A recent NatWest report found only one in ten students believe university represents value for money. Co-Author of the report, George Tudor-Price, brings the report to life by comparing his career journey with that of his university-going peers.

Three years ago George arrived at a crossroads, after finishing his A-Levels he decided to follow a well-trodden path among his peers and head to university. But after a brief stint at the University of Leeds, he decided to take a different route to his friends and left his course to begin a digital marketing apprenticeship. Three years later, George is taking stock as his peer group starts looking for work after finishing their degrees. He is especially qualified to talk about the economic landscape for young people during these challenging times as one of the authors of the 2020 NatWest Student Living Index. We talked to him about the findings of the report as well as his career story to date.

George says: “When I first left Leeds it’s fair to say my confidence took a slight knock, however, my friends have always been super supportive of me taking a different path. They’ve been impressed by some of the big names and big brands that I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the past few years.”

This work experience came in the form of an 18-month apprenticeship in Digital Marketing followed by a move to Zenith, an agency that forms part of the Publicis group. The job landscape that George faced three years ago is significantly different to the one faced by both school-leavers and graduates today. George says: “Had I continued at Leeds, I too would be graduating this summer into a bleak jobs market. I do feel as though my decision to pursue an apprenticeship has shielded me."

"I now have three years of marketing experience under my belt, I’ve completely dodged student debts and I’ve been able to put a bit of money aside each month. All this while I have learned and developed my marketing skills and increased my employability every single day. By contrast, close to one in four university students are not able to save any money each month.”

George Tudor-Price, Co-author of the 2020 NatWest Student Living Index, left his course at the University of Leeds to begin a Digital Marketing apprenticeship at WhiteHat

The apprenticeship route wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and balancing a full-time job with course work is definitely a challenge. George says: “I was very relieved when I finished my apprenticeship. There’s a huge amount of extra work that apprentices have to do in order to gain their qualification.”

There’s also FOMO to contend with. While George finds himself in a strong position three years after choosing the path less travelled, there were times when he couldn’t help but compare his route to people he knew: “Now that the majority of my friends have graduated, and are starting to look for roles themselves, I think they’re showing more interest in the projects I’ve been involved with. It’s nice because now that we’re all in similar positions I have less of that FOMO feeling.”

That being said, big strides have been made at WhiteHat over recent years to develop a thriving apprentice community and support system, similar to that found at the best unis: “At WhiteHat, there’s a huge community of apprentices and key stakeholders to support you throughout your journey. This sense of community, of all having a shared goal and direction, is something that I did not feel was available at university.”

The NatWest Student Living Index highlights many concerns that the COVID-19 crisis has precipitated. The national survey of students reveals that just one in ten students currently believe that university represents good value for money while just 29% felt supported by their university during the pandemic. The upcoming academic year is one that is rife with uncertainties and students face unprecedented challenges.

On the ways we work, George says: “Businesses are being forced to think about what the workplace will look in the wake of COVID, from introducing flexible working to adapting new technologies at a much faster rate. As companies start to adapt long-term, to the impact that COVID-19 has had, I’m hoping that more companies will be encouraged to place extra value on hands-on experience.”

For young people entering the workforce, the apprenticeship path is a good place to look, as many businesses continue to hire young talent without university degrees. George concludes: “If you know you’ve got a good work ethic and feel ready to step into professional employment, then an apprenticeship could provide you with a pathway to some of the most prestigious employers in the world. Personally I think it’s a great way to get ahead.”