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Breaking the Stigma: Degree Apprenticeships

The apprenticeship system in the UK has undergone considerable change and development over recent years, however, a lingering stigma persists, deterring some students from considering this alternative route.

According to the Prospects Early Careers Report 2022, which surveyed over 5,000 young individuals, a substantial 60% of school and college students express a preference for traditional university routes, while only 12% would like to do an apprenticeship.

Exploring the reasons behind this, the report revealed some outdated perspectives held by students. Nearly 39% believe that a university degree has a more esteemed reputation than an apprenticeship, with 1 in 10 saying that their parents disapproved of the apprenticeship route.

One of the main barriers to apprenticeship uptake in the UK is parents, who play a pivotal role in shaping the career decisions of their children. The 2023 Success at School Parents Survey looked at apprenticeships from a parental perspective. Only 13% of surveyed parents view apprenticeships as a viable opportunity, while 8% doubt that an apprenticeship can lead to jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.

A critical finding of the survey was that almost half of the parents surveyed were unaware of the existence of degree apprenticeships, with 20% of respondents assuming degree apprentices must contribute financially themselves.

DriveWorks employs a degree apprentice, Joseph Chadwick, who is studying a BSc degree apprenticeship in Digital & Technology Solutions at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Joseph combines working in the Development team at DriveWorks with one day each week spent in lectures at MMU.

We spoke with Joseph and his Mum to get their take on degree apprenticeships.

Joseph Chadwick, Degree Apprentice, DriveWorks

From a students perspective:

Ive always been interested in computers and knew that I wanted to be a programmer. Id already done a summer work experience placement at DriveWorks while I was studying at Priestley College. From that, I could see how important work experience was and I really enjoyed learning that way. My Mum had heard about degree apprenticeships, and she told me about them. I had an offer to study Computer Science at Newcastle University, but I decided that a degree apprenticeship was the best route for me. It gives me the opportunity to get work experience, earn a wage, get a degree, and not have to pay any university course fees.

On his degree apprenticeship at DriveWorks:

I’m getting to apply the experience I gained from programming games as a hobby to develop professional software for real-world design automation solutions. Because DriveWorks has a graduate scheme, there are other students working in the business too. I get the best of both worlds as Im meeting new people at work and at university and because Im earning my own money, I can do social stuff with both groups.

I like the DriveWorks products and the technology, I like the people and I like the coffee!

Gill Chadwick, Parent

From a parents perspective:

Joseph has always been an independent learner and we really noticed that when it came to homeschooling during lockdown.

I cant remember where I first heard about degree apprenticeships, it may have been from a maths programme that Joseph took part in when he was in Year 9. There wasnt a huge amount of information readily available, and I had to do a lot of online research myself to find out more. I was motivated to do that but I appreciate that all parents might not have the time to help with it.

Ive had a mixed response from other parents when they hear that Joseph is doing a degree apprenticeship. Theres still a view that the traditional university degree route is somehow superior to a degree apprenticeship. Parent posturing definitely comes into play sometimes. Some think that its only an option for people whose parents have their own business (or know someone who has a business) where they can do that. Theres clearly a lot of miseducation around.

I think that Joseph has the best of both worlds doing a degree apprenticeship. Hes clearly enjoying what hes doing and hes coming home in the evening and sharing that with us. He enjoys being part of a team at work and the benefits that brings. Hes certainly not missing out on the social aspect that some parents think is part and parcel of a traditional university education. He has a great social life and often visits old school friends who are away at university at the weekends.

Maria Sarkar, Co-Founder, DriveWorks

From an employers perspective:

DriveWorks has a long history of supporting young people.

We consider it to be part of our DNA and were pleased to be able to take on the role of an employer influencer. Our support for young people covers:

  • introducing careers into STEM subjects at school
  • work experience placements for Year 10 & 11 students
  • a successful university placement programme for students in their 3rd year at university
  • delivering guest university lectures on careers in engineering and computing
  • a certification programme for students to learn about automation

For us degree apprenticeships are a win-win. Theres obviously a funding benefit element to it, but its so much more than that. Were creating a pipeline for talent by recruiting high-calibre future managers who are more likely to want to stay with DriveWorks after theyve graduated. As Joseph progresses with his degree course hell be able to share fresh ideas and new ways of thinking with his DriveWorks colleagues. And in terms of positive impact on the wider team, weve already seen a halo effect in the development of other team members who are working alongside him.

The Outlook

In many countries across Europe, apprenticeships are seen as an integral part of employer recruitment strategies and a key bridge into the workplace for school leavers.

Austria and Germany are great examples of apprenticeship schemes working well. Their apprenticeship models are well integrated into education systems and businesses and are highly respected by students, parents, and employers. In Germany, nearly 60% of school leavers successfully complete an apprenticeship, and in Austria, 40% of 15-16 year olds take part in an apprenticeship programme.
Both countries have low youth unemployment rates.

The UK apprenticeship model isnt necessarily inferior to other European countries, however, the perception that apprenticeships are a second rate option compared to university education is a key issue that continues to hinder their uptake and adoption.

For apprenticeship programmes to succeed in the UK, we need to change the attitudes around them. We need to change the narrative and challenge the misconceptions around them. Changing the perceptions of young people, and the parents who influence them, could be the key to changing attitudes and breaking down the apprenticeship stigma.

For more information on degree apprenticeships we suggest the following resources:

For young people:

Apprenticeships in Cheshire and Warrington (

For employers:

We’re Hiring for Our Next Apprentice

IT Apprentice

As we’ve already seen such great success with our first apprentice, we are have opened up another apprenticeship opportunity in our team and are now hiring for an IT Apprentice.
This is an entry level role for someone wanting to get started in their IT career. Full training and support will be provided.
Technology is at the heart of our business, and our people are our greatest asset. This role is an exciting opportunity to learn and grow in a dynamic, supportive, and innovative working environment. Youll be in good company as our people are industry experts, and we love to share our knowledge!

This is a permanent role and includes an 18-month Level 3 Information Communications Technician apprenticeship qualification provided by Warrington and Vale College or St Helens College.

Learn more and apply here.