There have been a number of articles cropping up recently about apprentices and graduates – which is the most valuable? Are apprentices making a comeback? A degree or an apprenticeship – what is best?  The way I see it, today’s graduates are the apprentices of twenty years ago. Let me explain…

Until around twenty years ago, school leavers were encouraged to secure apprenticeships or vocational training of some kind. Then, the focus changed and school leavers have since been relentlessly funnelled into Higher Education. Now, with the rising cost of university fees, more and more students are considering pursuing vocational pathways. The role that today’s graduates assume when they start in their first graduate role is essentially the role an apprentice took on twenty odd years ago. But times have changed and it’s important to not get confused by the labels. There are so many different levels of apprenticeships emerging now and while a higher degree-level apprenticeship may have to compete with Graduate Schemes, entry-level apprenticeship programmes offer a whole different breadth of perspective for organisations.

The question businesses should really be asking is not ‘do we want a graduate and/or an apprentice?’ but ‘where do we want our business to be in five years?’

This ‘reverse engineer’ approach is something we always ask our clients to think about when it comes to recruiting graduates. ‘Where do the graduates you are recruiting NOW, need to be in 3 years’ time?’ Depending upon their answer, we will consider the skills required for this ‘projected’ role and source similar skills or hints of these skills in the graduates we screen. It is likely that these skills won’t be fully realised yet, but we spot the potential now and then use the Discovery OPEN Programme, to enhance their learning and grow their talent within the business. And it works! 74% of graduates who have taken part in our OPEN programme since 2009 are still working within the business we placed them with.

Developing your graduate talent increases your chances of success seven-fold. So imagine the return if you could get to your graduates earlier. A common complaint amongst employers is that graduates of today lack practical skills. How can we ensure graduates gain more practical exposure before entering into the world of work? And on the flip side, how can we help apprentices to gain more theoretical knowledge?

For graduates, offer industrial placements
Industrial placements are a great way for ‘fact-filled’ graduates to build practical experience early on. And the bonus is, industrial placements are not only good for graduates, they are great for businesses too. Industrial placements form an integral part of many of our clients’ long term succession planning. These placement students could form all or part of your next graduate intake – not only do they already understand the essence of your business; they are comfortable in your working environment and have already started developing the necessary skills to succeed in your organisation. Instead of starting from scratch, you can pick up right where you left off.

For apprentices, identify training courses

For the more ‘hands-on’ apprentice, do some research into appropriate training courses. Understanding the theory behind their day-to-day work will have a great impact when applied to practical tasks. You’ll find their rate of progression will be accelerated once they start to compile the theoretical tools to complement their practical abilities.

If we are to return to the question of graduates or apprentices, my response would be, take both! Both graduates and apprentices have a wealth of different skills to offer and if we combine these skills and encourage the sharing of knowledge between the two camps, the impact these individuals could have on a business is boundless.

So it’s not a question of ‘either or’ or the one ‘versus’ the other – a combination is the way forward.