It’s National Apprenticeship Week so teen magazine Future Mag has been finding out what students really want to know about this alternative route to the world of work.

BUZZ Carter took a digital apprenticeship at 17. Now 22, he heads a department at digital marketing agency Bulldog. “I didn’t have much trouble convincing my parents,” he says. "I pointed that I would be earning money now and have a four-year head start in my career.”

Apprenticeships have been overhauled, modernised. Training is better quality and must be government approved. If you want to check out an employer, find out how many apprentices train and stay on after completion. Nearly nine out of ten apprentices say they’re satisfied with their scheme overall.

Apprenticeships aren’t just for manual work. They’re offered in 1,500 occupations across 170 industries – they’re simply a different route into skilled employment and a viable alternative to university. Pay isn’t always great early on – in their first year apprentices receive the (16 to 18) minimum wage of £3.90 per hour (as from April 2019), but with regular rises. But many larger employers pay more, and this will rise year on year. Industry-designed degree apprenticeships can start at £17,000 a year.

“My mum was worried about me going straight into full time work,” says Ellie Keon who opted for a PR apprenticeship over uni. “But loads of companies provide networking events, I can visit friends at uni, and my employer has social event outside of work, which is nice.”

Over the longer term, earnings don’t differ dramatically from those of university graduates. Top apprentices can expect to earn thousands of pounds more over their careers than graduates of non-Russell Group universities (source: The Sutton Trust). But students from top universities earn the most – with estimated lifetime earnings of £1.6m, above the estimated £1.5m higher level (five and above) apprentices will earn.

Catherine Lloyd, head of training and development at engineering company Renishaw, says the company is hiring 68 apprentices and 82 graduates this year. "Honestly? Both are essential to our company – both can build careers here," she says. "If you join at 16 and progress, it might take slightly longer to reach degree level, if that’s what you want. If say you choose to stay at level three – a technician’s role for instance - your career will take a different path, but it doesn’t close any doors. We’re looking to launch a degree apprenticeship this year."

Recruitment firm TMI Resourcing also works with both graduates and apprentices. "My genuine opinion is that your level of education doesn't necessarily matter - it's your level of experience and that can be obtained both through apprenticeship programmes and degrees," says TMI's Bethany Fearn. "We look for the candidates with drive to do well, rather than background or education."

Will an apprenticeship narrow my options?

You’ll learn a huge range of useful skills such as independent problem solving, teamwork, communication and so on. Employers respect these and many companies now help you work your way up to degree qualifications. Or you could start a subsequent apprenticeship in a different area, or go to university as a mature student. It’s the same as any other job – you can progress, switch or retrain.

How much will I get paid?

Minimum pay is £3.70 an hour, rising to £3.90 in April 2019, even for 19-year-olds in their first year of an apprentice. Many employers do pay above this, and pay should rise regularly. Some degree apprenticeships start at £25,000 a year.

Will I miss out on a social life?

This depends on the size of your employer and how many apprentices they hire. In smaller companies you might be the only apprentice, but larger companies might take on hundreds and lay on social and networking events. And you’ll meet up during training. But study might feel more intensive than a typical student schedule.

Is it hard work?

Yes, you’ll be doing a full time job, with study. Competition for degree apprenticeships has been fierce, but numbers of places are growing. All employers want to see honesty, trustworthiness, commitment, accountability and adaptability – ask careers advisers how to start building up evidence to demonstrate these qualities.

An apprenticeship is 80:20 per cent on and off the job learning. Employers should make training relevant and timely, and you might do blocks of study, possibly on a residential as opposed to the traditional day a week. Some companies will train in-house. If you’re doing a degree apprenticeship, you’ll enrol at a university.

What if I don’t like it?

Good companies and training providers will offer support – if you’re not happy, speak first to your employer contact or mentor. There should be no problem switching employers and continuing with an apprenticeship - and a training provider can help. If you’re over halfway through your apprenticeship, it might be worth seeing it through - beware of leaving with nothing to go to. You have a right to use the training institution’s general careers department. You can also contact the National Careers Service, online, by phone or face to face.

What level of apprenticeship should I take?

Most apprenticeships are intermediate or advanced (levels two to three), which are GCSE or A level equivalent. But after A levels, students’ options become broader and higher and degree apprenticeship are becoming more common.

Would I miss academic study?

What motivates you? If you don’t know what you want to do – and many don’t – but really enjoy an academic challenge, researching in depth or reading around a subject, you might prefer university. Apprenticeships are specific, applying what you learn directly at work. But graduates can now apply for apprenticeships at any level and some apprentices choose to go on to university later. Options now are more flexible.