Employers rate job applicants with apprenticeship highly

A recent survey of 500 English companies found that businesses valued apprenticeships more highly than traditional academic qualifications. The government-funded study rated the employability of people with different qualifications including GCSEs, A-levels, degrees, and three levels of apprenticeships. Applicants who had undertaken training through an apprenticeship were seen as, on average, 15% more employable than those with other qualifications.

System of apprenticeships in the UK

Available to people over the age of 16 in the UK, apprenticeships are offered at different levels depending on the UK country. England, for example, has three levels. Here the most common apprenticeships are intermediate level apprenticeships, which are equivalent to five General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) passes. GCSEs are exams normally taken by English school pupils aged 15 or 16. Advanced apprenticeships are the second most common, and are equivalent to two General Certificate of Education Advanced Levels or ‘A-levels’. A-levels are normally taken at the age of 17 or 18. Higher apprenticeships were introduced in England in 2009 and they lead to a level 4 national vocational qualification or a foundation degree.

According to the website of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), there are more than 250 different apprenticeships available in England offered by over 100,000 companies in 160,000 workplaces. The UK government is focused on providing funding for apprenticeships to young workers, in particular those under the age of 24. The state provides loans to support training for those on advanced or higher apprenticeships who are over 24.

The number of people starting an apprenticeship has risen sharply over the past five years according to the report, University education: Is it the best route into employment? (213Kb, PDF). The report, which was published in February 2013, was compiled by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) in conjunction with the Association for Accounting Technicians (AAT).

The report found that in the 2011–2012 academic year, a total of 520,600 people in England began an apprenticeship. Higher apprenticeships were started by 3,700 people, which constituted a 68% increase on the previous year. This reflects increased interest from large organisations in this type of apprenticeship, as well as an increase in government funding. Some of the UK’s largest graduate recruiters are involved in the scheme, including British Airways, professional services company, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), engineering and electronics firm Siemens, and consumer goods manufacturer Unilever.

A number of large organisations have announced plans to expand their higher apprenticeships programmes next year. PwC recruited 31 higher apprentices in London in 2012 and expects to recruit 70 in 2013. Speaking at the launch by NAS of a new film and guide to higher apprenticeships, Gaenor Bagley, Head of People at PwC, said:

We’re finding talent from wider sources than ever before. There’s no doubt in our mind that for talented students who are clear about their career path and want to get straight into work, higher apprenticeships offer a real opportunity that doesn’t compromise on training and development.

Employers’ views on apprenticeships

Previous surveys have found employers overwhelmingly supportive of apprenticeships in terms of their impact on staff loyalty, skills development and employee satisfaction.

An ad hoc survey (104Kb PDF) in February 2013 by ICM Research, funded by the government on behalf of NAS, supported the previous findings. ICM questioned 500 employers in England and found that they consistently favoured apprenticeships qualifications over equivalent academic qualifications.

Those with a higher, degree level, apprenticeship were rated as most desirable, scoring 7.98 out of 10 in the survey’s scoring system, while those with university degrees were rated as 7.58. This means that job seekers with a higher apprenticeship were 5% more employable than those with a traditional degree.

The gap was even greater at A-level. Candidates with A-levels received a score of 6.28 compared with 7.24 for people with an advanced apprenticeship. This means that those with an advanced apprenticeship were almost 15% more employable than those with traditional A-levels.

The findings are a boost to the government’s efforts to increase the numbers of higher apprenticeships. Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said:

We want apprenticeships or university to become the new norm for young people leaving school, and higher apprenticeships are an excellent way to enter high profile careers while also achieving a degree-level qualification.

Benefits for employers and workers

The Chief Executive of the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, Semta, Sarah Sillars, was quick to identify the advantages of an apprenticeship. She said that in addition to the well-recognised benefits for employers of appointing apprentices, young workers in particular benefited from gaining qualifications without having to take on large debts to pay for their university education.

Recent reports have identified a potential increase of GBP 150,000 (€175,365 as at 29 May 2013) in lifetime earnings for those with a higher apprenticeship. This is a similar wage premium to that of the average university degree. Research shows that, in addition to the wage premium, workers with a higher apprenticeship are less likely to be unemployed than recent graduates. They also have much lower levels of unemployment than those with lower levels of qualification.


The new research shows employers perceive job seekers who have higher apprenticeships as more employable than those with traditional degrees. This adds to data showing generally positive attitudes of employers within the UK to apprenticeships. The rapid growth of higher apprenticeships in England in part reflects the interest of employers in such qualifications. This must be coupled with increasing evidence of a wage premium equivalent to a traditional degree and lower levels of unemployment amongst higher apprenticeship graduates.

It is clear that, in the UK context, apprenticeships offer workers qualifications that are highly valued by employers, enhance their employability, and improve their position in the labour market more than equivalent academic qualifications.


CEBR (Centre for Economics and Business Research) (2013), University education: is it the best route into employment? (213Kb PDF), Association of Accounting Technicians, London.

Sophie Gamwell, Industrial Relations Research Unit, University of Warwick

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