Apprenticeships: why university is not your only option

10 February 2021
  • Reflecting

    As part of National Apprenticeship Week (8th-14th of February) [opens in a new window], I have been reflecting upon my time as a Data Analytics Apprentice here at Audit Wales and, more specifically, how my apprenticeship played a huge part in getting to where I am today.


    To explain this in more detail, we will have to rewind back to September 2014 (the good ol’ pre-COVID days!). I was a Cardiff University Fresher about to embark on a 4-year degree in Psychology. Whilst I absolutely loved my new-found independence and the learning curves that came with living with ten other 18-year-olds, I would not be telling the truth if I claimed to have enjoyed it all. Moving back and forth between halls and my hometown of Cheltenham between semesters and eventually moving rented university accommodation every year left me feeling very unsettled. The housing conditions for students renting in Cathays can also be awful… but that situation could warrant a blog in its own right!

    Fast forward

    Fast forward to 2018, I finally graduated and was keen to explore my options for next steps. I had no idea what I wanted to do but knew I had a passion for data and statistics and perhaps part of me wasn’t ready to let go of learning. By pure coincidence (or fate, as I like to think of it!), my housemates’ boyfriend was working at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) at the time and suggested I applied.

    At this point you’re probably thinking I’ve written the wrong organisation down but rest-assured, it will make sense soon!

    After a few weeks of looking at job adverts, I found an advert for Data Analytics Apprenticeships.

    More learning? Tick!

    Learning on-the-job? Tick!

    Structured days working within office hours? Tick!

    Learning new skills in a field I am fascinated by? Tick!

    Tick, tick, tick, tick and tick!!

    Fast forward again

    Fast forward to September 2018, after completing the joint-recruitment process conducted by the ONS and Audit Wales (then the Wales Audit Office), I was offered a position.

    I immediately felt like the work/college combination brought with an apprenticeship was more suited to my learning style and personality than being at University. I instantly slotted into the routine of 9-5 work with ease and very much enjoyed the days that were allocated to college attendance (once every fortnight). I quickly realised that one of the most significant benefits to the apprenticeship was being able to apply my formal learning throughout my job role within Audit Wales. I was able to gain new skills and work in a job role that I loved. My learning finally had ‘real-world’ implications.

    Settling in

    As I settled into the role, I also noticed the stark difference in the amount of support I was getting compared to receiving an education in a University setting. Whilst at Uni, I was fortunate enough to have amazing tutors, but the level of support provided through my apprenticeship from college tutors to colleagues was second-to-none. The additional ‘bonus’ of having colleagues who are knowledgeable in the areas I was upskilling in allowed me to learn even more at a faster rate.

    Apprenticeship accessibility

    Finally, another huge benefit of apprenticeships is how accessible they are. Whilst other educational routes often require student loans and strict entry requirements, apprenticeships allow people with little-to-no experience in a given field to gain qualifications and work experience. Many entry jobs in data analytics, and other fields,  require degree-level qualifications or relevant work experience as a minimum and so, without apprenticeships, I would never have had the opportunity to learn and grow in a field that I now absolutely love.

    An alternative to university, or a career change

    By no means would I dissuade people from going to university but hope this blog promotes the idea that there are now far more options in relation to further education than there ever have been. If, for whatever reason, you feel like university might not be the best place for you or if you have already completed a degree but you would like a change in career, I could not recommend apprenticeships more!

    About the author

    Rachel Brown

    Rachel Brown loves spending time outdoors and challenging herself to do new things. She joined Audit Wales after finishing her Psychology Degree at Cardiff University and recently completed an apprenticeship qualification in Data Analytics. Rachel successfully secured a job role as a Data Analytics Officer at Audit Wales after her apprenticeship and still enjoys being able to learn on-the-job every day in a career that she loves!