According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the percentage of graduates in the UK has been rising steadily from 24% in 2002 to 42% in 2017. This rise is due to educational changes that have been taking place since the 1970s, making it more common for people to attend university.
A university degree has traditionally been viewed as essential in some industries in order to embark on, and progress, in a chosen career and this is typically the route that most project managers have taken. They generally enter their chosen industry as a new graduate, develop industry experience and then progress to becoming a project manager at a later stage.
Well-recognised qualifications have been available to the project management profession for more than 30 years so this route has been well-trodden by project managers wishing to advance their careers and organisations wishing to train and develop their project management capability. However, this approach is set to change.
There is now an alternative to gaining project management qualifications in the form of a Higher Apprenticeship scheme where aspiring project managers can study while also gaining valuable real-world project experience along with highly marketable project management skills.
According to research conducted for the Sutton Trust higher apprenticeships can lead to greater lifetime earnings than undergraduate degrees from certain universities i.e. many of those not in the Russell Group. In fact the Sutton Trust research showed that in some cases those with higher apprenticeships earned £100,000 more in their lifetime than other people with degrees from non-Russell Group universities. When looking at average lifetime earnings across all universities higher apprenticeship earnings are the same as for graduates.
So there's every reason for project managers to consider gaining their professional qualifications through project management apprenticeships while organisations are likely to become increasingly keen to offset their Apprenticeship Levy by investing in training project managers of the future via apprenticeships. This could start to create something of a revolution in how professional certification is gained in the project management world.
This change has already started to happen but there remains an issue with the perception of apprenticeships in the UK (unlike in countries such as Germany).
An image of a typical apprentice doing some form of manual labour is fairly well-ingrained in our national psyche and might be one that is slow to alter so we need to raise awareness of the difference between the various apprenticeship levels and also the fact that Higher level apprenticeships lead to degree-equivalent qualifications. Few of the wider public are aware of these distinctions but I hope that we can alter this perception amongst the wider business world and those people who might be in a position to embark upon a higher project management apprenticeship; for them to be truly successful, higher apprenticeships must be perceived as equivalent, if not better than, certain degree qualifications.
I'm confident this change in perception will happen over time, especially now there is a commercial incentive for businesses to embrace the idea. The only question is how long that change in perception will take.
While writing this I've been trying, and failing, to think of an alternative name for a higher apprenticeship that would immediately conjure up an image of a well-educated and experienced professional. Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments if you prefer…).