Connor Newton, like many teenagers, didn’t want to go to university to train to be an architect for seven years.
As the number of school leavers opting to study architecture falls in the face of increasing fees, the 17-year-old from Blaydon started looking for an alternative route into furthering his education.
Having impressed design director Graham McDarby during a six-week summer work experience with Ryton-based Gradon Architecture, Connor was asked to join the team working two days-a-week as an architectural assistant to complement his final year studies in physics, geography and graphics.
For the St Thomas More Catholic School pupil, securing an apprenticeship has given him an alternative route to his dream career.
Along with a growing number of under-graduates considering their options, Connor has been put off going to university due to his unwillingness to graduate after seven years with up to £100,000 debt and no guarantee of a job at the end of it.
Connor, who lives with his mum and dad in Blaydon, said: “I’m over the moon. To get this opportunity is a dream come true really, as I’ve always been fascinated by the technical aspects of how buildings work and love transforming interesting spaces using creative design.
“Gaining this apprenticeship is also a big weight off my shoulders. The thought of going to university to train to be an architect for seven years really didn’t appeal to me, as I didn’t want to graduate with lots of debt.
“That’s why this apprenticeship is so perfect. It not only gives me the chance to gain the skills I need by working part-time, but it will also support me with my academic study, which I’m really grateful for.
“I just can’t wait to get started.”
This academic year marks the first time that architecture students face paying university tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year, not to mention the added cost of printing, laser-cutting, field trips and living expenses over a seven-year period.
Figures released by UCAS last summer showed that the number of students applying to study architecture in 2013 had dropped by 12% to 26,821 applicants.
According to the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), there are over 100,000 employers offering apprenticeships in more than 160,000 locations.
There are nearly 250 frameworks and over 1,200 job roles available to apprentices, covering a range of skills levels and occupations such as dental nursing, graphic design, horticulture, engineering and digital media. In the 2011/12 academic year 520,600 people started an apprenticeship. This is an increase of 13.9% on the preceding year and 86.1% since 2009/10.
There was particularly strong growth in the engineering sector, with starts up 21.5% to 59,480.
Business Secretary Vince Cable says a lack of trained workers is a frequent concern among UK businesses.
He said: “Over half a million people took up an apprenticeship last year, showing that our investment in vocational skills is paying off.
“We have a massive shortage of engineering skills in this country, and we need even more to support manufacturing, exports and infrastructure.”
Having always had an ambition to work under the bonnet, 17-year-old Joshua Bartley from Chester-le-Street scoured the internet for a suitable apprenticeship and was steered towards a programme at Jennings Ford.
Joshua is now the latest apprentice motor vehicle technician to join the service team at Jennings’ Eslington Park dealership in Gateshead.
After leaving St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham with nine GCSEs this year, Joshua knew he wanted to work towards gaining additional qualifications, but he was also keen to gain practical experience and start earning a wage. “This is a fantastic opportunity for me to progress in my chosen career,” he said.
“Not only am I learning job-specific skills, but I will also be attending college on a block release basis to achieve additional qualifications.”
At the end of the three-year programme, Joshua will be a fully fledged Ford approved motor vehicle technician.
Apprenticeships were highly praised in a recent BIS survey, with nearly eight out of 10 apprentices and eight out of 10 businesses saying they would recommend them to friends or other employers.
The survey follows data which showed that 54% of young people in England would choose to do an apprenticeship if one were available.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly attractive option for school leavers who want to forge a successful career by earning while they learn.
This research shows why they are good news for both young people and employers.
“Whether they want to be a pilot, an accountant or even a space engineer, I would urge teenagers receiving their exam results to consider how an apprenticeship could help them achieve their career goals.”
Research published in April this year also showed that employers find apprentices 15% more employable than young people with other qualifications. In the study, employers ranked higher apprentices as the most employable of all young people – above those with degrees.
The Journal launched our Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign to encourage more employers to invest in the next generation.