After writing this blog for all these years, a few returning themes certainly start to emerge. A regular concern I have posted about is the erroneous view (in my opinion) that the low percentages of young people gaining apprenticeships is not down to an awareness issue but due to more complex mix of lack of vacancies & demand outstripping supply, the negative perception of the quality of apprenticeships, employers hiring practices and views favouring older applicants and lack of efficacy in their applications due to their poor networks, work experience and failure to explain their transferable skills. Addressing these issues would take significant investment in student support mechanisms (eg staff) and a culture change in employment hiring so the far easier soundbite for policy makers has always been to bemoan the awareness of apprenticeships in young people.
The position that I disagree with has gained substantive backing with the release of new report from the Education & Employers Taskforce.
This is a piece of work from the researchers who’s previous findings have, I think it’s fair to say, had a substantial impact on the CEIAG policy direction in recent years.
Recent government figures have shown that despite the overall number of apprenticeships increasing, the number of under 19s starts have stagnated at around 20%
as a launchpad for examining the methods and practices of schools from which a higher proportion of students do progress into apprenticeships. The Taskforce, quite sensibly, want to amplify those practices and see how expandable they are for all schools. Some of the useful lessons to be learnt are that
In seeking to address the negative attitudes and assumptions young people hold about apprenticeships, the literature suggests that increasing the level of authentic exposure of young people to the apprenticeship route could be helpful.
which is a branch of the previous findings of the Taskforce that employer encounters are beneficial to employment outcomes of learners.
Useful tips to consider when designing school CEIAG provision include altering CV writing sessions by using application form writing frames instead as
Only five of the employers surveyed mentioned using CVs at any point when hiring apprentices, with thirteen instead making reference to an online assessment or
application form which contained a number of write in questions. In our sample of schools, however, CV workshops were still highlighted by the majority of respondents as a method for preparing young people for job applications.
but also more generic recommendations such as promoting higher and degree apprenticeships more, promoting with students at a younger age and raising the profile of apprenticeships with parents. These are all aims which any school Careers professional would agree with and strive for. The survey findings acknowledge the transformative effect good careers work that utilises employers can have
Schools remain, based on the responses given by young people (see figure 1), a key source of information for future possibilities as much as employers. In particular, for those young people who do not have access to personal connection, schools may be major players in raising awareness and broadening aspirations
The report also looks at the desire of young people to want to pursue an apprenticeship
which, on the face of things, suggests that apprenticeships do not entice enough young people to even attempt to apply for them. What is missing though from this response is the contextual data that show that many more young people apply for apprenticeship vacancies than there are vacancies to begin with
so, even with that low-interest base, the current labour market intelligence shows any young person that securing an apprenticeship is much more difficult than gaining a place at a Sixth Form or FE College. This is acknowledged elsewhere in the report
Demand for apprenticeships from young people far outstrips supply. According to data from the National Apprenticeship Service and the governments FE data library, more than 1.6 million online applicants competed for 211,380 vacancies posted online in 2016
Which makes it odd then that, the report does not mirror the recommendations for schools and include recommendations for employers. So here are the ones which I think they should’ve included to achieve more young people transferring into an apprenticeship before 19.
1. Advertise more apprenticeship vacancies
Because of the above
2. Pay them more
Using current apprentices as role models is a wise method of provision. The Young Apprentice Ambassador Network should be in the toolbox of every school Careers Leader. But if you really want the value of good word of mouth to cascade down from those current apprentices, listen to their own feedback and increase the wages offered.
3. Make your hiring process more accessible
Careers Leaders understand that it’s their job to increase the employability of young people and that includes making them able to decode and navigate the application process but please, meet us halfway. Many apprenticeship application processes at larger companies are unnecessarily complex from the initial web search (no, vacancies in Doha are not of interest) to the language used. This was highlighted in a recent article by Paul Johnson, Director of the IFS
This could also include having downloadable pdf’s of your application form on your school leaver or apprenticeship website so that practitioners could print these off and use them in a group session.
4. Stop bemoaning the influence of parents
The report includes references to literature, surveys and feedback
Many parents of our generation were brought up during the old YTS days and perceptions have stuck for example parents calling it slave labour. Parents also question the loss of child benefit and many will prevent their children from doing an apprenticeship based on this factor. I recently had a conversation with a parent of a 17-year-old at our 6th form who is stopping her son because of this
that highlights parents as negative influencers on young people thinking about apprenticeships. But excludes data that suggests that attitudes are changing such as the recent Varkey Foundation global survey of parents
5. Be honest about your skill requirements & consider new hires instead
Many apprenticeships are not new jobs but training schemes for current employees. As the 2015 Ofsted report “Developing skills for future prosperity” noted
Nationally, considerably more 16- to 18-year-olds apply for apprenticeships
than those aged 25 and over, but far fewer become apprentices. Approximately 40% of the 19,000 learners on apprenticeships at the providers visited were aged 25 and over, whereas only 29% were aged 16 to 18. Most of these older apprentices were already employed in jobs that were converted to apprenticeships.
The Taskforce report also fails to acknowledge this, so the starting point assumption that all apprenticeships were open to school leavers to apply to is a false premise.
The Ofsted report also includes typical employer viewpoints such as
the employers interviewed frequently said that they were reluctant to take a young apprentice straight from school. Two factors dominated their rationale for this.
- They believed too many 16-year-old school leavers lacked personal
presentation and communication skills, or gave the impression at interview
that they were immature and unreliable.
- They recognised that employing an apprentice required a significant
investment in time to train them in the generic employability skills and did
not feel they could afford this.
which shows the hurdles that young applicants have to overcome.
This report and the accompanying sector news coverage paint a simplified view of the issues around young people and apprenticeship uptake which contends that, if only awareness was higher; then more young people would secure apprenticeships. The concern for me is that this view will find only too welcoming a home in the minds of policy makers looking for easy blames and quick fixes. As ever, the actual solution of not just improving awareness but also the employability, cultural capital, application and recruitment efficacy of young people and changing the hiring culture and stereotypical views of employers, is a challenge that would require a much more herculean level of investment, time and effort.