Apprenticeships: 'You can't compare it to university'

#InspiringApprentice Jo Allen, who completed a degree, says her apprenticeship is a fantastic foundation for her future

Jo Allen

#InspiringApprentices: 'You can't compare university and apprenticeships,' says Jo Allen

My name is Jo Allen. I am 23 and I live in Banbury, Oxfordshire. I am 10 months into my level 3 business administration apprenticeship and I am completing this with the University of Oxford, where I work in the people and organisational development unit.

I first found out about the possibility of doing an apprenticeship when I was looking for jobs at the university and saw my current job listed on its website. I immediately applied as it looked like a fantastic opportunity to learn practical skills in a nourishing environment.

News: Apprentices voice concerns about off-the-job training

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Apprenticeships: critical skills

Careers advice at school did include information about apprenticeships but it was definitely not considered to be the conventional choice. Instead, going to university was expected. I went to Warwick University, studied history and earned a 2:1. I don’t regret my decision at all in going to university, and I am passionate about history and learned critical analytical skills along the way.

However, apprenticeships are an equally valid option and should be presented to school leavers as such. Apprenticeships should not be seen as the option if you’re not academic, if you don’t know what you want to do, or if you don’t want to go to university. Instead, they should be promoted for what they are: a fantastic opportunity to learn life skills in a working environment. They can be a route to find a job and eventually a career that you love.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started my apprenticeship. I think I was worried that I would be doing very basic duties as often the attitude towards apprenticeships can be a bit negative. That needs to shift. From day one, I was treated as an integral member of the team and the units within the apprenticeship allowed me to pursue a range of opportunities at work to learn a whole host of new skills.


I am fully supported by my line manager Liisa. Liisa developed a comprehensive training plan and supported my off-the-job training. Before long, she trusted me to take part in key projects that allowed for my confidence to grow, and now I lead on projects, too. My other colleagues have all been extremely supportive, have mentored me and have encouraged me to develop.

My favourite part of the job is being actively encouraged to problem-solve. Liisa recognises that skills such as problem-solving are critical to being a successful senior administrator and she often includes me when she has to problem-solve and she encourages me to improve processes.

An apprenticeship is entirely different to a degree and I certainly believe that you cannot say that one is better than the other. Instead, it is down to each individual to choose which path is right for them – you can’t really compare the two and I would wholeheartedly discourage ever comparing your own path to that of your peers who are at university and vice versa. In my experience, an apprenticeship is about working and applying what you learn to the working world.

A degree is about critically examining a subject and stretching your understanding of that topic, outside of the working world. Family and friends were very supportive of me signing up to an apprenticeship and were keen to hear about how it works and what sort of things you learn.

Believing in myself

Doing an apprenticeship has allowed me to really believe in myself and look forward to a career. I was recently offered a permanent contract at my place of work, which I was delighted to accept. In 10 years’ time, I see myself doing a job that I enjoy, that makes a difference to others, and it has to be somewhere where I feel valued. My apprenticeship has served as a fantastic foundation for my future.

I would recommend an apprenticeship to school leavers, but I strongly urge that all school leavers really think about what they want from their next steps in life. If they want to be employed, learn skills related to their role and earn money, then an apprenticeship is a great option. There are so many choices available to young people, it can be slightly overwhelming, so my strongest advice is that you should do the things that you enjoy and are interested in and see where that takes you.

Jo Allen is a level 3 business administration apprentice with the University of Oxford. She tells her story as part of the Tes' #InspiringApprentices campaign 

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