The apprentices who have made millions

Emma Woollacott
Teacher and student working on computer
Teacher and student working on computer

With so much emphasis on going to university these days, it's easy to forget that there's an alternative - and one that doesn't involve taking on a crippling student loan.

Not only do apprentices get paid as they learn, many go on to make serious money, as new research shows. According to a survey from the National Careers Service, people with an Advanced Level Apprenticeship earn on average £100,000 more over the course of their career than those without.

And to mark next week's National Apprentice Week, the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) has commissioned a new rich list ranking 40 of the UK's wealthiest former apprentices - worth a massive £20 billion between them.

"There's no doubting the importance of apprentices to the UK economy with it set to gain £101 billion through apprentice recruitment by 2050," says Mark Farrar, chief executive of AAT.

"We're hoping that by highlighting the success of these wealthy former apprentices we are also opening people's eyes to what apprenticeships can deliver in terms of financial and career fulfilment."

The list includes celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, believed to be worth £240 million, David Beckham with £210 million and Ozzy Osbourne with £130 million.

Top of the list, though, is JCB chairman Lord Bamford, worth£3.15 billion, who started one of Britain's most successful family-owned businesses following an apprenticeship at agricultural equipment firm Massey Ferguson.

Second comes Laurence Graff, worth £3 billion, who founded Graff Diamonds after becoming a jewellery apprentice at the age of 15.

Entrepreneur John Caudwell, who started Phones 4 U, comes third with 1.5 billion, having started his career as an engineering apprentice at the Michelin tyre factory in Stoke-on-Trent.

Not all the people on the list have actually built their career on their apprenticeship. Musician Eric Clapton, for example, completed an apprenticeship in stained glass design before becoming one of the most celebrated guitarists of all time. Meanwhile, rocker Ozzy Osbourne was an apprentice toolmaker before making his fortune with Black Sabbath.

"The 2015 Apprenticeship Rich List shows not only that some of the country's most successful individuals have come from an apprentice route, but that not all apprenticeships are in the industries you might expect," says Farrar.

"Many hail from other professional backgrounds, such as Sir Terry Matthews, with a wealth of £1.19 billion, who was an apprentice researcher before founding tech firm Mitel."

The report, though, highlights a reluctance by parents to take apprenticeships seriously. A survey found that more than a fifth say they might not encourage their children to undertake an apprenticeship, with 30% citing 'low pay' as the reason - not neccessarily true, as the Rich List survey shows.

Only half of parents think that apprenticeships can offer the same opportunities, professional and financial, as traditional academic routes such as university degrees.

Most people, apparently, associate apprenticeships with careers such as construction, electrical work and plumbing. Indeed, 41% of teens say they've never been told about apprenticeships in professions such as accountancy and law - despite the fact that there were actually more apprenticeship opportunities in business, administration and law last year than in any other sector.

And the industries projected to see some of the biggest rises in apprenticeships this year are management, health and social care, business administration and accountancy.

Apprentices are paid - although not very much - gaining job-specific skills and studying for a related career, usually one day a week. Apprenticeships take between one and four years. You'll need to be 16 or over but still at school to apply for one.

There are three levels: intermediate, equivalent to five GCSE passes; advanced, equivalent to two A level passes; and higher, which can lead to NVQ Level 4 and above or a foundation degree. And any, as we've seen, can in theory lead to great riches too.

"As today's findings show, some of the country's most successful entrepreneurs and public figures started out as apprentices. Apprenticeships make a vital contribution to our economy - they boost business productivity and give people the skills they need for a successful career," says Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable.

"With more than two million starting apprenticeships since 2010, our reforms have seen more young people, parents, teachers and employers recognise the value of the opportunity to learn on the job."

Apprentice Rich List Ranking

Name Apprenticeship type wealth £m Source of wealth

1 Lord Bamford apprentice at Massey Ferguson £3,150 construction equipment
2 Laurence Graff apprentice jeweller £3,000 diamonds
3 John Cauldwell engineering apprentice £1,500 mobile phones
4 Sir Terry Matthews Post Office Research apprentice £1,190 computers
5= Jim McColl apprentice engineer £1,000 engineering
5= Vladimir Makhlai turner's apprentice £1,000 industry
7 John Bloor apprentice plasterer £750 construction, motorcycles
8 Sir Arnold Clark apprentice shoe designer £675 car sales
9 Lord Alliance Tehran Grand Bazaar apprentice £650 mail order, textiles
10 Trevor Hemmings bricklayer's apprentice £625 property
11Michael Oliver apprentice engineer £608 engineering
12 Sir Daid McMurtry apprentice machinist & fitter £559 engineering
13Jack Tordoff apprentice mechanic £353 car sales
14 Michael Oglesby apprentice plumber £325 property
15 Dean Hoyle engineering apprentice £284 greeting cards
16 John Deer engineering apprentice £268 engineering
17 David Hood apprentice at hi-fi manufacturer £265 aviation, electronics
18= Ron Dennis apprentice mechanic £260 motor racing
18= Clinton McCarthy apprentice carpenter/joiner £260 construction
20 Lord Bagri apprentice metal trader £250 metals
21 Jamie Oliver catering apprentice £240 food, media
22 Peter Dawson engineering apprenticeship £216 trucks
23= David Beckham Youth Training Scheme (Football) £210 fashion, football
23= Lord Haughey refrigeration apprentice £210 refrigeration
25 Mark Constantine apprentice hairdresser £204 cosmetics
26 Ringo Starr apprentice equipment maker £170 music
27= Rodger Dudding naval engineering apprentice £160 property
27= Tommy Dreelan heating & plumbing apprentice £160 oil services
29 Kenneth Townsley airline traffic officer apprentice £158 travel
30= John Frieda apprentice hairdresser £150 hairdressing
30= Eric Clapton apprentice stained glass design £150 music
32 Stewart Milne apprentice electrician £135 construction
33= Ozzy Osbourne apprentice toolmaker £130 music
33= Marcus Margulies watch factory apprentice £130 watches
35 Sir Tom Farmer garage apprentice £128 property, car parts
36 Ted Fort Rolls Royce apprentice £110 engineering
37= Ross Brawn apprentice mechanical engineer £100 motor racing
37= Larry Kinch apprentice instrument engineer £100 oil, gas services
39 George Moore apprentice joinery craftsman £95 furniture
40 Andrew Thorpe apprentice at FW Thorpe £90 lighting

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