riled is the assumption that university is "best". We should be giving equal attention to young people who follow different paths.

In our gong-obsessed society, where examination results are the be-all and end-all and schools are measured and tested, measured and tested ad nauseum, with some children singled out as 'gifted and talented', it's about time we awarded more kudos to the skilled trades. Because, without them, we'd be sunk.

I am fed up with the middle class, elitist nonsense that surrounds university, as if it were some sacred cow we dare not question, as if it were the only path to enlightenment and enrichment, as if the very idea of heading in any other direction is somehow second rate.

According to a recent report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), most graduates in the UK are in jobs where they do not need a degree and 'over qualification' is at saturation point.

A piece picked up by publications including the Financial Times under a screaming headline UK trains 'too many hairdressers, and not enough bricklayers' (a title which reinforces the very snobbery I've been talking about, but that's another story), states that "the number of construction qualifications awarded through apprenticeships, colleges and universities has dropped by 10,000 in the past two years, despite a 54 per cent increase in industry recruitment demand, research by the Local Government Association has found."

The number of completed apprenticeships is down by nearly 60 per cent since 2009. The association says a construction skill shortage is undermining the Government's pledge to build 275,000 affordable homes by 2020.

Hello, is anybody listening? It's time to wake up and smell the builder's tea. It's about time we, as a society, appreciated the value of apprenticeships and invest more time and money into developing them, right across the board. And get rid of this silly notion that a skilled trade is somehow inferior to a graduate career.

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Margery Hookings

Margery Hookings is a writer, a member of National Union of Journalists and former local newspaper editor from Dorset who went straight into journalism training with the Mirror Group in Plymouth in 1979 after completing her A levels.

Under the pen name Maddie Grigg, Margery writes a weekly column for The People's Friend magazine and is a founder member of The Lady Shed website.