Employer perspectives survey

The apprenticeship PR still doesn’t match the vacancy numbers reality

Every summer, the news cycle shines its brief gaze on the exam results of our nation’s youth and those you wish to promote their specific routes for young people attempt to gain PR traction usually by doing down the other pathways on offer. This summer I found it noticeable the extent articles and headlines blamed poor careers advice specifically in relation for a perceived lack of interest or knowledge in young people about apprenticeships.

A number of articles highlighted the results of an online survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) that reported that 8% of 15-18 year olds were being advised to pursue the apprenticeship route and that 28% had never been spoken to by their school or college about apprenticeships. This was picked up by specialist sites such as FE News and mainstream press such as The Mirror. The quoted response from Alex Meikle, the Director of the ECA, was that “too many young people are effectively being led up the garden path by careers advice in schools, which is significantly out of step with the needs of industry and future employers.”

Elsewhere, Labour MP Frank Field was writing in the TES that A Level students had “been sold a pup” by schools and advisers due to the increasing rates of apprentice pay progression and employment opportunities compared to the weakening graduate labour market. The Managing Director of the NOCN, Graham Hastings-Evans, was also in the TES, claiming that it was “not too late” for students let down by poor careers advice to still apply for vocational and apprenticeship routes. And finally, the new Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, took the opportunity in The Telegraph to promote the route and the Government’s work on the Skills Plan.

All of this attention is welcome for promoting the full variety of routes on offer to young people but, in their haste to do down careers advice as the reason that large numbers of young people are still following traditional paths the writers are conveniently forgetting a number of facts.

  1.  Large numbers of secondary school pupils would consider taking vocational routes post 16

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2. Significant proportions of young people who want to pursue vocational pathways are battling unsupportive parents (same source)

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3. For Level 3 students, the choice of Higher Apprenticeships is miniscule

apprenticeship vacancies by level

Using the above data from the GOV.UK FE Data Library we can see that there have only been 3908 Higher Apprenticeship vacancies advertises in the whole 17/18 year to date, 3810 in 15/16 and 2870 in 14/15. So Apprenticeship provision at this level is growing but compare this to the numbers of students transitioning from Level 3 into traditional Higher Education routes. For the 2017 application cycle, just from England the total of 18 & 19 year olds applying for Higher Education was 319,100.

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The number of actual live Higher Apprenticeship vacancies in June 2017 when these young people were finishing their education courses or gap years and becoming available to the labour market? 590.

apprenticeship vacancies in june

To suggest that young people should take the apprenticeship route to protect against the waning wage benefit of graduate salaries is blindly ignoring the biggest hurdle facing those young people. There are nowhere near enough apprenticeship opportunities at that level for them to pursue.

4. Young people are registering on “Find an Apprenticeship” and applying for Apprenticeships in far greater numbers than the vacancies available

16-18 year olds are by the far the largest age group to register to be able to apply for Apprenticeship vacancies. 254,250 have registered in the year to date so far well on the way to the 280,200 who signed up in 15/16.

apprenticeship registrations by age1

This age group has, so far this year, gone on to make 939,630 applications.

apprenticeship registrations by age

5. We know that Apprenticeship employers favour hiring older applicants.

In 2015 Ofsted found that, “Under 19s made 56% of applications but only 27% of starts; 25+ made 7% of applications but 37% of starts” and that employers were reluctant to take on younger apprenticeship applicants as:

  • 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.

To recap, over a quarter of a millon 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies. 

Let’s go back to those survey figures from the ECA, using the 2016 Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics national tables data we can see that there were 1,549,000 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. 8% of this figure is 123,920 pupils that self reported that they were being advised to attempt to secure an apprenticeship. The total number of apprenticeships advertised so far this year is 169,298, so, in reality, the pipeline of young people being advised to take this route is proportionate to the number of vacancies on offer.

All of this shows there is already far greater interest in apprenticeships from that age group than there is base line opportunities. The Director of the ECA, and others, need to acknowledge that the challenge for apprenticeship recruitment for young people is not a lack of awareness or knowledge of the route but

  1. A lack of support with the whole application process from on line form to interview
  2. A lack of work experience building opportunities
  3. A lack of social capital to source opportunities

And that is the work that takes time, qualified staff and funded resources all of which are much more difficult to understand, lobby for or support than just taking the easy option of bashing careers advice for not giving out information.

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The logical failure of the 2017 CBI Education & Skills Survey

Like any membership lobbying organisation, the CBI support their members to make them look as good as possible and promote the greater value of and worth of business to society. They have their work cut out, surveys show that the general public is distrustful with less than half believing British businesses act ethically, so their annual survey of business leaders (The CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey) is a chance to shift the focus elsewhere.

The 2017 iteration is drawn from an online questionnaire completed by 344 employers. (It is worth comparing at the outset this methodology against other recent employer surveys such as the recent DfE Employer perspective survey (which I blogged on here) which was drawn from telephone interviews with over 18,000 establishments across the labour market including non-profit organisations but more on that later).

The scale of employer engagement in education is an important topic with the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) tasked with expanding this work to improve CEIAG provision and so prove the research evidence of the benefits to be gained for students. Future qualification and pathway policy is also heavily geared towards gaining employer buy in and engagement. This means that establishing a base point of employer engagement is vital in judging progress and knowing where to target resources. The CEC has already made progress in this area with their Cold Spots research. Using a range of data points and sources, this shows that outcomes for young people (much like HE progression and academic achievement rates) varies greatly across the different regions of the UK.

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One of the data points used to model the amount of employer engagement is the UKCES Employer Perspectives Survey 2014. This is the preceding biannual release of the DfE Employer Perspective Survey mentioned above before the closure of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in March 2017 which the DfE then took over.

That the CEC is using this data on employer engagement and not information published by the CBI is the first hint that the two sources on employer engagement tell very different tales.

The CBI survey offers useful views on the value business leaders places on their required skills from school leavers

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plus their satisfaction on school leaver skill levels

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and a plea for more young people to be speakers of foreign languages (page 34). The Employer Perspectives survey meanwhile does not break down employer satisfaction with school leavers into skill areas but by age of recruits (fig 3.7) so comparisons are difficult but, at all ages, it found employers were more satisfied than dissatisfied with the skill levels of their young recruits.

The survey begins to raise eyebrows though with the claims of employer engagement with education including the number of firms that offer work experience. Let’s remind ourselves what the 2017 Employer Perspectives Survey reported,

  • That 65% of employers thought that relevant work experience is a critical or significant factor when taking on a recruit but only 38% of employers had offered a work experience opportunity in the past 12 months
  • There is a huge variation between the sectors that offer work experience (fig 3.9)
  • Only 10% of employers offered work inspiration activities to students

This differs drastically to the findings of the CBI Survey that 81% of employers had some links with education

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and that these links were “extensive in all parts of the UK.” Not only is this claim widely divergent with the finding from a methodologically more detailed and comprehensive survey, it also undermines the very basis on which the CEC has prioritised its work across the country. Regarding employer links with education, the CBI says there are no cold spots.

The differences continue in the value of work experience with only 23% of businesses reporting that relevant work experience is an “important” factor when recruiting a young person (fig 2.1 pictured above) which is well below the 65% of employers reporting similar in the Employer Perspectives Survey. There is also a lack of consistency of expectations in the CBI results with employers also stating that 54% were not satisfied with school leavers relevant work experience (fig 2.3 pictured above). Why would employers be unsatisfied with something they’ve also deemed not important to recruitment?

The data on the types of provision employers offer through their links with schools is couched in a presentational sleight of hand as the percentages are offered as percentages of those business who have education links, not a percentage of the total businesses. Thus

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So the CBI is not claiming that 81% of employers provide careers advice talks but that 81% of the 81% with links to education provide careers advice talks. Because we have the total numbers of employers the CBI received responses from (344) we can work this back – 81% of 344 = 279, 81% of 279 = 225, 225 divided by 344 = the CBI is actually reporting that 65% of employers offer careers advice talks. The Employer Perspectives Survey concluded that just 10% of employers offer careers inspirations activities including careers talks.

The differences between the two surveys continue when discussing work experience. The CBI concludes (using the same method above) that around 63% of employers offer work experience placements. The Employer Perspectives Survey reported 38% of employers offered placements and that differences between industries can be stark.

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The CBI survey also includes business views on both the work of the CEC and the current state of CEIAG provision. They find that the CEC still has plenty of scope to increase their connections with business as only 7% of respondents were engaged with the Company.

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That 79% businesses were unaware of the work of the CEC is not surprising when you also consider that only 28% of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system.

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The CBI though are wholly positive about the need and remit of the CEC

The CBI fully supports their work which has a focus on practical, enabling solutions.

and

Underpinned by sufficient resources, the CEC should play a major role in England in
supporting schools and businesses to develop productive relationships to the benefit of young people.

but the views of the businesses surveyed are extremely negative about the quality of CEIAG provision

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84% of businesses reporting that Careers advice is not good enough is an overwhelming verdict but also similar percentage to the four previous survey results show in 3.16. The CBI goes strong on its verdict on current Careers provision

These are seriously troubling results. They highlight the urgent need for radical improvement.

This all adds up to a muddled picture offered by the CBI.

They and the employers they surveyed are claiming that 81% of business have links with schools across the country, 65% offer careers advice talks and 63% offer work experience placements. This equates to a large-scale engagement with education yet, it is these same employers from whom 79% had not heard of the work of the CEC. It is from these same employers that less than a third were aware of the introduction of whole new GCSEs and grading systems. The same employers who are engaged with education to offer huge amounts of careers provision but 84% of them also reported unsatisfaction with the Careers advice offered. The solution offered by the CBI to change these views? More engagement with education through the CEC.

Establishing hard quantitative data on employer engagement is not easy as previous studies have shown. Using only limited survey data though can mean results with the failures of logic shown above. The CBI cannot continue to claim that the majority of employers are playing their part in provision only to then be overwhelmingly critical of the scale, quality and outcomes of that provision.

The outcome measures of the CEC

Now two years since it gained a Chief Executive and began to hire its network of staff, the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) released its 2nd Annual Round-up earlier this month. The report updates on the Company’s progress in expanding its networks of employer engagement and building it’s research base.

As with previous communications, the Round-up is a polished document full of the praises and progress the Company has made since it’s inception. I’ve posted previously on the difficulty on pinning the Company down on the exact numbers of Enterprise Advisers they have hired but this document does update an exact number.

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While, on the previous page, the less precise term is used for the number of schools enrolled in the scheme.

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If “more than” 1700 schools are signed up to the scheme does that mean that some schools are waiting for Enterprise Advisers to be matched with?

With the most recent DfE release showing that there are 3401 Secondary Schools and the AoC Key Facts showing 359 Further Education Colleges in England that means around 45% have now been paired with an Enterprise Adviser.

The Round Up continues to outline the progress and plans across four areas:

  1. Building local networks (Enterprise Advisers)
  2. Finding out what works (research)
  3. Backing proven ideas (investment funds)
  4. Providing online CEIAG resources (the Compass rating tool and the forthcoming Enterprise Passport)

Which are all full of detail on the admirable ambitions of the CEC. Much providence is given to the underlying research backing for this type of work provided by the studies from the Education & Employers Taskforce and the Gatsby Standards.

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This reliance on the evidence base is to be welcomed and the Taskforce is clear that quantity of engagements is vital to improved outcomes for young people.

  • Quantity matters: greater volume of school-mediated employer engagement is associated with better economic outcomes, demonstrating relationships between the number of school-mediated teenage engagements with employers recalled by young adults and significantly reduced incidence of being NEET.

What isn’t mentioned in the Round Up though is any judgement on the quality of those interactions which their networks have enabled. The Taskforce is also clear that this is a factor in the value of the outcomes achieved by young people

  • Quality matters: more highly regarded employer engagement is associated with better economic outcomes. Analysis presented here shows a consistent relationship between higher regard for school-mediated provision and adult economic outcomes.  It suggests that the instincts of young adults were right: that the schools had prepared them better than comparator peers. Wage premiums in excess of 20% are found linked to higher volumes of employer engagement activities described, in general terms, as having been helpful.

More provision matters but more provision students remember as being helpful really matters. Which shows that, as any practitioner who has run an event with a before & after student view questionnaire will know, evaluation of provision is a vital step in ongoing quality control. While this is something individual providers and organisations will (should) be doing to monitor their own impacts, it is not mentioned that the CEC is collating or monitoring this feedback.

This lack of information on the quality of provision is a hint at the lack of wider absence from the Round-up of outcomes for students, whether gleaned from qualitative or quantitative data.

In the announcement of its formation, the DfE said that the new Company would fulfill a number of remits including

  • provide feedback to government on how well young people are being prepared for work

This was expanded on by the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who at an Education Select Committee appearance on the 9th September 2015, said the Company would be judged by “asking young people at the end of this academic and going forward, where they aware of all the options, when did they receive advice, who came into their school to tell them about all the options” and by asking employers “are young people more work ready, more aware of the options that are out there” and listening to employer feedback. In an answer to Ian Mearns MP, she then said that “more emphasis on destination data, tracking where pupils go” would be a key indicator. When asked if she would return to the Committee with evidence of progress from the CEC Morgan promised to return within the Parliament. Of course since September 2015 a lot of water has passed under the political bridge including Cabinet reshuffles, Brexit and a fluffed General Election. With, at the time of writing, a new Education Select Committee chair and membership waiting to be elected, one of the items in a hugely packed education sphere competing for attention from the Committee should be to ask for this promise to be followed up by Morgan’s successor.

There have also been questions in the House to the DfE Ministerial team about the progress of the CEC in meeting its remit. Firstly on 25th January 2016, Sam Gyimah fielded questions with the claim of “significant progress” as evidenced by the hiring of enterprise advisers, the launch of a fund and the forthcoming (then and still now) enterprise passport. There was also the promise of a Careers Strategy in the (for what it’s worth, ahem, still waiting) Spring to further assist schools in their work with the CEC. Again none of this includes monitoring or evaluating the outcomes of any of this work.

On 7th March 2016, Gyimah again took questions on the CEC and again claimed “excellent progress in opening up schools to the world of work.” As well as taking a swipe at Careers Advice, Gyimah promoted the CEC Mentoring scheme and that “every school will have an “Enterprise Adviser.” The session passed with no information on measuring outcomes for students.

The CEC has also appeared in front of MPs during a session of the Sub-Committee on Education Skills and the Economy on the 26th March 2016. With Sam Gyimah unable to attend because of illness, Claudia Harris (alongside Ofsted and the National Careers Service) took questions from a bunch of fairly unprepared MPs who had not heard of the CEC’s work on cold spots or on Government’s own research on employer engagement. The MP’s mainly focused on the “umbrella” work of the CEC to raise engagement provision in areas where this was not happening, on understanding the structural layout of the CEC and the National Careers Service and testing the potential overlaps between the two. Harris was asked about the quality assessment of the work of Enterprise Advisers and promised that schools and colleges will be surveyed on their views of the work of their Advisers. The most important question on the outcomes for students comes at 16.52 in the link above. Harris says the CEC will be measuring 3 outcomes:

  1. Penetration – the numbers of pupils and schools involved
  2. Satisfaction – asking schools if this provision is helping
  3. Impact – working from a baseline in every school, the CEC will monitor how provision has increased

Then Catherine McKinnell MP asks a vital follow-up question “Is there not a risk that there will be a focus on quantity rather than quality,” to which Harris offers

  1. A literature review conducted by the CEC looking at the effectiveness of mentoring as an employer engagement activity so directing funding what works
  2. A series of “deep dive” focus groups where representatives from the CEC will speak to students on their views of engagement provision they have attended and what help it offered them

The absence of two of the outcomes mentioned by Morgan in her session is noticeable. The omission of feedback from employers and student destination statistics is perhaps wise as these are outcome measures not wholly in the control of the CEC and those with conflicting data points with no clear definition from Government on what would be measured. Would a reduction in the of 16-19 NEETS be a plus mark for the CEC or a rise in employer satisfaction of school leaver skills be evidence of the impact of provision? And from which survey source would this be, those conducted by Government or those conducted by business? Or would the only satisfactory judgement be made by the sort of longitudinal research conducted by the Education & Employers Taskforce? This lack of clarity of definable targets continued in a further Committee session (27th April 2016) with the witnesses Nick Boles MP and Sam Gyimah MP where the conversation on quality monitoring of the CEC is sidetracked onto the Dfe Statutory Guidance.

Having to scour Select Committee archives for definitions of the student focused outcome measures of the CEC is indicative of the lack of clarity from the DfE around this issue. If we take Morgan’s comments (as the initalising Secretary of State) as gospel then achieving the tasks set of assuaging the concerns of business and reshaping destination statstics will be no mean feat for the CEC to achieve. Only today the CBI released it’s 2017 Annual Skills Survey. The results include businesses views on the workplace skills of school leavers

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with much to be improved upon and contained the fact that only 21% of businesses “are currently aware” of the activities of the CEC. The fear must be that this is a taskmaster who will never be satisfied.

The ultimate quality of the enabling and linking work the CEC delivers will be decided by those volunteers, staff and practitioners on the ground organising and running the face to face provision with young people. Through its short operating period so far, the CEC has focused on the growth of its structure and operations as evidence of its progress. Soon this attention should change though onto the impact of provision and student outcomes to evaluate that public investment committed to the Company.

 

Employer Perspectives Survey 2016

Preparing young people for the world of work is a task that cannot be attempted without the world of work on board. By offering advice and guidance or by actually getting their hands dirty and offering provision for schools and young people to engage with, employers have a vital role to play. Which is why large-scale surveys on employer engagement with young people, their views on the skills capabilities of young people as potential employees and their participation in (supposedly) youth employment routes such as apprenticeships can offer valuable insights.

I’ve posted before to show that surveys of this kind can throw up a wide range of results and that the strategic goals of the organisation behind the survey should always be born in mind. Plenty of previous surveys with smaller survey cohorts have been critical of the level of skills held by school leavers entering the workplace while the survey that, traditionally, has shown results much more positive regarding skills levels has been the UKCES biennial Employer Perspectives survey. After the closure of UKCES, the responsibility of running this survey has transferred to the DfE with support from BEiS and DwP and the 2016 results were published this week. As ever, it’s fascinating in its picture of the UK skills map and how CEIAG is working within that. It’s also worth noting that the scale of the survey is impressive with over 18,000 employers across the UK interviewed.

Firstly, employers are still mainly pleased with the prepardness of young people for work but that, percentage rates have fallen slightly since 2014 but these figures are still much higher than the usual doom and gloom of other reports. It is also the case that, in the eyes of employers, older education leavers are still more preparded for the challenges of the workplace.

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It is in other sections of the report that there are some startling headline figures (page 13):

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The gap between employers expectation for young people to have work experience on their CV and those actually offering work experience placements is still huge. It’s also clear that the parts of the labour market most closely working with young people are those offering the most placements. As anybody who has run a work experience scheme in a school knows, placements are schools are easy to come by and colleagues will do their utmost to help while placements in more sort after industries are gold dust.

skills report4

For all of their initiatives such as Open Doors, the amount of placements offered by the Construction industry is woefully short of what is needed.

This picture of weak engagement is also apparent in the number of employers involved in work inspiration activities other than placements with, again, Construction a particularly poor performing area.

skills report5

It’s clear that getting involved with such provision is proving more difficult for smaller firms and reasons why employers do not offer placements was collected

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Being aware of these and the more positive reasons for offering placements (doing our bit, Corporate Social Responsibility policy, a recruitment strategy – page 70) and tailoring your approaches to employers when requesting placements should be a strategy for all schools and colleges.

Overall these figures are in stark contrast to the far more positive picture of employer engagement painted by employer bodies such as the CBI. Their assertion that “over 80% of employers work with schools”  is, frankly, risible in comparison and shows the task ahead of the Careers & Enterprise company when scaling up their engagement initiatives.

Elsewhere in the Survey findings are other nuggets of interest. At the time of writing, Apprenticeship policy in the UK is in a state of flux as the official position is still to create 3 million apprenticeships over the course of the parliament but the ongoing changes to Levy and Standards policy are causing fluctuations in the numbers of vacancies being advertised.

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The (slow) rise in the number of employers taking on apprentices is encouraging but this growth needs to accelerate if this route is to become a realistic competitor to Higher Education for young people. The future plans of employers (page 155), if enacted, would correlate to a rise of 21% of employers offering apprenticeships within the next 12 months but the Conclusions section states (from page 159) that a much greater engagement from employers with apprenticeships is needed to meet current targets.

Allied to this point is the data regarding the recruitment methods used by firms when hiring young people. The results are clear on the importance and of social capital and networks and the advantages gained by young people entering the job market with these benefits. Alongside more formal methods of applying for work, contacts can still be key and this evidence fits with published research in this area.

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It shows that, despite the scale of the task ahead of them, the work of the CEC is vital and needed. In Conclusion the Survey states (page 160)

Developing forms of work experience and work inspiration that genuinely respond to employers’ needs to develop and access experienced new recruits continues to offer potential as a step in improving individuals’ entry to the labour market

and it is the solution to this issue that the CEC must find.