By HANI CHOKSI, Brampton, Canada
After graduating from high school, students are expected to make a vital decision about what they want to pursue as a career and even more importantly, how they want to pursue it. There are four main pathways that are considered while making this choice – College, University, Apprenticing, and directly joining the workforce. Many believe that the key to a successful future is attending a post-secondary institution and getting a degree, and also that simply by doing so one will instantly land a job in their desired field of work and live a financially stable life. This may have stood true in the past but with the skyrocketing tuition, the stress, and the thousands of other people getting similar degrees, the value of post-secondary education is on the decline.
Yet, with 747,575 enrollments in colleges, and 1,300,440 people enrolling in universities, in the school year 2013/2014 alone (Statistics Canada), post-secondary education seems to be the most popular choice among Canadian youth and anything else seems to be perceived as a pathway for failure and struggle. This is a trend that is likely corroborated by data from other countries.
Getting a degree may seem like the easiest way to secure one’s future, but many graduates are starting to realize that degrees are not suited best for all careers. This sudden realization is either because of the student debt, or because they didn’t land a job related to their major, or because they had trouble landing a job in the first place, whatever the reason is, it seems like apprenticing, where only about 20% of learning is done in class and the other 80% is done on the job getting paid and learning the trade through an expert (Banerjee), is more beneficial than college or university. The youth should be encouraged to consider apprenticing as a pathway because it helps reach financial stability, provides practical and useful training that makes it easier to get a job in the field of training, and helps build a stronger and more effective social network.
On the other hand, the average cost of tuition, textbooks, fees and tools in 2006-2007 was $1,400, the average university tuition was $4,500 (Banerjee), and according to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average Canadian student debt is about $27,000. Student debt is one of the major issues that Canadians are currently facing because student loans have the highest median amount of debt, other than mortgages and home equity loans (Zulz). According to LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, ‘…millennials who begin their careers with $30,000 in student loan debt may find themselves with $325,000 less at retirement than their debt-free peers.’ (Zulz). In addition to that, student debt can also delay life milestones such as buying property, getting married, and having children. With the cost of attending a post-secondary institution increasing by $ 1 million per day (Canadian Federation of Students), it is important to consider apprenticing because of its financial advantages.
Instead of paying thousands for the education and being in debt, an apprentice spends 40 weeks or more on the job and about two months in class and from day one he/she is earning a salary and valuable work experience (Banerjee). It’s also common myth that a university degree is the best way to have a better income, this may be true in some circumstances but, on average, a certified journeyperson's starting salary is $52,000 and a university graduate’s starting salary is $45,500, and when the criteria changes to someone who is 25 to 34 years old, has completed a certified apprenticeship program, and is working full time, the average salary bumps up to $62,700, which is $13,700 more than the average wage for a Canadian employee of $49,000 (Banerjee). Thus, apprenticing, instead of going to a college or a university, is the better option because it provides a more financially stable career.
But hey, universities and colleges prepare you for the struggles and deadlines of the real life, right? Turns out its not that simple. Andrew Townsend reveals, “Sometimes I feel school prepared me for nothing in particular, and it was really up to my extra-curriculars to prepare me for what I wanted to do professionally”. And he’s not a lazy student, who sleeps in class and somehow managed to get an easy degree, he has a BA in English Literature from University of Guelph and a MA in Media Production from Ryerson University, and yet he is working at a comic book store and is a Planned Parenthood volunteer (CBC News).
Choosing an apprenticeship over a college or university degree is more beneficial because it provides relevant knowledge and work experience in a trade, which makes apprentices more employable in their field of training than graduates. ‘Nearly half (47 percent) of college-educated workers said their first job after college was not related to their college major. Thirty-two percent of college-educated workers reported that they never found a job related to their college major.’ (Career Builder) These percentages were significantly higher among apprentices, 72% of them were working in their trade of training within 12 months of leaving their apprenticeship program (Sharpe and Gibson). ‘Universities are more focused on education itself then ensuring career opportunities’, and as a result many graduates have the same opportunities that they had before they gained higher education (Kolm).
1 in 4 millennials, who have a degree, are working full-time jobs that do not require that level of education, and while looking at those between ages 25 – 29 the numbers change to 1 in 3 (Kolm). Apprenticing is more preferable because it trains the individual for a specific trade and provides relevant work experience, giving him/her a better chance at securing a career in the field.
Your net worth is as good as your network and although the alumni network of a college or a university is a great place to start making useful connections, the connections that usually last longer are made on a personal basis. Apprenticeships, even in this game, steal the ball because they help the individual build important connections with people in his/her potential field of employment and provide confidence.
‘Most Americans find employment opportunities through their social networks. Success in most entry-level jobs is determined not by one's ability to master formal coursework, but rather by one's familiarity with the ways of the workplace.’ (Salam). An employee who has the necessary credentials and knows how to act around the experts or the seniors in the company will have a better chance at getting the promotion over someone who only has the credentials. ‘By giving young people an opportunity to master difficult tasks, apprenticeship helps them develop confidence and self-esteem, qualities that can prove beneficial even if the student in question never seeks employment in the field in which he was trained.’ (Salam).
In order to build a strong network, the individual needs to be bold and confident. This is easier for former apprentices because they have already worked in the field and have professional experience, compared to the college or university graduates who are less likely to have such extensive work experience. To conclude, apprenticing is more useful than going to college or university because it helps build a stronger social network by providing the skills and the means of networking.
All things considered, apprenticeships should be given more preference than post-secondary education because it makes the individual more financially stable, helps them get a job in the field of their training by providing useful and practical information, and makes them better networkers. Apprentices usually have a more financially stable career because instead of paying tuition and other costs of attending a college or university, they are paying the low apprenticeships fees and are also getting paid while they train with an expert from their trade. They also have a better chance at getting a job related to their training than college or university graduates because of their practical knowledge and work experience. Working in the professional setting for an extensive period of time also makes apprentices better networkers and provides self-confidence.
Besides having such vast advantages, apprenticeships and apprentices are often looked down upon by the society and many parents advise their teens to go to college or university, and at all costs avoid the path of apprenticeships or joining the workforce, but living with these ideologies is not only being dogmatic but it is also decreasing the number of options that the teen has in order to start his/her career. The society needs to be more open-minded about apprenticeships and trade workers because they serve a crucial part in our everyday life.
Carpenters make the kitchen cabinets that hold our food, the staircases that are used to climb up and down the floors, the very doors that are used to keep unwanted people out are made by carpenters. There are electricians that make sure that the electrical wiring is done properly so that people don’t get electrical shocks while turning on/off a light switch. The mechanic that gets the car running, when nothing else seems to be working for the untrained driver. All of these skilled careers can be achieved through apprenticing, and still many go through university or college in order to achieve this simply because that is what everyone else is doing.
People need to be more independent and should announce their decision of taking on a role as an apprentice with pride and self-confidence, not discomfort or awkwardness only because of what the society thinks, because, like Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”, the youth should be allowed, and even encouraged, to choose apprenticing if he/she wants to because, in the end, it is the individual who will have to live with the results of his/her choice, not the society, so it is vital to make wise decisions based on your own needs, not others expectations.
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