Richard Branson: Don’t go to uni, do an apprenticeship

One of Consarc's apprentices
Richard Branson urges the government to do more to help young people into jobs.

The founder of Virgin has urged young people not to attend university, but instead take vocational training.

Richard Branson has referred to the UK’s current skills gap in digital and technological areas as an “unmanageable problem”, and that it will just be the beginning of a huge number of issues for the UK economy in the future if it is not effectively tackled by the government and industry now.

Like many others involved in business, Branson, speaking with The Guardian, criticised the push to get young people to go to university. With Britain’s youth unemployment rate still high in the teens, leaving almost 800,000 16-24 year olds out of work, according to the last ONS figures released, may believe apprenticeships and vocational training could be a step forward.

Similar schemes have long been heralded as the reason Germany’s rate has stayed so low during the financial crisis.

Branson, one of Britain’s richest people, whose company owns stake in a vast array of industries and employs around 50,000 worldwide, said the “Government must play a part – whether in preparing the entrepreneurs of tomorrow during their schooling or helping SMBs to understand how digital can help them succeed.”

He also called for more options for young people once they complete their GCSEs: “It’s not a case of trying to make sure everyone heads off to university. For some people that’s fine, but for a great many, including yours truly, it’s just not the right fit.”

The UK’s skills gap is one of the largest problems for manufacturers, with huge shortfalls in engineering and technological jobs as well, as other key areas which don’t require degrees.

He added: “There are jobs that don’t exist today that we need to try and prepare the younger generation for. This can’t happen if we lag behind on the skills that are required. We need to look to the future and anticipate the skills level that will be needed not just tomorrow but in five, 10 and even 20 years’ time.”

There have been many steps by private employees and the government to try and prevent the coming skills gap, including the Digital Skills Committee, the GoOn campaign, which is lobbying to have computer programming added to the curriculum.