Does a degree give enough specific knowledge about industry?

As a recent graduate, it seems gaining a degree allows you to learn the process of an industry but not necessarily application to the job you wish to work.

It was A-level results day last week, and many 18-year-old school leavers (around a third) will head to university in September - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
It was A-level results day last week, and many 18-year-old school leavers (around a third) will head to university in September – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

If it went unnoticed, it was A-level results day last week, and many 18-year-old school-leavers (around a third) will head to university in September, with this number rising to half completing higher education by the time they reach 30.

Although, undoubtedly having a degree is essential in some industries, apprenticeships are massively overlooked and disregarded. According to EEF only 7% of students after their A-levels will undertake an apprenticeship.

Bhavina Bharkhada, Education and Skills Policy Adviser at EEF commented:It’s great to see that many more students now have the potential to study engineering at university. But it’s equally important for young people to know that university and clearing are not the only options. There are an array of other opportunities available to them including pathways such as apprenticeships.”

University degree culture

The Manufacturer sat down with Tom Bowtell, CEO of British Coatings Federation (BCF), to talk about the importance of apprenticeships.

He said: “There is still something culturally about having to get a university degree. Most regular chemical degrees don’t give enough specific knowledge about our industry.”

For career choices in the chemical industry, a broad degree in the sector may not be specific enough, which leaves either extra curricular learning alongside higher education, or further education afterward to gain this essential knowledge.

He explained because of this, BCF is launching a career service hub, and also already has long-distance learning programmes.

Bowtell added: “If you do a degree-apprenticeship, the person could’ve studied those industry specific modules as part of their course. You pay for your university degree, then your company has to pay again for you to learn the industry specific modules, it doesn’t make sense.”

Half of graduates do not work in their field of study

Only half of all UK graduates are working in a field that relates to their degree after leaving university, according to research carried out by London-based, New College of the Humanities.

Is this because students have not worked in their field, so do not know if jobs relating to their field of study will be a career option for them, or in the case of failing to find jobs in their chosen industry – which the report also notes, is that because of a lack of experience?

Maria Collins and Charles Bamford (both IMI Precision Engineering) - image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.
Maria Collins and Charles Bamford (both IMI Precision Engineering) – image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.

Maria Collins, who is completing a three-year apprenticeship in mechanical engineering and who is also shortlisted for The Manufacturer MX Awards 2018 in the category, Young Manufacturer of the Year, spoke to The Manufacturer about apprenticeships.

Collins, who works at the Fradley site of Birmingham-based IMI Precision Engineering, said: “In an apprenticeship you gain practical experience, I know at uni you can do placements, but when you are doing an apprenticeship you train alongside working at a company, so you learn processes and then they are put straight into practice.”

Collins, who was the only girl in her year, does not regret her decision at all, but only stumbled across the manufacturing sector after working at a plastic factory alongside her A-levels.

She added: “While you are doing your apprenticeship, you can build up your professional reputation, people will see how hard you work, how good you are at certain things, and so they get to know you before they employ you as a professional.”

She concluded: “Apprenticeships are fantastic for vocational learning” she said. “If you are unsure go for it because it is the best decision I made and I don’t regret it for a second. You get the best of both worlds.”

Both, university degrees and apprenticeships are one of many options for school-leavers. The structure of an apprenticeship however, does mean young people understand process application to industry better than someone who has undertaken a university degree.

Depending on career routes does depend on the pathway young people will take post A-levels, however it is vital school-leavers and even teachers, do not overlook the potential an apprenticeship or vocational route could offer.