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Girls on the fast-track

Anna Richardson, now 19, left school with four A-levels and a place to read economics at Bath university. Then she decided to join a pub chain.

My friends and family were taken aback when I rejected university in favour of an apprenticeship in bar and restaurant management with Greene King and the training provider HCTC.

I worked at The Ladygrove, a pub in Didcot, Oxfordshire, to earn a bit of cash before going to university, but I realised that I really enjoyed it and that there were excellent opportunities in the business. All areas of the hospitality industry are growing, so someone with the right application and ability can take fast routes to senior posts.

This is a business in which work experience is just as crucial as qualifications. Nearly all the big names in the industry have risen through the ranks.

Some people are surprised that someone with an academic bent should choose this route, but the hands-on style of learning suits me. I've always found that if I learn how and why things work, I'm better able to apply that knowledge and get the best result.

During my academic studies, I sometimes felt that I was being taught how to pass an exam rather than learn something of value in itself. As I train for a managerial role, I'm far better able to understand the people and the business by having come through the ranks myself.

I recently moved from Didcot to The Farmhouse, Portsmouth, also owned by Greene King.

My plan is to work my way up to managing my own premises before possibly moving to a regional manager role or maybe a position at head office. The experience I'm gaining now is giving me tremendous confidence. As my responsibilities increase, I'll be able to manage people and premises with a thorough awareness of the practicalities that make good business sense.

By doing an apprenticeship I've gained qualifications and experience at the same time. By the time my friends leave university, I'll already be well on my way in my career. They will have a substantial student debt, whereas I will already be on a good salary.

Finances were another big factor in my choosing an apprenticeship over a university degree. I think I would have done well academically had I pursued an economics degree, but I didn't want to get into debt for something that ultimately I wasn't sure I wanted to do.

Some people think I'm missing out on the social side of university, but the hospitality industry is by its nature a social environment - so I'm having a great time as well as getting ahead in my career.

It's sad, but my parents and some friends still seem to think that I'm wasting my talent by doing this. I think there is a lot of ignorance about this industry and the qualifications I'm now working on. And people don't seem to realise what is involved in this kind of career - the breadth and the depth of my responsibilities and the position and salary that I'm now on course to achieve.

All my family have been to university and it's hard for people to understand the value of the alternatives - especially the ways in which this business, and what is required of its people, has changed.

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