Do employers favour degrees, apprenticeships or industry experience?


Due to the increasing cost of living and the wealth of alternative opportunities available, university education is becoming significantly less popular among younger generations. School leavers are more likely to take on a higher apprenticeship or a degree apprenticeship to achieve their desired career path, and some may instead move immediately into the workplace to gain on-the-job experience. Although these are all valuable options, are any more or less likely to be seen as attractive to an employer?

University degrees

For certain industries, such as medicine or law, some form of degree, whether an undergraduate, postgraduate or degree apprenticeship, is vital to employers to show a broader education in the specific field of work.

University degrees also reveal a candidate's ability for independent work and research, productivity, and the ability to tolerate a consistently large workload. In short, a candidate with a degree should give the employer less responsibility to train the employee, as they have the relevant knowledge before entering the industry, providing their degree is relevant to the role.

Although university education isn't as sought after as it once was to obtain a stable job and income, the CIPD has established that 3 out of 5 (57%) employers still look for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees when hiring staff.

However, this is sector-specific, and many hands-on industries prefer employees to begin to learn the company's ways from scratch, not needing prior training apart from an interest in that field.


For many employers, like Charles Rickards of the company Cornishware, the view is reinforced that "it's proved to be a brilliant way of recruiting". Apprenticeships are the most equally beneficial for both the employer and the employee. This is because the employee will gain valuable skills and qualifications in their chosen profession, where the employer gets to establish a fixed contract and has control of what skills and experiences the employee gains through their job.

Apprenticeships have become much more universal in industries, whereas they were initially limited to manual jobs like mechanics and plumbing. Apprenticeships are now offered by a variety of companies: including the NHS, banks and finance firms, the military, solicitors and broadcasting companies like the BBC. For most careers, a suitable apprenticeship is likely to be available.

Usually, an apprentice will be guaranteed a job at the company after they complete their training to a certain level. This will benefit the employer as they do not have to undergo the recruitment process again. The employee can work at a higher level than a university graduate, as they will have learned specific skills needed for that particular company instead of a wide range of more general ideas about the industry gained from a degree course.

Work experience

Many young people gain work experience for one or two weeks during their A levels or their time at university. This gives an idea of the industry the young person wants to work in and motivates them to conduct more relevant research and experience in that subject area. 

For example, the technology sector is more open to having relevant experience, for instance, in coding or building a PC, rather than a degree in IT or computer science. This is due to the employee being able to show relevant skills to the company and a passion for the work they want to do outside of their prescribed study or course. Compared to university education, this is a more straightforward way for employers to identify a young person's specific skills, mainly assessed through essays and discussions, which may not be relevant to some industries. 

Similarly, careers based in the arts, such as music production, graphic design or content creation, may demand a portfolio of a candidate's work to deem if they would be an appropriate employee. This gives an accurate snapshot of what job a person is capable of, including their artistic style. 

The more experience and practice a candidate may have taken in their chosen field gives them more time to develop their skills, revealing to an employer that they are still willing to learn and enhance their skillset further but that they also have the relevant experience to make them stand out from other candidates and hit the ground running from their first day in a new job.

The big question: which is best? 

Degrees, apprenticeships, and work experience all have various benefits that are attractive to both young people and employers. Each option gives the employer an insight into what the candidate is capable of, what they have achieved, and their passion for the industry. However, it does depend on the specific sector, company and employer as to which option is ultimately preferred.

If you are looking for a new role or your organisation wants to grow, contact our specialist recruiters at McGregor Boyall today and find out how we can help you.