When you finish your GCSEs your next steps are ones with which you should tread carefully with. With such a difficult decision to make and with little real-life experience to guide you, it can feel like the weight of the world is baring down on you. In this article, I will try to dissect the options that you may be thinking about at this point in your life.
The main attraction to an apprenticeship is the option to start earning. You may or you may not have had a weekend or evening job, but an apprenticeship would give you the opportunity to start earning levels of money that whilst being at school you would not have been able to have been making.
Not only will you be working, but in fact you will be training and learning a profession that you could be working in for the rest of your life. It is not often in life that you will be given the option to learn such valuable skills and work towards such highly respected qualifications (i.e the NVQ in plumbing) without a cost to you. The cost of taking the training courses will be 100% met by the government if you are between the age of 16 and 18 and 50% if you are between the age of 19 and 25, although you may be lucky enough to find a 100% funded position at the latter age group.
With several years of experience, you may be able to earn up to £60,000 a year as a plumber, an achievement that not even most university graduates will equal in their lifetimes. So when gifted the opportunity to walk into a lucrative career path without directly paying any training fees, you should not pass on it without heavy consideration.
The world of work can be quite daunting for a 16 year old, often you will have to learn to grow up very fast as you may be working with colleagues up to 4 times your age . Your boss will have important clients and a tight schedule, so there will be no room for turning up late or working slow. You should also remember that you are representing your employer and hence fooling around on the job like you could have got away with at school, will not be tolerated.
Plumbing can be quite physically demanding work, many a plumber has strained something whilst crawling under a kitchen sink, and other than that, a certain level of strength is needed to operate certain tools. Although this level of fitness should not be a problem for most young people, it may be a sticking point for those afflicted by unfortunate health problems.
Although you can start earning with an apprenticeship, £2.63 an hour for 30 hours a week is not an income level with which you could become comfortably financially independent with in the UK. In fact it is little more than those on the Employment Sickness Allowance or those receiving the Job Seekers Allowance gain. You wouldn’t exactly be being robbed however, as the NVQ course and general plumbing certificate that you will be training towards would otherwise cost around £6000 to complete.
If you were to want to live independently, you will be entitled to the Housing Benefit, but the apprenticeship scheme is truly aimed at school leavers who are fortunate enough to still have a great deal of support from their parents.
What are the alternatives?
Well the most common alternative is continuing with school and trying to get some A-levels. The subjects studied at A-level are usually not very vocational and will not really provide you with the any real-life skills. Rather they would lay the foundations for you to enter into higher education (i.e university). They introduce you, but largely they are there to give an indication to the universities that you apply for how capable you are to enter further education.
You could choose to enter a lower-skilled job such as working in retail or becoming a waste removal operative. The training is little, but the pay is very low and there is little room for career advancement. This option is primarily for those who are eager to become financially independent sooner rather than later.
So to sum it all up
You should go on to do A-levels if you are..
The type of person who has or will gain very high grades in your GCSEs and enjoys academia.
You should go on to get a low-skilled job if you..
Do not enjoy or succeed at academia and want immediate financial independence.
You should go on to do an apprenticeship if you are the type of person..
Who does not enjoy academia, will be able to live with your parents for the first 2 years of your apprenticeship, but is driven to gain vocational skills which will set up an extremely prosperous and rewarding career for many decades to come.