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Degrees of separation: lifetime earning potential of apprentices can be 270% more than graduates

On average, graduates can only expect to earn 1.8% (£2,200) more than their workplace-trained counterparts

The latest figures on the difference in lifetime earning potential between graduates and apprentices reveal an increasingly narrow gap. On average, graduates can only expect to earn 1.8% (£2,200) more than their workplace-trained counterparts; in some sectors, apprentices can earn significantly more.

A new report commissioned by Barclays and the Centre for Economics and Business Research has revealed that apprentices in sectors such as media, publishing and the arts are likely to earn 270% more than their university-educated colleagues over their career. In animal care, horticulture and agriculture, apprenticeship-trained professionals may eventually earn 211% more, while they could earn 29% more in the languages, literature and culture sector – a lesser but still significant amount.

This comes in the wake of another study in which one-third of graduates expressed regret at having attended university due to the increasing burden of student debt. The rising costs of a university education are a significant factor behind the Barclays researchers’ assertion that the disparity in earnings between graduates and apprentices will soon be a thing of the past.

The report is keen to overturn the archaic view that apprenticeships are only for manual or vocational trades, pointing out that the majority of the positions taken up in 2014/15 were in the fields of business, administration and law. The number of people undertaking an apprenticeship has doubled over the last 10 years, which is indicative of the popularity of such schemes.

Mike Thompson, head of apprenticeships at Barclays, cites the research as pointing to a significant movement in the economy away from degrees to workplace training, describing the financial advantage experienced by trainees as a hidden paycheque. Not only do apprentices benefit from the advantages of no student debt but also they earn good wages during their training period – a situation totally out of reach to university students. Sometimes the wage enjoyed by apprentices during work placements is higher than graduates eventually earn, enabling apprentices to bask in financial rewards such as the ability to purchase a home or a car.

The combination of this early financial advantage with long-term prospects and the absence of debt means that apprenticeship uptake will surely continue to increase. Together with the fact that sky-high tuition fees are prohibitive to many people making the choice to attend university, workplace training will be the obvious choice for many more young people over the next few years.

The Barclays study draws attention to a new Degree Apprenticeship scheme introduced in 2015 that will enable participants to obtain a degree-level qualification in their chosen field. It is therefore no wonder that degrees are starting to seem obsolete and overpriced in some fields.

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