“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”
– The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
I’ve been asked before: Why? Why did I choose to do an Apprenticeship instead of getting a degree at University? Why would I turn away from that experience that everyone should have? Why would I decide to stop performing the magic trick of turning a perfectly good student loan into a disproportionate amount of fine Scottish beer and Subway sandwiches? … and all importantly why did I choose to not get a degree at University.
Partly because, as recently announced in national media (https://www.thetechpartnership.com/degreeapprenticeships), IBM and a number of other companies are offering their Apprentices the opportunity to do a workplace-based degree – for which I have submitted my application and I am awaiting a response one way or the other to my participation in the scheme. But doesn’t that invalidate the point of doing an Apprenticeship, I hear you cry?
Let me explain, both why I chose to do an Apprenticeship, and why I have still applied to do a Degree.
Both of my parents are academics. All of my life, I grew up with the quite simply unquestioned assumption that in order to get a good job that turned into a good career, I should do well at school, work hard at college and go to University, from where I would be able to get a good job – and that was the path to success. Now, I am by no means blaming my parents for this – it was much an assumption I had within myself, and they have been incredibly supportive of my participation in the Apprenticeship scheme (particularly after hearing about all the incredible things I have had the opportunity to do – seriously, if you haven’t already, have a look back at my previous blog posts for a tip of the iceberg!), and to be quite frank, I suspect that this is an assumption still inherent in many families and students. It’s not your fault, we’ve just grown up being raised by a generation that understood that University was just what you did.
However, we live in a different world now. 5 year old children are more adept at using a smart phone than many adults, utilising computing power at their fingertips without thinking, computing power moreover that would have filled an entire room in ‘the old days’. Facebook is championing the roll out of internet connectivity to third world countries, the last general election in which young voters have experienced a world without social media is about to take place, and the way we consume education and crucially, how we understand the way in which people learn, is facing a huge paradigm shift.
School to College to University to ‘a Good Job for Life’ is no longer the only model (and some may argue no longer a viable model – but that’s a can of worms for another day). I chose to do an Apprenticeship because I knew that staying at University would hinder me, rather than empower me. I had a gap year working full time at Starbucks, and during that time I understood the concepts of financial independence (to an extent – my parents helped me out A LOT, but I began to understand that what I spent had a direct relationship to how much time I had worked), self-education and personal development. Going to University felt like a step back, I wasn’t being pushed and moreover, I didn’t feel the motivation to push myself. I knew it wasn’t working, so I opted out of the system I expected to help me achieve the life I want to live and instead looked for alternatives. What I found was the opportunity to learn the same skills I would have at University (but perhaps more applicable/specialised to the career I want), to work with industry thought leaders and for an industry leader and crucially, to earn whilst I learn and to further my financial and personal independence. Having made the switch I would not go back – I wake up every day motivated to tear through the day, and I am currently working on projects where my contribution could change the way IBM does business with our clients in the UK&I!
I feel like I have learnt more, both technical skills and business skills that will propel my career regardless of where and what role I end up working in, in the two and a half years I have worked for IBM than my entire time at college and one year at University. Which leads me on to the Degree Apprenticeship. The reason I have applied for the scheme, and why I am going to do everything I can to get on to the scheme and get a great grade, and more importantly, why I feel that this does not invalidate the passion I feel for Apprenticeships is because of the way that I learn. I know that this degree (if I am successful in my application) will improve my education and my expertise, will make my CV more attractive to future employers (both within and external to IBM) and, if nothing else, will allow me to learn more about a subject that I deadly passionate about.
This conversation never was, and never should be, about whether a degree is a worthwhile qualification. It is, and I don’t think anyone could seriously and legitimately argue against that. It should also not be about Universities VERSUS Apprenticeships (I know I used that for the title, but that’s a hook – what are you going to do!). However, and this is the crucial point, it is not the only qualification – nor is it the best qualification. A Degree and University aren’t the only route to ‘a Good Job for Life’. The most important thing is that you, as a student, decide how you best learn and what route will empower you to make as much out of your life as you possibly can. If that means going to University, great – I wish you all the best in everything you do. But don’t let the naysayers (be that your friends, your parents, your career adviser at college) tell you that an Apprenticeship can’t set you up for life.
The possibilities really are endless, and in the end it’s two paths to the same destination. You make up your mind, and don’t be afraid of the road less travelled (after all, there’s more and more of us walking that path every day, proving that it can be done!).