Over the years I have been keeping up to date with CEIAG policy and news, a recurring recommendation in Careers reports and speeches has been that Government should establish or encourage a UCAS style portal (let’s call it AAS – Apprenticeship Application Service) through which young people (or anyone I assume) could apply for an Apprenticeship vacancy. It’s promoters believe that this will encourage more young people to apply for and gain apprenticeships and it has resurfaced in the recent Education Select Committee report “The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity”
We recommend that the Government introduces a proper UCAS-style portal for
technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to
further training at higher levels. (Paragraph 89)
It has also been raised by Gerald Kelly & Partners in their report “Not for them: Why aren’t teenagers applying for apprenticeships?” which surveyed young people to find that
While almost two-thirds (63%) say if they could apply for apprenticeships using an UCAS-style format they would
While the Social Mobility Commission under Alan Milburn called for
a UCAS-style body to give young people better information about which apprenticeships are available and what career prospects they could lead to
Vocational and Technical education supporters such as the Edge Foundation also promote
A well designed portal could explain each option in detail and give advice on how and where to apply. The portal would also make signing up for apprenticeships easier and more managed, as this can currently be a lengthy process and students taking GCSEs already have a lot to focus on.
and opinion pieces have called for a “one stop shop” website to be designed.
UCAS is a monopoly service but it does gain buy-in and brand reach beyond education because it offers a consistency of service year on year. The dates of the application cycle are clearly predetermined and the format of a learners application set, no matter whether the learner is applying to the highest tariff Russell Group Universities or a Foundation Degree at the local FE College; the application form is the same. The institutions in receipt of these applications may also add their own requirements post application form submission before making an offer decision (such as an interview or portfolio assessment) but those institutions all still use that initial form and stick to communal deadlines. The application deadline for Oxbridge, Veterinary, Dentistry & Medicine may be sooner than the main application deadline but, within those categories, there is still agreement across all of the institutions offering those courses on a common deadline.
Would a UCAS style portal for Apprenticeships achieve the same goals and how would it be different to the already established “Find An Apprenticeship?”
- Timing and deadlines
Employers can hire apprenticeships throughout the year
so there isn’t much agreement on common deadlines. You can see from the graph that the trends do show an increase in starts at the end and beginning of the academic year as (mostly larger) employers have moved their recruitment cycles to capture school and college leavers and also start the off the job training component of the apprenticeship in line with the academic year yet a common deadline is still nowhere to be seen. Whereas now UCAS applicants are clear on the common deadline and Advisers are able to structure application advice towards that deadline the proposals of any AAS system do not seem to envisage that employers could only advertise apprenticeship vacancies in certain periods of the year so this would mean that individual employer deadlines would still apply. As the 2016 Employer Perspectives Survey (p 113) shows that around 18% of all UK institutions offer apprenticeships so this would still mean a multitude of deadlines to hit and advisers to be aware of.
2. Employer control over applications
Much of the Government rhetoric over the reform of the Apprenticeship system through the introduction of standards and the levy has been built around the theme of placing employers “at the heart” of apprenticeship training. Presumably this also includes allowing employers to determine their own apprenticeship recruitment processes. Currently employers can list their apprenticeship vacancies on the “Find An Apprenticeship” site (plus their own sites or third-party sites such as “Get My First Job“) and support and advice is offered on how to recruit, but the employer remains in charge of the process. Sometimes an employer will choose to use the more generic application questions and form contained within the Find An Apprenticeship site
or require applicants to apply through their own website
This seems to be a flexibility required by employers. The recruitment process an SME will need to source a suitable applicant for a Level 2 vacancy will be very different to the procedure a multinational corporation will undertake on their annual recruitment of a multitude of apprenticeship standards at higher levels. So forcing a common application form onto all employers offering apprenticeships also seems beyond the reach of an AAS.
3. Age of applicants & references
Higher Education applicants of all ages use UCAS to apply but it would fair to say that the majority of HE starters come from applicants who are of a school or college leaving age.
This is not true of those starting apprenticeships
where the majority of current starters from the applicant pool would not be in education to receive support from an Adviser. Of course the very point of the AAS would be to increase the number of younger applicants but that site would have to be one that would accommodate and be user-friendly for applicants of all ages, whether in education or not.
4. Numbers of applicants
All of the reports suggesting a AAS do so in the commendable hope that it would increase the number of young apply for and so starting apprenticeships. With its title, the Gerald Kelly report is particularly flagrant in its acceptance that young people aren’t applying for apprenticeships. This is strange, as I’ve posted about previously, the DfE no longer publishes the data showing apprenticeship applicants by age, only starts. Misappropriating the number of Apprenticeship starts by age as an indicator of the number of applications by age is not acknowledging the historic data we do have which showed that young already apply for apprenticeships in far greater numbers than the number of vacancies posted. For as AAS portal to be truly warranted, the data on applications by age needs to be regularly shared by the DfE.
5. Differences between Find An Apprenticeship
In any of the reports linked, AAS recommendations come seemingly without reference to the Find An Apprenticeship website which already exists or, if they do acknowledge it, they are unclear about what differences the proposed UCAS style Apprenticeships portal would have. Find An Apprenticeship already allows people to search on a common site for all apprenticeships, research opportunities laid out in a standard format and, in some cases, complete an application through the same site. As I have shown, just establishing a new portal with aspirations to be more like UCAS fails to acknowledge or offer solutions to the fundamental differences between the Apprenticeship and Higher Education processes and routes which would leave any new portal looking and performing much the way as the current Find An Apprenticeship already does.
An AAS portal also offers a suggested quick fix which fails to address the central issue. The Gatsby Benchmarks have shown us what works in CEIAG provision. This is time and cost intensive provision as Apprentices themselves acknowledge
and Gatsby evidenced but it is that support that would really enable young people in greater numbers to strive for and successfully secure Apprenticeships.