Next step for apprentices

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Ive recently sat down with my manager to discuss the options available to me after my apprenticeship, which has left me with a dilemma. In an ideal world I wouldve liked to have a career rooted in experience rather than academic study. This would most likely be a feasible path at a smaller firm, or one which offers a lesser service. But Im at EC Harris a company that prides itself in the education and chartered status of its employees. Theres a great expectation, and rightly so, to be the best and show that you are the best, as our clients appreciate the security of knowing that their projects are in safe hands. But how much education does someone need to demonstrate competency? Is too much emphasis put on degrees?

It seems excessive to embark on an additional 3 years study for a degree after my current qualification, HAPM, but Im also wary that I might suffer from a lack of expertise in the long run. Therefore were looking to find a compromise which brings me up to speed with my peers, whilst recognising the value of my qualifications and experience. And as I am part of the first cohort of apprentices, the solution found now will probably be the one that will apply for future intakes. One solution may be the opportunity to undertake a masters degree.

In fairness to graduates, bypassing an undergraduate course could be seen as quite a cheeky move. It wouldnt seem right to be able to obtain a masters degree part-time in the same time it wouldve taken a full-time academic. The possibility of skipping a degree somewhat devalues their academia and subsequent qualification. Conversely, its arguable that graduates entering the industry without a relevant degree are on a level playing field with apprentices. Neither would have professional project management experience, neither would have been educated on the industry and neither would be aware of the full implications of managing projects. Logically, an apprentice with 2 years experience of project management would surely be better educated than a graduate with none.

At the moment, a degree is the benchmark of knowledge; its assumed that the more able of my generation will go on to do a degree. Consequently the academic requirements to be deemed as a project management professional are bespoke to that more able percentile, which is expected, as this has been the only measure of entry level candidates. But now that there are various entry levels, there must be various routes to professional recognition.
At the APM Conference 2013, Adapt!, the common theme articulated by all speakers was not simply identifying the need to adapt, but being able to identify opportunities to adapt in order to become industry leaders. This applies to everything. In order for every member of project manager to excel academically, the evolution stream needs to be exercised to the point where changes to the industry are being anticipated and tailored for.

What should be the next step for apprentices? Is the strong emphasis on degrees justified? Would you rather hire someone who has just finished an apprenticeship or a degree?

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Posted by Stuart Tatton on 9th Sep 2013

About the Author
Stuart Tatton is an Apprentice Project Manager at EC Harris

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