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To degree or not to degree, that is the question?

To degree or not to degree, that is the question? I’ve often wondered if having a degree has given me any kind of advantage in the world of work? I graduated back in 1999 with a 2:1 in The History of Art and Design. I personally would describe it as one of those “arty farty degrees” and I chose it because I had no idea of what I wanted to do as a career. I had stumbled my way through education, achieving better results each time than expected and eventually found myself with the choice of going to University. At the time I thought why not! I come from a small town in the country with limited employment options and this was my opportunity to leave home and fend for myself in the big city of Manchester! I have to say though, initially the degree did not really work in my favour as I needed a job quickly after a move to Leeds. I’d applied for a couple of graduate opportunities within the art world and had knock backs. With no real useful work experience and a degree that did not provide me with any particularly relevant skills for the workplace I ended up in retail and progressed from there. Eventually I realised I wanted to work in recruitment and applied for sales related positions in order to give me more relevant experience. When applying for recruitment positions I did find that my degree opened the door for a few interview opportunities and without it I probably wouldn’t have been seen. The rest is history and I have been with Headway Recruitment for the last 12 years! With the average graduate debt now £44,000 and expecting to rise to £50,000 with the abolition of maintenance grants, I think now I would have to think twice about going to University. Back in my day (sounding old here!) there were plenty of grants available and of course tuition was free. Competition for graduate jobs is now fierce and last year there were 62,750 graduate entry level jobs available for 350,000 applicants. By 2022 less than a third of job roles are expected to be graduate positions and according to City and Guilds two thirds of young people are planning on going to University despite a third of them not knowing what they are going to study. With all this in mind are apprenticeships the new way forward? They’ve been described as “the key to social mobility” and “the answer to skills shortages”, but are they all they are cracked up to be? New figures have suggested that only a small minority of the government’s own apprentices are taken on after their placements and if this is the case is this the same across the board? Also wages can be very low and some apprentices earn as little as £2.68 per hour giving employers definite room to take advantage of cheap labour. Statistics show that working age graduates earn an average of £32,500 compared with £22,000 for non-graduates. However, people who had completed a level five apprenticeship, which is the equivalent to a foundation degree, are expected to earn £52,000 more over their lifetimes than graduates from non-elite universities. While some graduates do in fact earn more over their lifetime there is the burden of student debt to bear in mind and almost half of graduates end up in non-graduate jobs. Here at Headway Recruitment we see a large number of graduates who have completed their degree and have no idea of what they want to do. Often we place them in jobs that don’t require a degree and they are starting from the bottom just like everyone else. We also help apprentices that have found themselves out of work following the end of their placement. It is often much easier to help these particular candidates as they have real work experience with a qualification to go alongside. We asked a number of clients and candidates about their views on degree verses apprenticeship. 64% of people we asked thought that a degree gave you no advantage in the workplace and most people given the choice would choose an apprenticeship over a degree. The majority cited that they felt apprenticeships were the better option as it gave you both work experience and a qualification. With all this in mind it looks like unless you have a particular career path in mind and know the type of degree you need to achieve this potentially the apprenticeship could be the better option for you. The debate is endless on this subject, but if you have any thoughts please feel free to drop me an email to annabel@headwayrecruitment.co.uk. You can also keep up to date by following us on Twitter and Facebook.
Annabel Lewis

By Annabel Lewis

A proven recruitment expert. Working within recruitment since 2004 with a wide a range of clients across Leeds, from start-ups to multi nationals. Recognised for the hiring of office based, management and engineering roles.
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