On August 15th 2019, high school students in the UK received their A-level results.
What are A-levels?
A-levels are broadly equivalent to the United States high school diploma; the final set of grades that determines a young person’s academic and career trajectory for the foreseeable future.
A-level results day is a big deal in the UK.
The national media sets aside copious column inches for discussing falling/rising attainment (delete as appropriate), how boys and girls perform relative to one another and whether or not the academic rigour and intellect required to hit top marks is declining.
‘A-level results’ day is a national event, complete with an annual treasure hunt for the most photogenic high achievers.
But, this year, under the radar, there was a new layer to the narrative.
As the newspapers were reporting on a drop in the number of students receiving offers from their preferred colleges, a cohort of students were exploring other options.
According to an analysis of Google Trends data conducted by property maintenance specialists Aspect, there was a significant spike in the volume of search traffic for terms like “electrician training near me”, “locksmith apprenticeships” or “plumber jobs.”
In other words, lots of people were suddenly very interested in high-paying, stable skilled trade careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.
And this all happened in the hours after the exam grades had been published.
Search terms that signalled intent to explore entry to a specific career, such as “electrician salary” more than doubled on ‘A-level results day’ compared to the day before. Sporadic spikes throughout the day, as new cohorts of young students received their grades, suggest repeated waves of curiosity.
Prospective undergraduates were clearly weighing up their options. Fewer had achieved the top grades and college offers were down. But that’s not the whole story. Combined with the rising cost of studying for an undergraduate degree, plus general economic certainty in the UK, it’s not surprising that students appear to be thinking twice about assuming the cost of a university education.
Renewed interest in the skilled trades is welcome news to the industry. After a generation’s worth of focus on bachelor’s degrees, skilled trades have never been in higher demand. In 2017, the state of California spent $6million in an attempt to revive the reputation of vocational careers. In April 2019, home improvement store Lowe’s launched its Generation T campaign, along with 60 other companies, aimed at ushering in a new generation of skilled tradespeople. The demand is there. And now it seems students are keen to meet it.
Nick Bizley, director of operations at Aspect, who conducted the Google Trends analysis says:
There’s currently a skills gap in the construction sector, so it’s encouraging to see that people are interested in apprenticeships and training in the skilled trades. It’s interesting too that there appears to be a spike in interest in and around A-Level results day. This suggests that students are exploring their options more widely, which is always a good sign. If young people are taking A-levels and then considering an apprenticeship or vocational training, they’re equipping themselves for a rewarding and very worthy career. Good for them.