To go or not to go?

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I find it strange that it has already been two years since I received my A-Level results. I remember it being an odd day with mixed emotions. I didn’t know where I wanted to go from there and would have never expected to have a full time job and a head start on my career two years later. I’m now over half-way through my apprenticeship and even though I’m making my way to work every morning while all my friends are lounging around in the sun (currently rain) for three months, I’m happy to say that I do not regret the decision I made.

500,000 places are available in UK universities this year – the highest number to date. It’s great that everyone who wants to go to university can, but the question is, are the 500,000 young people going to be ready for the world of work after three years at university? For most, university is thought to be a ticket to success. But, more and more employers are finding it hard to fill places with graduates who have the necessary skills for the job.

The other day I read that in 2011, a survey by the Young Enterprise charity found that three in four corporate chiefs believed graduate skills were poor. The charity’s chairman said that employers are finding it harder than ever to fill positions because the Department for Education is adopting an alarmingly narrow focus on academic skills and exams. This will mean that fewer students emerge from education with the necessary employability skills.

Having declined my place at university in favour of a Higher Apprenticeship, I see the value of a vocational route over the often blinkered approach of a university course. A full time job working alongside people who have had years of experience has definitely enhanced my employability skills. Slowly but surely I think that more people are starting to see the value of these vocational routes. This week a poll commissioned by British Gas found that 40 per cent of London teenagers said they were considering a vocational route instead of higher education. Understandably, the majority of students are most tempted by the opportunity to “earn while you learn”, but they should also realise how important it is to have practical experience. When my friends finish uni in a couple of years, I will already have had years of experience in my chosen career.

While it is encouraging to see that nearly half of students consider apprenticeships instead of university, there is a still long way to go in promoting the alternatives to students, schools and wider society, especially as universities are offering up so many more places and fighting for students who are willing to offer up £9,000 a year. There is no right or wrong option; everyone should be able to make their own decision about the route they want to take after leaving school. Most people I speak to have had a great time at university and I’m glad that more and more people now have the chance to go… I just hope they are prepared to fight for a job at the end of it.

Failure: a stepping stone to success

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In life, the majority of us have a fear of failure. This is probably because we feel pressured to succeed and others have such high expectations of what we should achieve. The problem is that we tend to play it safe in order to avoid failing. It makes us feel bitter, disappointed and disheartened. Fear of failure holds us back from realising our full potential. Luckily, I’ve already realised that you might as well take the risk; because if you don’t try, there is no chance of success.

Personally, I believe that failing is nature’s way of saying that you have to stop doing something that obviously isn’t working. For example, if dating the same type of man always ends up being a catastrophic failure then it’s clear that you should be doing something different. That said, you can definitely learn from them. Failed relationships are a good example as, hopefully, you learn from your mistakes and ultimately succeed to find the right person.

As an apprentice I am learning something new every day. Recently I have learnt that failure can lead to success. During National Apprenticeship Week I entered a creativity competition in the bid to win two PRCA training days. After endless hours of editing, I produced a three minute video of what a PR apprentice does on a daily basis. Proud of my creative idea, I was sure that it was what they were looking for. However, after it was announced that my video failed to take first place I was left feeling bitter, disappointed and disheartened. On reflection, I realised that it wasn’t quite what they wanted as I had failed to read all the entry criteria.

Apart from pointing out that I need to read the question properly, it pushed me to go beyond my apprenticeship coursework and reach out of my comfort zone in order to succeed. At Salix I have a list of my top ten journalists. I researched each of them and discovered that the editor of PR Week has experienced both a journalistic and PR perspective. She also chose not to go to university so I jumped at the opportunity of interviewing her. After personally getting in touch with her, I was so pleased when she agreed to meet with me.

I’m not the only one who hasn’t let the fear of failure keep me from taking a risk. Oprah Winfrey was told she was “unfit for TV” at the age of 22. JK Rowling battled depression until she was 30 and then faced 12 rejections before Harry Potter was acknowledged by a publisher. Even Steve Jobs had a setback. Before he invented the iPod he was fired from his own company!

Failure is a part of life. Everyone experiences it at some point. It’s just important to not let the fear of failure hold us back. Of course I was scared about not going to university. Deciding not to go seemed like a massive risk, but with that risk comes rewards. Maybe I will be appointed apprentice of the year… you never know. In life, failures are inevitable, what you take away from them is how they become stepping stones to success.

Ok so I have left school….what now?

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I’ve always felt like I was the only person who didn’t know what to do in life. Strangely the tables have turned and I’m the first who’s actually started a career. How did this happen? I’m still asking myself the same thing.

It all started at school when I took a careers test, which told me I was going to be an agricultural farmer. From then on I didn’t have much faith in the careers advice. All through sixth form I went along to university open days, went to all the subject talks and eventually applied to university. But, in the back of my mind I couldn’t imagine myself at university, living in halls or studying something I wasn’t 100% interested in. And then there is the £9,000 a year price tag. The devil on my shoulder kept asking me, “Do you really want to spend that kind of money on something you’re not sure about?” Whilst the angel was telling me, “You will always have a degree to fall back on and besides, what else would you do?” Plus all my friends were going and the student loan would cover most of the costs so why not?

For all those who are as confused as I was having left school… go travelling. 6 months, 14 countries, really cleared my head. Before I went away I had a place at university. I planned to go off and study with all my friends, which trust me, would have been the easier option. One day somewhere in the Namibian desert it clicked that university wasn’t right for me.

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When everyone left London to go off and study, I bagged myself a PR internship. I was anxious that the risk wouldn’t pay off and I would have to go to uni next year but the excitement of working in London took my mind off it. The problem is that people still have that old fashioned view that you can only be successful if you have a degree. Did you know that a quarter of graduates earn less than former apprentices? After that I managed to get an apprenticeship at Salix & Co, a PR company specialising in the health and social sector. Even though it wasn’t my preferred sector at first, it grows on me every day. I am now an assistant account executive….snazzy ey?

A lot of people presume that if you don’t go to university it’s because you don’t get the grades or that you can’t be bothered to study anymore. Maybe it’s true for some but in my case it couldn’t be more wrong. I enjoy learning new things but wanted to do this on the job whilst improving my employability skills. Plus I just wanted to make some money, who doesn’t?

University is different now. The majority of my friends either went because they didn’t know what else to do, it’s the ‘right’ thing to do or because they didn’t want to miss out on the ‘university experience.’ Are people really willing to have £50,000 debt for an experience? Don’t get me wrong, if your dream is to become a doctor or teacher then yes, you do need that qualification. But nowadays there are people actually spending thousands of pounds on David Beckham studies. Really?

It’s all coming back to me at this moment because I’m sitting on the train en route to Bristol University. It’s certainly nice to have the odd taster of university life and I always have a good time visiting friends. But, it also confirms that I 100% made the right decision. Uni just isn’t for everyone.

If an apprenticeship sounds like a possible option for you then watch this space and find out what it’s like to be a PR apprentice in the real world. It’s also worth a look at www.unisnotforme.com for more advice and to explore what other options are out there.

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