Month: July 2019

Degree Apprenticeships: The balance of promotion vs opportunity

A often repeated recommendation in lots of reports in the education policy sphere is to improve the Careers advice on offer to young people as authors conclude that this would have beneficial outcomes for the focus of their research. Sometimes these pleas have merit but sometimes they feel to me that the authors are reaching for a scapegoat to direct attention from more relevant failings elsewhere in the system. A recent example of this can be found in this report on degree apprenticeships from Universities UK.

The report reaches a number of sensible conclusions on the worth of degree apprenticeships to the economy and the skills pipeline but also on how to grow and promote the route. The CEIAG related recommendations are that

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Which, on the face of it, is a recommendation (alongside the wider belief of the report that degree apprenticeships are extremely valuable routes) that I’m sure much of the Careers community would agree with. Investment in the system is certainly towards the top of the concerns of Career Leaders who are tasked by law to provide information on the variety of routes open to school leavers. What intrigued me though is the assertion that a “fit for purpose” CEIAG system dedicate equal time to degree apprenticeships considering the current data on opportunity and that this would increase their numbers

The report includes some survey data that highlights the distance to travel with improving the knowledge of students about degree apprenticeships.

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(which includes a mistake in the height of the “I know everything/ a lot” response bar for eligibility requirements) but that still shows roughly a quarter of students believe themselves to be knowledgeable about the route. We also know from other survey sources that over half of students are now receiving information about apprenticeships but some of this isn’t then getting through to parents.

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Which, even at roughly a quarter of students, equals a lot of young people being told about degree apprenticeships. There is a lot more to dig into here around the weighing of positive vs negative messaging that pupils are receiving about apprenticeships. The report includes concerns aired by parents about the route

Parents, in particular, expressed the anxiety, in focus groups, that degree apprenticeships are a cheap form of labour and exploitation of young people. They raised concerns about the quality of the learning provision and the kinds of skills and knowledge that students would gain through these apprenticeships, often  voicing the belief that these would be narrowly and mechanistically focused on the needs of the employer, rather than advantaging the learner.

but, surprisingly to me, no concerns over the numbers of opportunities actually accessible to their children.

18 year old population

In 2017 there were 766,000 18 year olds in the UK with the ONS forcasting numbers to fall until 2020 when the population bump will cause them to rise. As 18 year olds are the youngest cohort to be able to apply for degree apprenticeships, Universities UK are roughly saying that 191,500 students come into the labour market potentially informed about degree apprenticeships as a route.

From a labour market intelligence standpoint this is a huge mismatch between demand and opportunity. Degree apprenticeships (Level 6) are a relatively new route in the labour market

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but a route that is growing in starts year on year. The report says

the number of degree apprenticeship starts has increased, from 1,614 in 2016–17 to 7,114 in the first four months of 2018/19 (IfATE, 2019). The top five degree apprenticeship standards are Chartered Manager, Digital and Technology Solutions Professional, Senior Leader, Chartered Surveyor and Registered Nurse, and the range of degree apprenticeships increased from 11 in 2016–17 to 32 currently.

Those 7,114 degree apprenticeship opportunities is still tiny in number though compared to the number of 18 year olds entering the post Level 3 labour market as shown above. The previous qualification levels of that cohort should not be a barrier to applying for degree apprenticeships as over 275,000 of them are applying for University courses.

Even then the 7,114 number is a false figure as many degree apprenticeships are currently taken by older learners

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and the growth in degree apprenticeships is being driven by firms enrolling older workers onto these schemes.

82 per cent more people aged 25 and over doing higher-level apprenticeships at levels 4 and above, according to FE Week analysis.

Meanwhile, starts at level 2 have plummeted by 51 per cent and starts by 16- to 18-year-olds have dropped by 23 per cent since the year before the apprenticeship reforms were introduced in May 2017.

In that time, starts by those aged 25 and above at levels 4 upwards increased by 69 per cent.

There is, as far as I know, no publicly available data on how many degree apprenticeship starts are new hires from an advertised vacancy. Many, including some highlighted in the Universities UK report are not new jobs but training opportunities for already hired employees.

On one nursing degree apprenticeship programme, delivered in a collaboration between the University of Sunderland and four NHS trusts, all 64 of the degree apprentices are currently healthcare assistants working within the trusts

Other examples include

This even further reduces the number of available opportunities actually open for young school leavers to apply to. The Universities UK report is silent on how the expansion in careers learning dedicated to degree apprenticeships should tackle the issue of those opportunities being the third, fourth or even fifth steps in a school leavers progression.

There is a balance to be found in raising awareness and promotion of a route with the labour market intelligence of that route actually being obtainable to your audience. Even when opportunity is scarce, LMI does not have to be a negative influencer but a motivator to inspire clients on the steps to take but at some point those wishing to promote degree apprenticeships are going to have to acknowledge that a) overly positive framing can result in negative perceptions as many young people will this exciting route far too difficult to obtain and b) there are other routes in that market that appeal to clients and so deserve the focus of careers learning exactly because of their widespread opportunity.

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Compass Plus

Coming soon to your school computer that takes a solid 30 minutes to boot up in the morning is a new website service from the Careers & Enterprise Company called Compass Plus.

A revamp and an expansion of their Compass self evaluation tool and Tracker provision recording tool, this new method of planning, recording and evaluating your Careers provision has the potential to have a number of benefits throughout the system. Currently being presented around the country after a period of development and testing, the tool will help (initially only school based) Careers Leaders.

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For ease of understanding, imagine that the CEC had taken that spreadsheet with your activities throughout the year mapped against the Benchmarks, reached into your drawer and added the student registers you scribbled down at those activities and also pinched your other Excel sheet with your employer contact details and the stack of slowly returning student destination forms on your desk and put all of that into an online tool that you could share with colleagues – that’s Compass Plus.

The improvements this could offer a Careers Leader are clear. Rather than completing cumbersome spreadsheets, your activities can be uploaded against the Benchmarks immediately updating your Compass completion scores both for planned and completed activities. The ability to integrate with your school’s MIS so that activities are added at a pupil level is potentially a huge positive for the both Leaders and Careers Advisers working in schools.

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As the CEIAG record of an individual student will be there for a Personal Guidance session to build upon or for a Leader to then tailor registers for future events so that all learners have access to CEIAG.

Your employer engagement could also benefit from the ability to store your employer contact details so that all of your colleagues access them for their own activities plus, the soon to come Tracker Enterprise which will allow Enterprise Co-ordinators to also add provider and employer details who can then connect with your activities and opportunities for engagement.

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The CEC is managing the on-boarding process quite tightly

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which is an effort to manage the demand pipeline so that the technology copes with the growth in usage. The potential for Plus to work with other systems such as Unifrog or Start Profile is also exciting.

For the CEC, the rollout of this type of system is logical as it will also offer benefits to their data collection. Currently, Compass evaluations are based on Leaders judgement without the link to activity to evidence those claims. The structure of Compass Plus, (a school’s Gatsby Benchmark compliance rating being automatically generated from actual provision and activities recorded at student level) provides a much stronger evidence base on which a school will self evaluate and then how the CEC collates that data across LEP, region and national pictures for publications such as their annual State of the Nation report. This tool should make it clear to Enterprise Advisers and Co-ordinators (and perhaps in time even Ofsted) that 39 weekly Careers lunchtime drop in sessions that the same 4 students attend isn’t a Careers programme that meets the standard required. With this in mind, I could envisage, even expect, that some schools who had previously scored highly against the Benchmarks, even those achieving full compliance, would see lower Benchmark scores when using the Compass Plus tool.

As a Careers Leader working in FE, much of the Compass Plus tool struck me as processes that already happens in FE. Student level activity recording will already happen in most FE Colleges not only for Careers activities but also other enrichment provision. Those with helpful data teams will have their own versions of the reporting ability that Compass Plus offers to show how many students have attended a Personal Guidance interview or been present at X number of employer encounters. When ever the FE version is developed and tested, the CEC might find that Colleges are much more reluctant to give up systems they have designed to achieve similar aims.

There is a FAQ on the CEC site

https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/compass-plus-faqs

and I would encourage all secondary school Careers Leaders to set up their on-boarding as soon as possible.

https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/schools-colleges/compass-plus