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What is a School Leaver Programme?

Unsure about the expenses of university? Fancy jumping straight into work? There is a way! It could be a school leaver programme.

School leaver programmes are a big deal. As the government continues to encourage businesses to extend their training and recruitment opportunities for young people, school leaver programmes are flourishing as a credible alternative to the traditional university route. So what are these new-age revolutionary programmes all about?

School leaver programmes explained

A school leaver programme will give you on-the-job learning and training, accompanied by studying for a qualification relevant to the industry in which you’re working. Depending on the employer, they will vary in length: a programme can generally last between three and seven years.

These programmes are slightly different to apprenticeships in that they are not part of the national framework – the structure of the programme is devised completely by the company that runs it. This means that they can vary quite a bit, so you’re going to have to do your research into companies offering these opportunities to find one that’s offering the blend of training and qualifications that best suits you.

Qualifications you could gain as part of a school leaver programme could be a foundation degree or bachelors degree, or else a professional qualification. Time dedicated to study and work will be split up differently according to each programme: You may spend a block of several months purely studying and then progress to full-time work with study on the side, or else be granted study leave during work time for example. But rest assured, colleagues are always there to provide support. They want you to succeed, and they’ll be doing all they can to help you to manage your workload and time effectively.

Entry requirements for school leaver programmes also vary, but generally employers will want to see at least two A level passes (or equivalent), with a specified minimum of UCAS points. Sometimes they will want you to have studied certain subjects too. 

So where can you do one of these glorious school leaver programmes? The good news for you eager finance industry extraordinaires is that this industry is a big player when it comes to these opportunities. Leading professional services firms and banks are pioneers when it comes to schemes for school leavers, so it’s likely you could find something to tick your boxes here if you’re not keen on university but know you want to get stuck into business and finance.    

As for the money

As these nifty programmes aren’t apprenticeships, they will pay full National Minimum Wage (currently £5.13 an hour for 18- to 20-year-olds and £6.50 an hour for people aged 21 and over). However, the lovely news is that many school leaver programmes will actually pay more than this. You’ll usually be looking at a salary of around £18,000 to £20,000. Some programmes will pay even more. Not too shabby at all for a first job straight out of school!

Advantages of a school leaver programme?

  • Dodge the student debt! Heading straight into a school leaver programme route will mean that you won’t have to shell out the £9,000-a-year in student fees, plus your living costs. And on the subject of money…
  • A school leaver programme pays a salary! Think of what you could do with real cash in your pocket…
  • The qualifications you could gain will be internationally recognised in your chosen industry and will set you on the path for solid career progression and even chartered status when you complete the programme.
  • Future roles with the company you work for and train with aren’t a given, but there is a strong possibility that you’ll have a permanent job with them when you finish your programme. The connections you’ll make over the course of your programme will be invaluable!
  • You will have more work experience overall than a graduate from the traditional university route by the end of your programme. Team this with the qualifications you will have and you’ve got some strong credentials!
  • Some of the UK’s biggest employers run school leaver programmes; great names to have on your CV.

Other points to consider

  • Though the number of programmes is growing, there will still be some limitations in terms of the specialist areas these programmes offer. There currently isn’t as much choice on universities too if the programme you are considering offers degree study.
  • How much do you want the university experience? (Note: there is certainly a social side to working life too!)
  • Are you interested in an area of finance that usually requires specific knowledge and even masters or PhD-level study, like quantitative analysis? If so, a university degree may at this point still be more beneficial to that aim.

The decision on whether you choose to follow the university route or go for a school leaver programme is completely up to you. Despite what parents or peers may say, school leaver programmes are a valid alternative to university, so if it sounds like something that could suit you, there’s no reason not to go for it!

By Jos Weale, Editor, AllAboutFinanceCareers.com