Forging a working alternative to university education

Apprentice journalist Natasha Meek speaking to Theresa May at The Yorkshire Post offices last week.

With growing pressure on A-level students to take a route that may not suit them, is it time to make apprenticeships more accessible? Natasha 
Meek reports.

“But you’re smart.” This was one of the many responses I received when I told tutors and peers about my wish to go for an apprenticeship.

It wasn’t until I attended college that I realised that people had misconceptions about who should take on apprenticeships and that university places were for ‘gifted people’.

Unlike most families, my parents were apprenticeship advocates – they both achieved their career goals through earning and learning. In many ways I knew that I would too.

However, there’s a great deal of pressure on A-level students to take a route that may not suit them.

So much so that in January of last year I began applying to go university. I had always wanted to be a journalist but the course descriptions didn’t fit what I was after – university has to be a worthwhile choice if you’re signing up to years of student loans and debt.

When I confessed to my tutor and friends that I didn’t want to spend three years of my youth at university, all of a sudden it felt like other students were part of a community that I couldn’t be a part of.

Classmates would ask me which university I had applied for, and as soon as I told them I hadn’t applied they would swiftly talk to someone else. I wasn’t like them any more.

It wasn’t until my college started an employment tutorial that I began to feel accepted again. I had a wonderful tutor who rebuilt my confidence and encouraged me to take on work experience.

In every college, there should be more space for students to explore different options. Being an apprentice doesn’t mean you’re less clever, or better, than anyone doing a degree. It’s about understanding how you want to learn and how you wish to start your career.

In November, I became an Apprentice Journalist at Johnston Press. So far, the 18-month apprenticeship has been a whirlwind of wonderful and challenging events.

I spend three days a week at the office, one ‘news day’ where I visit court and one day studying for my NCTJ qualification at an accredited college.

There’s something to be said for putting your studies into practice and the value of an apprenticeship lies in the ability to seek help from experienced professionals.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister Theresa May about the importance of apprenticeships and how we must eliminate the snobbery that still surrounds them.

“We want to make sure other routes like apprenticeships and technical education are there but also are valued,” she said.

As a young person, this ambition to build a country with a workforce based on both students and apprentices really resonates with me.

We need to stop treating university like a one-size-fits-all form of education. The main way to create a united country lies in education, whether you choose academia or not. Apprenticeships and degrees need to have a guaranteed value.

Students shouldn’t have to end up with £60,000 of debt for studying. Nor should apprentices have to manage on minimal wages.

Apprenticeships are not for 
short-term gain by employers and should be treated as a valid and valued option.

Much like the stress of university interviews, searching for the right apprenticeship requires the same amount of resilience and determination.

My advice to aspiring apprentices would be to tick off extra-curricular roles and make an effort to gain experience and useful skills.

It’s time to get serious about the importance of education. Educate today’s youth and you educate tomorrow’s. The world is changing.

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