BT has announced that it received 24,000 applications for its apprenticeship scheme – up from 9,000 last year. While the scheme is seen as a fast route to a job for life, it’s not exactly a king’s wage: apprentices start on somewhere between £11,000 and £14,000 and combine academic study for a BTEC or a foundation degree with their work. With unemployment among 18-24-year-olds having climbed by 5% in the last three years, the scheme’s record number of applicants is undisputedly a sign of the times.
For those who opt to go down the academic route instead, things aren’t looking particularly rosy, either. New figures out today indicate the number of clearing places (the university places reserved for those who fail to get the grades for their first choice or change their minds) has the smallest ever number of places. According to a survey by The Times, around 156,640 students will have to fight for about 21,400 spots. They're tough odds.
The shortage is being put down to a ban on over-recruiting (universities were fined £4m last year for taking on too many students), a spike in unemployed people turning to academia and a mini-baby boom in the 1990s (as often happens after a recession). And this year, the Government is being no less strict: universities have been told that they must make savings of £1.3bn, which will undoubtedly mean a lot of disappointed students.
With fewer places available, there's clearly a risk of creating a generation of disaffected young people with no viable route to employment or training - the social and economic implications of which would be enormous. The only upside, at least as far as companies like BT are concerned, is that their apprenticeship schemes are likely to attract a higher calibre of applicants than ever before. Those convinced of the value of apprenticeships as a way of preparing young people for working life might argue that this will only help to boost their prestige.