5 tips to help parents explore apprenticeships

By Kathryn Kirk

Patrick English is Head of Careers at Wellington College, Belfast. He has over 15 years’ experience in careers guidance for young people and is a passionate advocate for making them aware of the many opportunities available, including alternatives to full–time university.

I was out for a walk yesterday evening and met friends whose teenage son was thinking of doing an Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA). I could sense their reticence and reluctance. I soon discovered why. Like so many parents, their understanding of apprenticeships was entirely limited to the traditional view of apprenticeships.

We talked for about 15 minutes about HLAs. I explained that he would still go to university (just not full–time), gain a university degree (exactly the same as full–time university students), not have student fees to pay and take his first step on the career ladder with plenty of mentoring. By the end of our conversation, their minds had changed about apprenticeships.

While our young people are aware of the facts about apprenticeships, parents are often still catching up.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not on a soapbox! As a parent myself, I’m very sympathetic to why this can often be the case. The busyness of life often gets in the way of being really well informed about the options out there for our young people. It’s all too tempting to fall back to familiarity – our experience of our own education and career journey. But doing so is doing young people a disservice. So much has changed in recent years in the early careers sphere.

At Wellington, we are passionate about presenting our pupils with the breadth of options available to them after school, including HLAs. We’re keen that they know apprenticeships don’t necessarily mean choosing between university and an apprenticeship. With HLAs, you can attend university as an apprentice.

I’ve seen such change over my years as a careers teacher. Many pupils are thinking again about full–time university and looking at other options.

This year, 5 of our most academic Year 14 students have chosen an HLA over the traditional university pathway.

I have a former student who chose to do an HLA. She got 3 A* grades in her ‘A’ Levels. Some members of her family encouraged her to think again about her HLA choice – wouldn’t Oxbridge be more suitable? She decided against Oxbridge and pursued her HLA. She’s loving it – will earn over £100,000 over 4 years, is getting great experience working on projects at home and further afield and has been given her own client portfolio which comes with responsibility and amazing experience. All this as well as emerging with a university degree.

HLAs are competitive, and it’s good for parents to be aware of that. 

At Wellington, we are doing all we can to help our pupils be well informed and careers ready – helping them develop presentation skills, teamwork abilities and those other ‘softer’ but vital skills.

Parents play such an integral role in helping their child think about next steps. There are great options out there – being familiar with them will mean we can better inform our young people which will be of enormous benefit to them.

Top five tips for parents:

  1. Start thinking and talking about careers and next steps early, when your child is in Year 10. (Keep it relaxed and positive, nothing needs to be set in stone but it’s good at this stage to be thinking well about next steps after school.)
  2. Start following relevant companies and organisations on social media based on your child’s strengths and interests. It’s worth doing this as some companies offer work experience, open office days, summer camps for a range of ages.
  3. Realise that careers guidance in school is an important aspect of your child’s education and encourage your child to see that too.
  4. Be aware of opportunities in NI that would be beneficial for your child and allow them to familiarise themselves with some of the great companies and options out there.
  5. Register with Workplus – it’s a good source of information on apprenticeships generally and they run recruitment campaigns with a variety of apprenticeship opportunities across the sectors and at various levels.


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