The ‘trade’-off between university and an apprenticeship for hopeful entepreneurs

The debate around the best academic and professional route to forming your own business continues to rumble on – here Lewis Howard makes the case for apprenticeships

The debate around the best academic and professional route to forming your own business continues to rumble on – here Lewis Howard makes the case for apprenticeships

Having embarked on a plumbing apprenticeship after leaving school, Lewis Howard, Director of C&J Heating and Plumbing, saw the opportunity to make a huge amount of money from a very early age.

Now at the age of 30, he owns a thriving business with a turnover on target for £3million for this year.  Here, Lewis looks at the advantages of choosing a trade over university.

With annual tuition fees of £9,000, university graduates are leaving with an average debt of £30,000, and with this a strong desire to secure a well-paid job.  Since the imposition of the fees, graduates are more focussed than ever on securing the best jobs, acting quickly to beat the increased competition in the overcrowded job market.

Laden with debt

They are highly driven, and expect a salary of £100,000 by the age of 30, as they are laden with much higher level of debts than their predecessors.

According to a list published by The Daily Telegraph, the best job that can be reached with a university degree is Marketing Manager paying £46,500, followed by Finance Manager at number two, paying in the region of £52,000, with a City Trader role coming in at number 25  (base salary earning potential of £62,000). These were rated according to the average annual base salary, the number of job openings and career opportunities.

>See also: Growing your business through apprenticeships

But the alternatives to university can often be more attractive, as they can lead to more lucrative jobs.  Applications for NVQ’s in the trades are rising, as people are choosing this over university, attracted by the opportunity to earn salaries in the region of £100,000+ soon after qualifying.

Many young people are turning their back on university because they want to get on with their career and fear being lumbered with heavy student debts without the certainty of a job at the end of it.

Learning a trade has become a popular career path for school leavers, keen to train while they work. This also mirrors a rise in city based workers turning their backs on their ‘high flying’ roles to take on apprenticeships, attracted by the earning potential to match their salaries in the city.

This is particularly true for the plumbing sector.  The industry employs over 120,000 in the UK, a figure which is rising rapidly.  The UK’s plumbing, heating and air conditioning sector has an annual turnover of £13 billion, and about 60% of the workforce are self-employed or work in small businesses.

I have seen for myself the merits of an apprenticeship. Having tagged along with my jobbing carpenter and plumber father on private contracts from a very young age, I decided to follow in his footsteps and by the time I left school was eager to start my formal training.

Determination to succeed

I began an apprenticeship and passed my NVQ in plumbing on day release.  At the time I was the youngest Corgi registered agent in history (according to Corgi), and I was determined to succeed in business.  I worked on securing larger contracts with well-known brands including British Gas & Domestic & General. 

>Related: Using social media to recruit in an employees’ market

C&J Heating began life as a limited company in 2004 and now, 11 years on, we are a team of 50, having secured business contracts with companies such as The Caravan and Camping Club, Homeserve, The AA, Mitie, and Home Assistance UK (part of British Gas). The business is evolving all the time, and with a young management team in place, we are keen to exploit modern day options and technology.

There are over 30,000 plumbing business in the UK and this figure is growing.  The opportunity is certainly there for emerging plumbing businesses – even with the recent rise in interest to train, the industry still faces a large skills shortage as schools continue to push students into university instead of apprenticeships. It is estimated that in the United Kingdom, there is a shortage of 30,000 plumbers, which is pushing up the earning capacity of a plumber.

So, I would encourage those wanting to join the league of high earning professionals to learn a trade.  Being an electrician, plumber, decorator, or anything else that’s considered a ‘trade’ can be pretty lucrative (and often with work hours much lesser and more flexible than other industries). A degree (and a £30,000 debt) is not all you need to succeed in business.

Further reading: From revenue to scalable – five ways you may be limiting growth

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.