Increasingly, many of the country’s largest employers are looking beyond traditional graduate training schemes to fill their talent pipeline and are turning to apprentices to fulfill their recruitment needs.

At a time when hundreds of thousands of school leavers will be getting exam results and thinking about their first career steps, there is a noticeable shift in the way young people are being recruited with employers regarding apprenticeships highly and consider apprentices to be a great fit for a business.

“As a business, we felt we were missing out on a valuable source of new talent, so initially, we created our apprenticeship programme as a way to attract, recruit and develop a school leaver audience”, says Laura Sneath, Early Careers Development Manager, at Softcat, a leading provider of IT Infrastructure.

“Our traditional model of graduate recruitment was based around office locations in University towns and cities, but this wasn’t always possible, and we have a number of locations where we needed to target strong schools and sixth form colleges”, she continues.

Softcat are just one of a number of leading brands that are recruiting bright, ambitious school-leavers who want to launch their careers early rather than go to university. Indeed, a great number of employers suggest that young people who start work straight after GCSEs or A levels are often more focused and motivated than graduates who join organisations in their early twenties.

And with increasing costs associated with reading for a degree, a university place is no longer the only measure of academic potential, as many of Gen Z are choosing the apprenticeship route to avoid student loans and take more control of their careers. Rather than waiting three years for a full-time role, many would rather earn while they study for qualifications, and get the invaluable work experience employers crave.

Plus, with the introduction of apprenticeship standards, written for employers by employers those completing their role-relevant apprenticeship are considered more rounded individuals who as well as having the technical skills, display the behaviours and attitudes which their roles, their place of work and their chosen industry requires of them.

What’s the appeal for employers?

It’s not hard to see why employers like to take on apprentices straight from school and train them up to align them with their company ethos. Many businesses believe the apprenticeship route now provides additional value to an existing in-house training programme as it brings a clear emphasis on skill and behaviour development and can offer better support, pastoral care, mentoring and regular coaching provided by a combination of in-house personnel and the chosen training provider.

Practical skills

Employers that manage recruitment in houseor those that leave this to their training provider can adopt rigorous selection procedures to ensure that they choose apprentices with the right attitude, work ethic and potential to enhance their business. In addition, with so much training done in the workplace apprentices develop extensive practical skills, which count for a lot and can fill identified gaps in the employer’s skill set.

Practical skills generally have a more tangible impact on a business than academic ones. The creation of Apprenticeship Standards focus on tailoring programmes to the requirements of specific roles, so apprentices develop skills that will actually be used, rather than more theoretical topics.


Employers often report that apprentices, especially those who come straight from school, can embrace a workplace culture more quickly than their graduate counterparts who have had considerable autonomy over their free time, study time and holiday periods over a three-year degree period.

Positive attitude

Employers similarly notice that some graduates may struggle to readjust to the idea of ‘starting at the bottom’, having reached a pinnacle of academic achievement and standing with their degree qualification. School leaver apprentices, on the other hand, feel that they are naturally stepping up from school into their career, so are more willing to embrace the inevitable junior aspects of any first job.

Best of both worlds

As noted in one of our previous posts, however, for many employers utilising apprenticeships the choice no longer has to be between school, college or university leavers as the introduction of the apprenticeship levy relaxed eligibility laws to allow graduates to do an apprenticeship. The caveat is that the apprenticeship must come with substantial new learning to any previous qualifications.