Apprentices v graduates: what’s the best balance?

May 27, 2021 | Apprentices & school leaver

ISE data can help employers strike the right balance between apprentices and graduates, says Tristram Hooley.

Creating the best balance of graduates, school and college leavers, apprentices and interns as well as ensuring that they work in harmony and to the greatest effect with the rest of your organisation is complex.

Who you need, what you need them to be able to do, how much you should pay, what training is required and how long you should keep them are just some of the decisions you will need to make.

ISE data tells us that most ISE employer members are recruiting both school and college leavers, and graduates. On average organisations enrol 13% of graduates and 87% of school and college leavers onto apprenticeships.

We’ve delved into the ISE’s databanks to explore apprentices v graduates and help you to decide what the best balance is for your organisation.



If you need work-ready young people then graduates are usually your best bet as they are more likely to arrive with more skills under their belt as well as more ‘polish’ and life experience. In comparison, school and college leavers will have fewer skills and need more help transitioning into work.

While employers rate graduates more highly in almost all skill areas, to what extent varies by the skill.



If you’re considering when to run your recruitment campaigns then the timetable is pretty similar for graduates and apprentices. The following table shows when employers open their campaigns, make the most offers and close their campaigns for the different types of hire.

Application numbers

ISE employers receive many more applications for graduate vacancies than for apprenticeships – 60 compared to 39, respectively.


Assessment approaches

Employers invest much more in the assessment of graduate applicants compared to apprentices. They are likely to use face-to-face interviews and CV screening with both graduates and apprentices. But are more likely to use phone interviews with school and college leavers, while graduate candidates are put through their paces with a combination of assessment centres, psychometric tests, video interviews, online applications, case studies, role play and group presentations.


Type of job

Graduates tend to be recruited for more skilled roles. While school and college leavers are more likely to go into general IT or business admin, graduates are employed to do IT programming and development and engineering.

What graduates are employed for

What school and college leavers are employed for


If it’s important that your organisation grows and retains its talent, then apprentices could be a good option. ISE data shows that two years after joining, 86% of school and college leavers are retained compared to 81% of graduates, after three years this drops to 78% and 71% respectively and after five years 67% of school and college leavers are retained, compared to 53% of graduates.


As you would probably expect, graduates are paid more than apprentices. At the stage of hiring, graduates earn an average of £29,667 and after three years this rises to £40,000. School and college leavers take an average entry salary of £18,450, increasing to £26,000 after three years. Salary differs by sector, as evidenced below.

The data doesn’t offer all of the answers, but it can help inform whether graduates or apprentices or both are right for your organisation. For additional support, we have suggested 7 questions to guide whether graduates or apprentices are better for your business

ISE members can access a slide deck with the data above

Information and benefits on becoming an ISE member


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  1. Apprentices v graduates: what’s the best balance? – Adventures in Career Development - […] article was originally posted on ISE Knowledge Hub on 27th May 2021. In it I explore the decisions that…
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