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School Leaver Programmes

What Is A School Leaver Programme?
There isn't actually a definitive answer to the question, What is a school leaver programme? This is because they are relatively new to the scene as an option for school leavers and they are changing and developing all the time. However, that doesn't mean it isn't possible to give you a good idea of what could be involved, should you choose to take this option. Let's take a look at school leaver programmes.
Introduction To School Leaver Programmes
School leaver programmes are an option for students who don't want to do more full time study. Maybe you don't like the idea of leaving university with a high student debt and can't face looking around for part time student jobs to fund your studies. Or maybe you are simply a highly driven school leaver who knows exactly the career you want and you just want to get stuck in and start training and earning right away.

They are designed and offered by individual companies to train and develop students who do not want to go to university after finishing school or college. They are full time paid programmes which involve working for the company while also benefiting from training and development. Some even include spending some time studying at university and result in a degree level qualification.
School Leaver Programmes Are Popular With Both Students And Companies
If you are convinced you know what career you would like to pursue then it might be possible to leave school and get yourself a place on one of an increasing number of school leaver programmes out there. Although school leaver programmes are only available in a few industries at the moment, the number of opportunities is growing all the time as companies realise their value. Many of the United Kingdom's largest companies now have a school leaver programme of some description in place for students who have gained two or more A-Levels (or equivalent) and they are expecting to increase the number of placements they have available in the future. This can only be good news for students who want to get going and make an early start on what would otherwise be their graduate career.

Do bear in mind that school leaver programmes are also increasing in popularity for A-Level students so they shouldn't be thought of as an easy get out clause for students who can't really decide whether to work or whether to go to university. A school leaver programme is not for those who are umming and ahhing - they should be viewed as a genuine alternative to further full time study rather than a fall back. Most companies offer a guaranteed job upon successful completion of the programme. This guarantee, along with top quality training and combined funded study, makes school leaver programmes very attractive for students and so there are often scores, sometimes hundreds, of applications for each placement and obviously, this means competition for roles can be stiff. Many firms will stipulate minimum A-level (or equivalent) points as an entry requirement and these are often high so your hard work at VIth form level is still just as important as it is for gaining a place at your first choice university.
Research Of Different School Leaver Programmes Is Important
School leaver programmes can be thought of as bringing the start of your potential graduate career forward by a few years and some programmes can last six or seven years so you need to make sure you are choosing a programme that is going to prepare you for the areas you want to specialise in in the future.

Individual firms set up their own school leaver programmes so even within the same sector, programmes can differ in entry requirements, content, length, salary and how your study is incorporated with your on the job training. Some, just like going to university, will require you to move away from home if you don't live close to the centre where your academic study will take place. However, unlike being a university student, you shouldn't need to worry about scratching around for funds and finding part time student jobs because you will be receiving a salary. If you have decided a school leaver programme is definitely the way forward for you, you need to research the companies offering programmes in your specialism and choose the ones you feel comfortable with.

Although it is by no means the only area that offers school leaver programmes, the big accountancy firms have been quick on the uptake in arranging their own programmes for A-Level students. This means school leavers who don't like the idea of getting into debt as full time university students before beginning graduate careers in accountancy will find various options open to them with different firms. And if a move away from home is necessary, some firms will even pay for your accommodation costs as well as tuition fees.

Because school leaver programmes are a relatively recent introduction to the world of options for students who might not want to go to university, the boundaries are moving all the time as some of the United Kingdom's larger companies search for different ways to find the best young employees. For example, towards the end of 2013, Tesco started a pilot scheme in Manchester and London. This school leaver programme doesn't look for students with good A-level results, rather, they are looking to invest in young student talents right from the age of 16, after GCSEs. If the pilot is a success, more areas will introduce the school leaver programmes to their stores.

The aim of the Tesco school leaver programme is to develop young people into the managers of the future within seven years and there are currently 31 trainees on the pilot scheme.

How Do I Apply For A Place On A School Leaver Programme?

School leaver programmes are all about companies looking for the best candidates who can develop the future of their firm. That's you! The application process for a school leaver programme is robust because whichever sector you want to build a career in, the company will be investing a lot of time and money into you. They need to know you are going to fit the bill, they need to know you are committed and they need to know you can carry the company forward in the future once you have completed your on the job training and qualifications.

Competition for places on school leaver programmes can be high because, understandably, lots of A-level students are concerned about the amount of debt they could get into whilst studying at university. Also, there is still a low number of companies offering the option of school leaver programmes. But getting paid to learn can seem like an attractive option and the good news is, larger companies such as British Airways, Network Rail, Siemens and John Lewis are enlarging their programmes so they can take on more young students after A-Level completion.
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The Grant Thornton School Leaver Programme Application Process

As an example of one of the more established school leaver programmes, let's take a look at the application process for a school leaver audit programme with accountancy firm, Grant Thornton.

Acceptance onto the Grant Thornton school leaver programme involves a series of steps:
  • First of all, you will need a strong academic record, but also achievements in your personal life
  • Apply online here
  • There will be a series of numerical and verbal tests online
  • A 30 minute telephone competency interview follows
  • The final stage is an assessment day which includes a group exercise and face to face interview with a manager

So, as you can see from the steps above, school leaver programmes are not just something you can saunter into half-heartedly just because you are not sure if you want to go to university to study full time. You'll certainly need to make sure you have good grades under your belt. A school leaver programme is for students who are committed to a future career in a particular area. Of course, if you are convinced you know what you want to do in the future, then you might well relish this type of application process just so you can be sure of getting a place with the company of your choice.

Tesco Pilot School Leaver Programme

Remember, the Tesco pilot school leaver programme is for those of you who want to work in retail management in the future and is aimed primarily at school leavers who are leaving full time education at 16. Their application process will involve open days, where you can attend with your parents. There will then be an interview and a period at an assessment centre.
The Quality Of Training In School Leaver Programmes
The advantage of earning a place on a school leaver programme is that it is a win win situation. The company has chosen you because they have seen something in you that they believe will help you carry their firm forward in the future. Because they are investing so much time, money and resources into you, they need to make sure it's worth their energy. This means you are highly likely to receive top class training that develops your work skills, your confidence, your leadership skills and your team work. And don't forget, you will be receiving an attractive salary while all this training is taking place.
A Rough Outline Of The Stages Of A School Leaver Programme
As we said above, unlike verified apprenticeships where you train and study to qualify in set skills whichever company you work for, school leaver programmes are designed by the individual companies offering them so there is no strict pattern that will follow across all companies in the sector you want to work in.

However, there are always going to be stages that most companies use:
  • You will more than likely have an induction
  • There is going to be on the job training
  • There is going to be study opportunity away from the workplace
  • There might be extra, in house training
  • You should receive a level of support and feedback
So let's assume you've convinced the company you are the right school leaver for their programme and you have got yourself through the tough application process. What can you expect from your school leaver programme?


Whatever type of work you do, even if it's part time student jobs, there is usually an induction of some description involved. Depending on the job you are doing and the company you are working for, your induction for your school leaver programme could last for a few days or even few weeks.

An induction is essentially an introductory period where you will get a rough idea of what makes the company tick and what is going to be expected of you over the coming years as you progress through the programme. The good news is, most company recruit young people to their school leaver programmes in blocks so you shouldn't be alone. The induction period is where you will get to know the other successful applicants - and they are likely to be a similar age to you - and other staff within the company. This usually happens both in the workplace and even at different social events in a more relaxed, informal atmosphere.

On The Job Experience

Well, this is what school leaver programmes are all about - they are for those of you who want to get stuck into practical tasks rather than burying your head in books. This is the hands on part where you should receive top class training and also learn how to apply what you learn at university (or wherever your courses take place) to your job in a real life situation. It's about putting the theory into practise.

Many companies will place you in their different departments for blocks of time so you get to know how all the aspects of the firm link and work together to form one large working company. This benefits you because you then get an idea of the area you would then like to specialise in later when you've completed the programme.

For example, in the current pilot Tesco school leaver programme, you will do 18 months in store training starting as a customer service assistant, becoming a team leader after 12 months.


School leaver programmes, like apprenticeships, mean you will complete your programme armed with qualifications. Unless it's a higher apprenticeship, a school leaver programme differs in that it aims for qualifications of university graduate level such as a degree or equivalent professional qualifications. The KPMG school leaver programme, for example, includes studying for an accounting degree at university as well as getting Chartered Accountant qualifications.

This could be the challenging bit for you. Whereas full time university students can dedicate themselves wholly to study and maybe fund this with part time student jobs or seasonal work, parts of your school leaver programme may need you to be in the workplace full time and you need to find time to fit your study in around that. There are usually days or blocks of time where you will be out of work on your course - this might be a full year at university - but other times, self-study and distance learning may be necessary. This is why you need to be fully committed to the programme and be sure it is the right career for you.

This study could also take on a fun aspect, too. For example, Tesco are looking to tease a bit of adventure out of their young school leaver programme attendees by sending them to do a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award as well as an NVQ level 3 in Retail. The Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award is intended to develop your maturity and build up your skills and confidence in working as a team in challenging situations. All valuable attributes to have for supermarket jobs.

In House Training

In house training can be anything from staff meetings where you are updated about developments within the company to people coming into the company from the outside and doing insets about new developments or new equipment that could benefit your particular industry or sector.

Support and Feedback

Because it's a carefully built programme designed to get the best from you, school leaver programmes will include ongoing support and regular feedback from the team looking after you. This could be in the form of appraisals carried out at set intervals by your management team, you might have a 'buddy' who you can go to for asking general day to day questions and, depending on the company and job you are doing, you could also have someone in charge of making sure you meet your study requirements and deadlines.
Completing the school leaver programme
School leaver programmes can be long; 6 or 7 years in many cases. You're going to be kept pretty busy during that time so it will no doubt fly by, but after all that hard work, what happens when you emerge on the other side?

Well, as the firm has invested a few years' worth of energy and money in you, many school leaver programmes will offer a guaranteed job with them at the end of the school leaver programme. And, as you now have experience and specific qualifications under your belt, this could also involve extra responsibility and / or a pay rise. Ongoing study could also be an option for those who want to continue progressing their career.
In conclusion
Really, it's a good time to be a young person considering options for your future because these days, there are varied viable opportunities to consider and none are particularly better than the other.

If you don't want to commit just yet - maybe you have a few ideas and can't really choose - then a full time university degree might be the way forward for you. You could always combine this with different part time student jobs or seasonal work to get some practical work experience. You just have to think about what you want to do and choose the right option for you personally.

But if you really are convinced about what you want to do in the future and you want to bring your 'graduate career' forward by starting it a few years earlier, if there is a school leaver programme available in your specialism, then this could be your ideal option.

Find out if a school leaver programme is right for you >>>
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