Apprenticeships - a neglected route into science?

Apprenticeships - a neglected route into science?

Planet Science investigates apprenticeships.

What are apprenticeships and how can they provide training for a career in science?

Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to learn whilst you work. As employees, apprentices earn a wage and learn job-specific skills, often whilst studying towards nationally recognised qualifications. When most people think of apprenticeships, they think of jobs such as electrician, plumber or carpenter. However, apprenticeships can be a springboard to a career in science.

The National Apprenticeship Service claims that apprenticeships bring considerable value to organisations, employers, individuals and the economy.  In addition, they suggest that apprenticeships are an optimal way of training people, which benefits both people looking for a non-traditional route into skilled science careers and businesses.


Apprenticeships can be a route into skilled science and technology careers

With the increase in tuition fees and an uncertain job market apprenticeships may be increasingly taken up as a way of gaining training and qualifications whilst earning money. But are they a substitute for a science degree?

In short: no. However, apprenticeships aren't there to replace a degree. Apprenticeships tend to involve more hands on, job-focussed learning rather than academic training. Apprenticeships and university are two distinct, but equally valid, routes into employment. A university degree isn't for everyone and it certainly isn't then only choice when embarking upon a career in science.

Prestigious companies such as Microsoft, Ford, and AstraZeneca all offer apprenticeships, suggesting that the value of apprenticeships to employers is increasing. These companies invest heavily in their apprentices' training and qualifications. This can foster loyalty to the company whilst enabling apprentices to learn valuable technical and practical skills. There are a huge variety of apprenticeships in science and technology, from nuclear decommissioning to animal care and laboratory technician to food management. For people who don't want - or can't afford - to go to university, apprenticeships can be a fantastic way to gain qualifications whilst earning money and learning skills on the job. Apprenticeships also provide real work experience, which is vital in the current competitive job market.

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Apprenticeships provide real work experience

What about the down side?

Although apprenticeships are highly valued by many companies, their value isn't recognised by all employers across the UK. Only around 8% of employers offer apprenticeship schemes, according to The Guardian, so competition for places can be tough. Inevitably, with the increase in tuition fees, competition will only increase. For some careers, such as medicine, a good degree is vital and an apprenticeship scheme cannot replace that. Also, like university degrees, apprenticeship schemes aren't for everyone. Applying for an apprentice position should be carefully considered. However, apprenticeships are a valuable tool for gaining qualifications and experience. They should not be dismissed.

Careers advice

There is no one size fits all route into a science, engineering or technology career. This is why good careers advice and knowledge of the myriad university, college and apprentice schemes is so important. Students should be aware of all the options available to them. It's our job to provide this information.


The following websites have useful information about apprenticeships: