The first years of work are a confusing place for parents trying to help their children begin a successful career which fits in with their own strengths and interests.
In this guide, we break down the choices available to your child and provide some handy tips and links to more in-depth articles so you can make sure their options are open.
'University, apprenticeship, vocational qualifications or regular job? How to help your child decide what's right'
Why are there are so many options?
Decades ago, the co-existence of polytechnic colleges alongside the universities meant that high-skilled vocational and more heady professions were accessible to many school/college leavers through different routes. Young people who wanted to become nurses or teachers could go to college to do this instead of having to go to university.
Then the government started focusing more on university education as the way to create a high-skilled workforce. This left non-university options such as apprenticeships and vocational qualifications looking like the second-best option. This left many parents feeling that for their child to succeed in their career, they had to go to university.
Now, that is changing. Apprenticeships have been developed as an exciting alternative route into which offers added benefits to many school leavers. More programmes are being made available all the time. University is still a way into certain professions and is better suited to those of a more academic nature who want to study a certain discipline for love of the subject.
So what are the different options open to your children?
Of course, we’re not saying university isn’t an option for your child.
According to UCAS, a record 34.1% 18-year-olds entered university in 2019. Government data for 2017/18 suggests just over half (50.2%) of those aged 18-30 year-old take part in higher education – a target set all the way back in the 1990s under Tony Blair.
Simply put, this means around a third of 18-year-olds will start university this year and that, at the moment, about half the population takes part in higher education reaching the age of 30. It’s important to remember that higher education doesn’t necessarily mean following the standard university route – particularly with the advent of higher and degree apprenticeships.
University is a good choice for your child if they:
Want the “uni experience”: Living semi-independently, making new friends with very different people, joining clubs and societies – these are all things that university can offer.
Love their subject: If your child wants to throw themselves into their studies because they love their chosen subject, and want to know everything there is to know about it, university is a good choice.
Want to go into a profession only accessible via university: There are many career paths which have been opened up to the apprenticeship route (see below) but certain careers are currently only accessible via a university degree (or only widely accessible this way). This includes medicine, veterinary medicine, teaching and architecture.
Have a look at our guide for students called "Is university for me?"
Apprenticeships are a job with pay, training and the chance to gain professionally relevant qualifications. After a revamp over the last few years, they are now a route into high-skilled professions such as civil engineer, solicitor, scientist and nurse.
There are four types of apprenticeship:
- Intermediate: Equivalent to 4 GCSEs.
- Advanced: Equivalent to 2 A-levels.
- Higher: Equivalent to a foundation degree or higher
- Degree: Equivalent to a bachelor’s or master’s degree
With degree apprenticeship, apprentices are guaranteed to gain a degree in a subject relevant to their job (provided they successfully complete the programme, of course!)
We have written a guide to apprenticeships especially for parents which you can see here.
We made this video to help parents like you get a sense of whether university or an apprenticeships might be best suited to your child:
3. Vocational qualification
There are many other vocational options your child could pursue through a college course at age 16 or 18.
Different qualification “brands” include BTEC, NVQ, OCR Cambridge National or Diploma, each one with a slightly different slant. For example, Diplomas can be taken at 16 and are intended to provide practical experience than A-levels, with students going into the workplace.
The courses are available at different “levels” which represent different standards of expertise. Level 3 qualifications (equivalent to A-levels) are typically taken age 16 while higher-level qualifications require A-levels or a level 3 qualification so can’t usually be taken before age 18.
Students can take vocational qualifications on a full-time or part-time college course. They are often included as part of an apprenticeship programme, sometimes alongside other qualifications. They are also often incorporated into jobs to enable workers to improve their skills or theoretical understanding of the work they are doing.
Read our article on vocational qualifications for a more detailed guide to what they involve.
4. Gap year
If your child is unsure of what they want to do, a gap year could be a good choice. A gap year can give your child chance to think about what they want to do with their time – whether that be work, further study or a mixture.
Depending on how they choose to fill their gap year, it can also be a rare opportunity for them to spend some time out of work or study, enjoying themselves and building up life experience.
Many gap year students choose to get a job, either at home or overseas. An alternative is volunteering. Either of these options provides an insight into working life, gives them skills and work experience for their CV and also gives them a flavour of independence and responsibility. Having a job can help your child develop money management skills.
5. Get a job
Another option for your child is to apply for a job immediately upon leaving school/college.
This could be because they haven’t made up their mind what they want to do (like an indefinite gap year) and would like to gain experience and earn a wage while they think about what is best for them.
Starting an entry-level job can itself be the beginning of a young person’s career path. If it is a job they care about – or develop an enthusiasm for – they could soon apply for a promotion and progress within the workplace. They may also have the chance to work towards relevant qualifications (see section 4) or could choose later to begin an apprenticeship related to the role.
We made this video for students to help them get a quick overview of how to figure out what jobs is right for them. Feel free to hit share and send it to your son or daughter!
Have a look at our guide to help students decide what job is right for them. This can be a good way to make this first step a success. We also have a guide to applying for jobs nearby.
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