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Work Experience or University – Why not both?

Ellie Jackson looks at the benefits of work experience vs university

Back in 2016, I was looking for some work experience in the marketing sector. After some research, I found VSM Healthcare, a local SME oral healthcare marketing communications agency. I gave them a call to ask for some work experience and after some discussion, I spent 2 weeks here for work experience – I then worked for VSM for the remainder of the summer and returned to sixth form in the Autumn. Fast forward 9 months & VSM had contacted me to offer me a full-time job as a marketing apprentice.

Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t want to go straight into full-time higher education, so this offer was perfect for me. I would be gaining work experience whilst also still learning. VSM found there was a lack of opportunity at the time for accessing a degree-level programme for me.

This resulted in the ‘apprenticeship’ side of my career beginning with the 1-year Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Level 4 marketing course. Whilst this was useful in developing my marketing knowledge, it was difficult to apply to my ‘real’ work at VSM.

Gail, my director, then heard about the Digital Marketing Degree Apprenticeship at Manchester Metropolitan University. This course was brand new at the time with just one cohort labelled the ‘trailblazers’. This course was much more attractive to me as an apprentice and VSM as an employer, as it offered BSc degree qualification, learning on a part-time basis alongside my full-time role at VSM.

Since starting this course in September 2020, my digital marketing knowledge has developed significantly and allowed me to directly apply my new-found skills to my role. This has been mutually beneficial for both myself and VSM, as we have developed further knowledge within the business to better serve client needs on both traditional and digital media projects. As an apprentice, I am still very much a full-time member of the team at VSM, so I am involved as much as any other team member in projects, as well as receiving all the support I need when completing assignments for my course.

The content of the course has allowed me to interact more efficiently with the wider team, including graphic design when developing digital assets and campaigns. This wider communication ensures I can apply my knowledge of digital marketing when writing my assignments and vice versa, applying the course content into real-life marketing campaigns.

Although I work full-time for VSM, the course suggests 20% ‘off-the-job’ time, to contribute to my learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean I have one day a week dedicated to university – I do have timetabled classes on campus 25 days a year, but the rest of my ‘off-the-job’ time is dedicated to expanding my skills and knowledge within the business. For example, if I am doing something new, outside of my regular role, this will be considered as ‘off-the-job’ time. This time contributes to my career development, even outside of scheduled university classes.

Due to the initial difficulty we found when searching for this type of course, I have since visited my school to deliver a presentation to sixth form students on the availability and benefits of a degree apprenticeship and to discuss my positive personal experience. When I was a sixth form student, going to university full-time was heavily encouraged and alternatives were rarely discussed. There is a changing attitude towards apprenticeships, with a growing range of options for students as an alternative way to gain a university degree.

This type of degree is the ‘best of both worlds’, in offering the social aspect of a traditional university course alongside gaining 4 years of work experience in the relevant industry. Although this is a university course, it is not limited to those who are school/sixth form leavers looking for an alternative to university. My cohort has a wide age range, from 18-50 years old. Anybody can become an apprentice, no matter how long they have been working in their industry.

As I write this article, I have also met with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills UK, Alex Burghart, to discuss how pioneering degree apprenticeship programmes are helping to create a workforce with the skills for the future. The discussion was valuable in giving Alex an insight into the value of these apprenticeships and how apprenticeship funding can be beneficial to any size of business, including SMEs like VSM.

Degree apprenticeships are a great option for those who don’t want to go to university full-time, and for existing employees who want to develop their skills and knowledge within their industry. These courses can accelerate career development and encourage the employer to have a clear career path for the apprentice to benefit both the business and the employee.

Manchester Metropolitan University is the leading provider of degree apprenticeships in the UK, regularly communicating with apprentices and their employers to ensure the course offers the best outcome for the apprentice as well as the wider business.

To find out more about the degree apprenticeships offered at Manchester Metropolitan University, visit

Article written by

Ellie Jackson

Marketing Executive, VSM Marketing

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