This may seem a strange move for businesses; some may question why they should pay to turn school-leavers into fully-functioning adults, when they can let three years of hard-drinking, failing to attend lectures and mobbing Prince Charles’ motor do that for free.
But it’s a tactic that’s already becoming more popular among employers. PwC, one of Deloitte’s rivals in the bean-counting stakes, already hires around 60 people on its school leaver program – and this could rise in light of the 400 applications it’s received so far.
Meanwhile BT experienced an incredible response to its apprenticeship scheme this year: nearly 24,000 applications for the 221 places available. That’s way more than the number who applied to Oxford University, which received 17,000 applications for 3,000 places. Now that the yoof are more into overalls than cricket tops and boaters, BT is considering expanding the scheme.
So has the university route had its day? Not just yet. Supporters of university say graduates earn, on average, an extra £100k over their lifetime than those who didn’t go to get a degree. It’s also generally accepted that that bit of paper still comes in rather handy. After all, Deloitte employs around 1,100 graduates a year – more than ten times the amount of school leavers it’ll take on.
But others point out that with tuition fees soaring, the £100k figure doesn’t really stand up, as it doesn’t include the cost of degree and other maintenance debts. Furthermore, with apprenticeship schemes such as BT’s offering a starting wage of up to £14k, university can be viewed as potentially three of four years of lost earnings –with only a massive debt, a pretentious attachment to Che Guevara and no guarantee of work to show for your efforts.
Employers are noticing that. A report from the Institute of Directors warns that skill shortages are ‘shackling firms’. Nearly a third of bosses said they are ‘struggling’ to fill vacancies, blaming the fact that job applicants don’t have the right skills, qualifications or experience.
Whether you think a university education is worthwhile or not, we can expect to see more of the yoof taking alternative routes into work as the fee hikes take shape. It’ll be interesting to see who will benefit more in the long-run: graduates, or professionally-trained school leavers (and their livers).