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Post-pandemic job market scares school leavers

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More young people are going to university as they feel the post-pandemic job market will demand a degree rather than an apprenticeship.

Nearly three fifths (57%) of 17 to 19-year-olds in the last two years of school said their decisions about post education work or training have been impacted by the pandemic.

New research by City & Guilds found a fifth (20%) of school students now want to stay in full time education for longer than they originally intended.

In comparison, just 13% said the same for apprenticeships, and 22% plan to go straight into employment.

University applications this year are at the highest ever level, up by a 10% year-on-year amongst 18-year-olds, according to UCAS. 


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University applicants said the pandemic was the main driver behind their choice, with 14% worried it’ll be difficult to get a job or apprenticeship after school.

Another 14% said going to university was the easiest thing to do in the current economic climate.

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of City & Guilds, said for many young people, the idea of university being the golden ticket to a great career is ingrained from an early age.

She told HR magazine: “As the jobs landscape continues to reel from the impact of COVID-19 and Brexit, it’s more important than ever before to understand that this isn’t the only option available to them.

“Especially as we know employers are increasingly recognising the value of apprentices and other routes into the workplace that teach workplace skills.”

However, Martin Tiplady, CEO of Chameleon People Solutions, said employers value loyalty and hard-work more than a degree.

He told HR magazine: "Of course it depends on the role and the requirements to undertake it but on the face of it and as a general rule, I would be every bit as interested in a good apprentice as I would a University graduate.

There are good and bad university applicants as much as there are good and bad apprentices. My desire is for energy and conscientiousness, intelligence and common sense."

Tiplady said these are attributes that one can find in apprentices as well as those who have been to university.

"Different routes suit different individuals and it is important to select the right one. A university degree is not a golden ticket any more than an apprenticeship is a poor alternative," he said.

The research also found that universities may now overpromise and underdeliver for young people.

Just under half (40%) of school leavers intend to go to university, yet only 18% of employers intend to recruit graduates to fill skills gaps in the next 12 months.

City & Guilds has urged school leavers to consider all the options available when considering their next steps.

Donnelly said: “It’s important that young people understand the full range of options available to them and which types of jobs are likely to be available when they finish their studies.

“As part of this, we need to ensure that young people have access to robust and up to date careers advice that considers the genuine needs of the local labour market so they can make smarter choices about their career paths.”