Fifty years ago it was perfectly normal for the less academic of children to leave school at 16 and start their working life in an apprenticeship. Many companies would train these young people up in skills and knowledge that were particularly relevant and pertinent to their specific branch of engineering or technology.
As a result, many of the kids would grown and evolve in their roles in that particular company, often staying with them for many years, if not their whole working life.
However, the nineties saw the then Labour government implement a major shift in the higher education landscape, with many colleges of further education taking on the level of ‘university’ and offering a much more extensive range of courses and degrees which required a lower standard of entry requirement.
The creation of ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees
While in theory this was a positive move aimed at giving better access to more education to a wider demographic, in reality what happened is that it took intelligent (if non academic) potential employees out of the workforce, and gave them qualifications that did not really qualify them for any real profession. Knowing how to bend a mould a brass angle for a major engineering project became less important than a mickey mouse degree in topics as diverse as golf management or surf science.
In 2000, you even had the opportunity to take a degree on ‘David Beckham Studies’.
Social mobility is an important element of political change, and opening up university education is a crucial part of that. But taken in the context of guaranteeing the economic future of a country, shifting a significant sector of the potential employment market from one area into another, without fully understanding how it would change to overall landscape, is opening up a world of unintended consequences.
And one of those unintended consequences is that it left a major gap in the availability of basic but essential trades – plumbers, electricians, brickies, plasterers – trades that form the very fabric of our lives.
Meanwhile, young people who might have been earning a good living by doing these jobs, were actually struggling to find jobs that gave them a decent living wage. In fact, there have since been stories of individuals suing universities for falsely advertising the potential of some degrees, and lulling them into a false sense of security around where the degree could take them in their careers.
Reasons to learn a trade
Whatever trade you decide to go for, there are a number of reasons why you should persist.
Guarantee of work: you will always be in work. Listen in to any conversation in a pub or restaurant and one of the most common complaints is the inability to find good workmen. By becoming one of those good workmen, you’ll be set for life.
Earn while you learn: most trades require going to college for a year or two, then gaining further qualifications through apprenticeships. This gives you the chance to earn while you are learning, and avoids you getting into significant debt. A UK university education costs over £50,000 these days, before you even get onto the employment market. You’ll have earned that many times over by the time your peers complete their degrees.
Fantastic opportunities for the more entrepreneurial: if you have the hunger and passion to start your own business, having a trade will give you a fantastic foundation on which to build that business. Whether you decide to work on your own in your local area, or build a network of teams that can work across a wide regional or even national basis, there will always be a demand for your skills.