While apprenticeships cater to students of different ages – from intermediate schemes for 16 year olds doing their GCSEs to higher apprenticeships for 18 year olds who've done their A-levels – a school leaver programme is often designed for those older students who have gone to sixth form (or the equivalent) and therefore gained UCAS points.
School leaver programmes (which are sometimes called higher apprenticeships) exist primarily to provide a different route for A-level students who otherwise may have ventured down the purely academic route of going to university.
For example, if you were considering heading to university to continue your learning and development but changed your mind for whatever reason, a school leavers programme may offer you a more suitable alternative.
School leavers programmes sort of act as the middle ground between entering full time employment with a company and entering full time higher education at university.
This is because they offer a mixture of education and work opportunities. Businesses that run these schemes will allow school leavers to spend time studying (you may be sponsored or part-sponsored to help you do this) while you also work part or full time for them.
Schemes differ though, depending on the companies running them, so take a look at what's around to make sure you go for the right one.
The Telegraph surveyed almost 50 of Britain’s biggest companies and found almost all now had some form of recruitment programme for school-leavers, typically those gaining at least two A-level grades." Graeme Paton, The Telegraph, August 2013
Why should I do a school leaver programme?
As a school leaver, it's understandable that you want to do what's best for your future career. For many students, this may mean they consider university as the default route.
The truth is, many big employers (who in the not too distant past would only have considered graduates armed with degrees) have started offering bespoke school leaver schemes to A-level students.
This benefits them by allowing them to get hold of the next generation of talent early, instead of their competitors (making their business stronger).
Similarly, a school leavers scheme can help you by letting you get your feet on the career ladder early and learn invaluable skills from a young age.
School leaver programmes 2015
With each year that goes by, the reputations of schemes that offer alternatives to university continue to grow. This year promises to be no different.
For example, if you were to get involved in a 2015 school leaver programme, you could find yourself working for a major company like:
- Ernst & Young (EY)
- Marks & Spencer (M&S)
- Grant Thornton
- Deloitte (school leavers)
- PwC (school leavers)
These businesses operate in key economic industries like finance, banking, investment, retail, law, consultancy, FMCG and accountancy.
If you want to get involved in a school leaver scheme, be aware that some organisations that run them will place you into specific departments.
For instance, KPMG school leavers will be asked to work in the audit department, Marks & Spencer runs a management scheme for school leavers and ACCA operates accounting school leaver programmes.
Make sure that if you apply for a school leaver program, it's offering work in a field that you're interested in!
How can I get a place on a school leaver scheme?
Most organisations that run these initiatives will outline the application process on their websites to give you an idea of what to expect when you apply.
Make sure you do some research about what's expected from you when you do put yourself forward for a role.
You may need to just fill out an application form, but sometimes you'll need to submit your CV too as part of the process.
The application process may differ slightly depending on which company you're applying for a role with, but the typical structure may be as follows:
- Online application: fill out a form with your details. You will normally be asked to outline your experience, academic achievements, predicted grades, extra-curricular activities and positions of responsibility (essentially everything that should be on your CV already, but make sure you tailor it to the job / company. Generic ones won’t be appreciated).
- Complete employer tests: after reviewing your application, employers may ask you to complete some tests to, well, test you. These could be anything from strengths tests to numerical, verbal reasoning and logic tests.
- Interviews: after all the fun of applying and completing tests, you will finally reach the all important interview stage! These can be quite full on, so make sure you're ready for them and have done your research. You could be asked to complete an analytical test or answer questions designed to work out whether you have the right skills for the job.
- Assessment centres: often the final part of the process, these assessment days will generally ask you to complete group exercises, tasks and another interview.
- Success! If you do well in all the above and live up to the company's expectations, you should be (deservedly) offered a place on the school leaver scheme.
As school leavers programmes 2015 schemes will vary from company to company, the entry requirements will fluctuate too.
The KPMG school leavers programme asks that you have ABB grades at A-level (and B grades for maths and English language GCSEs), while EY asks for BBB at A-level and GCSE B grades for maths and English language.
Other employers will specify UCAS points, so make sure you always check what's being asked for.
What are the benefits of doing a school leaver programme?
There are many great reasons why you should think about doing a school leaver programme when you finish your A-levels or equivalent qualifications.
For a start, if you get involved in one of these schemes rather than going to university, you should avoid getting into thousands of pounds worth of student debt!
Not only can you save money, but you can start earning it too. Many companies will offer you a regular salary while you're involved in these schemes that could be as much as £20,000, along with benefits and perks.
On top of this, as the study aspects of school leaver initiatives often take place at university, companies will PAY your tuition fees too! So you’re getting for free the education that other people are paying thousands for.
The graduate market is still very competitive, but the school leaver market less so. Therefore you might find that it's actually easier to start working for the top companies as a school leaver than as a graduate.
Starting work with top companies at such a young age will allow you to develop quickly and gain desirable practical skills, which is what employers really want.
Working with keen business minds and seasoned professionals will also help you learn and build a network of influential contacts, which can be crucial for career development.
With companies that offer these schemes positioning them as clear alternatives to university, they often offer you the chance to earn some serious qualifications.
These could include a bachelor's degree, foundation degrees or professional accredited qualifications. So you've essentially got the main benefit of going to university, without the drawbacks.
Whew. If there aren’t enough good reasons there, there never will be!