Has the Apprentice put people off a career in business?

Over at Print Express, we’re trying something new. This is the first in a series of posts where we ask an interesting question, and then dig through data to try to find the answer. And the first question that we wanted to put out there is this: has the TV show The Apprentice actually put people off from pursuing a career in business?

That’s my theory, at least – it doesn’t seem to cast typical business-y jobs like marketing, sales and project management in a great light. Instead, it’s a show that seems to find the absolute worst candidates – people that you’d hate to have as colleagues. Of course, as Sam Wollaston in The Guardian beautifully put it, “their ghastliness is the joy of The Apprentice”.

So, to find out if The Apprentice has put people off from taking on a career in business, we need some data. The first set of data that I want to get is the number of people in the UK who have started studying at university for a business related degree, and look at that over time. Luckily, the Higher Education Statistics Agency has all of this data (and lots more), and so it’s time to dig that out.

First Year Business Students over Time

So – the number of people studying business at university has gone up. But maybe more people in general are studying at university? What we really need to see is the percentage of students at university who have chosen to study a business related degree.

Percentage of Business Students over Time

So this is a bit more interesting – business-y degrees were on the decline from 2002 to 2006, but then saw a huge peak up to around 2011, with a slight dip in 2010. Let’s overlay that graph with the TV ratings for The Apprentice (taken from Wikipedia).

Business Students and The Apprentice Viewing Figures

Well this is unexpected. Despite the fact that most candidates on the Apprentice are generally seen as unlikeable (as a review in The Guardian says – “who’d want to work with you, any of you?”), it looks like more students chose to pursue a career in business when the show took off in ratings from 2006 up to it’s peak in 2011.

So there you have it – for better or worse, it looks a lot like The Apprentice has convinced, rather than put off, students on a career in business.

A really important note with all of this: correlation does not equal causation.

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