labour market

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

universities report 3

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.

universities report 4

(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

apprenticeship starts1

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.

Preparing young people for modern self employment

A definite change in the labour market has occurred since the 2008 economic crisis.

A large number of the full-time jobs lost since then have been replaced with, mainly, a new army of self-employed workers. In fact, a recent Self-Employment review for the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills written by the successful entrepreneur Julie Dean, put the total number of self-employed workers at 4.6 million, up 800,000 since 2008.

self employed pic1

This is clearly a trend in the labour market and one that should have implications for careers learning in schools.

Introducing the gig economy

What constitutes self employment though is changing. With Ebay having been established in the UK since 1999, the idea of using the internet to sell merchandise to supplement or even become a main source of income is not new. What is new in this burst of self employment is the use of online platforms to ultilise property or possessions and workers own time and skills. The rise in popularity for platforms such as UberAirBnB and Taskrabbit, not just for micro-entrepreneurs but also for consumers, is making waves beyond the LMI statistics. The disruption to established regulation structures threaten the status quo while, despite the positive image of the democratising and sharing benefits of such technology, it is becoming clear that it is those with the established capital that are able to make the most of these new arenas. All of this is making such an impact that the ONS is running to keep up by recalibrating how it measures how the nation is consuming goods and services because of it.

Wages and aspiration 

Another consequence of this new way of working is the impact on take home wages. Much of entrepreneurship education dangles the carrot of high success and the financial rewards that can follow from self employment to students but the reality of the labour market challenges those hopes.

self employed pic2

In fact, with the introduction of the National Living Wage, it is predicted that salaried workers at the lower end of the income spectrum will pull away from their self employed contemporaries.

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Indeed, rather than be a sector of the work force that is seen as aspirational, self employment is fast becoming a tainted ‘brand’ of insecure and exploited workers on low incomes as the fears grow that firms will look for ways to sidestep NLW requirements. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why young people are still resistant to the call to consider self employment as a viable route for themselves, instead preferring to aim for the security of a wage and steady employment. With young people’s debt burdens rising, this isn’t surprising and makes the task of persuading young people to consider self employment all the more difficult.

Tools schools use

Qualifications: GCSE Business studies is a staple offer of many schools Key Stage 4 curriculum with entries in 2015 up to over 96,000 students. The forthcoming revised GCSE specifications will increase their focus on e-commerce.

Programs: Bodies such as Young Enterprise offer a range of activities that can last across a term or a shorter period.

Their spin-off, Tenner Challenge, is an example of a shorter program. Tycoons in schools is a national competition spearheaded by Peter Jones CBE.

More individualised enterprise sessions can be organised through Future First and Inspiring the Future by having a clear brief for the event and tailoring the guests invited.

These, and many other resources, were included in Lord Young’s 2014 report “Enterprise for All.” The central pillar of that report, that students should complete an “Enterprise Passport” during their school years recording their employability and enterprise skill gains, is an idea that the Careers & Enterprise Company have been tasked with implementing and is likely to part of the forthcoming revised Government Careers in schools guidance.

This ‘passport’ will have to combat this negative trends in self employment in the Labour Market for students to aspire to arrive at positive destinations through entrepreneurship.

The narrative around schools and apprenticeships needs to change

In an Ofsted report about Apprenticeships that pulls no punches in appropriating blame across stakeholders, careers advice in schools has taken (yet another) admonishing for not “promoting” apprenticeships.

There are still far too few 16- to 18-year-olds starting an apprenticeship. Recruitment onto apprenticeships for young people in this age range has remained static for more than a decade. Interviews with apprentices and evidence from secondary school inspections in 2014/15 showed that schools’ poor promotion of apprenticeships is depriving pupils and their parents of information about the full range of options available through the apprenticeship route. Secondary schools are still not doing enough to promote apprenticeships to young people. Inspectors found that careers advice and guidance were not sufficiently detailed and too few pupils experienced high-quality work experience as part of their compulsory education.

So far, so heard it all before. The accepted narrative goes that apprenticeships are a well-kept secret, a route that thousands of young people would happily opt for if only they knew about them and it’s mean-spirited schools that are keeping a lid on all this goodness so that school leavers stay in their sixth forms and kept the funding dollars rolling in.

So, if that were the whole story, it would mean…

Apprenticeships are all great

The main focus of the report looks at the quality of apprenticeships and tries to offer balance by being clear on the benefits of good apprenticeships and how much young people value them

 The most successful apprenticeships seen were for young people aged 16 to 24, especially in motor vehicle, engineering and construction – sectors that have historically relied on apprenticeships for their future skilled workforce. Younger apprentices working in these sectors told inspectors that their apprenticeships were enabling them to forge a new career, with increasingly challenging tasks as their apprenticeship progressed.

but also draws attention to the large numbers of poor quality ones as well

The quality of the apprenticeship provision reviewed during this survey was too variable and often poor. Some apprenticeships were of a high quality and provided young people with good training that enabled them to develop new skills and knowledge in specialist vocational areas. However, too much provision was weak and failed to provide sufficient training to develop substantial new skills

Ofsted found that in a third of the 45 providers they visited, apprenticeships were not of a sufficient quality. Four of the 8 independent training providers and four of the 10 colleges they visited provided too little training for learners. In 7 of the weaker providers, inspectors found apprenticeships that fell below national funding requirements.

No 16-18 year olds bother applying for them

Nope. Mentioned in the report itself is the fact that

Nationally, considerably more 16- to 18-year-olds apply for apprenticeships than those aged 25 and over, but far fewer become apprentices.

as

Under 19s made 56% of applications but only 27% of starts; 25+ made 7% of applications but 37% of starts (in 2014)

the reasons given for this disparity in the numbers actually taken on by employers is that

When asked why they did not recruit more 16- to 24-year-old apprentices, nearly a quarter of employers who responded said that young people did not have the basic skills, attitudes and behaviours required for work. Additionally, 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.

and that employers were too keen on taking Government funding to accredit existing training schemes for the over 25s.

The ones that are informed enough to apply must have the pick of the quality roles then

Nope

The number of both registrations and applications from the under 19 age group has always vastly outnumbered the vacancies on offer and (in 13/14) just 2% of apprenticeship starts were at the Higher level (page 7).

The story needs to move on

The simple narrative that the problems that beset 16-19 Apprenticeships are a “demand” problem are wide of the mark. From the data above and this report we could conclude that the two intertwining factors that are now putting the brakes on what should be a fantastic pathway are:

  1. Too many of the applicants (and their applications) are not up to the standard employers demand
  2. The entrenched views that employers have on youngsters work readiness means they are unwilling to consider committing the time and effort into possible candidates from that age group

This perceived (and in many cases actual) lack of employability skills of students is an issue careers education (including employer input) should be stepping up to the mark to solve. Elsewhere in the report Ofsted cites UKCES survey findings that only 18% of UK businesses were involved in any work inspiration activities (p134) (while only 16% offer any sort of apprenticeships (p 149). Other research into school & business interaction has found a range of figures. The issues around CEIAG over the past few years have been detailed in-depth across the sector not least on this blog. The small numbers of 16-19 year olds successfully applying for apprenticeships is the outcome of both of these scenarios.

In the meantime, what am I promoting to young people?

Currently, a route that is highly competitive, that offers a slim chance of successfully achieving their goal and, in too many cases, a goal that isn’t even what it says on the tin.

In short, until the quality and quantity of apprenticeships realistically available to the 16-19 age group increases and the level of CEIAG provision also improves in quality, there are going to be many times when conversations in schools about apprenticeships are in danger of doing a good impression of this:

A Journey into LMI lesson plans

Being sent out to schools at the moment are the lesson plans below. “A Journey into LMI” are lesson plans from the National Careers Service and are part of the Service’s remit to engage with younger learners. Back in October 2014 Nick Boles announced that all National Careers Service contracts were being amended to include a 5% spend on young people. Whether through online resources meant to engage directly young people or through resources for teachers and advisers to use, these are some of the results of that funding.

As part of a wider drive to improve the awareness of labour market intelligence, the site also has an LMI area map and each LEP area should be sending out an LMI newsletter. The sign up for the update for my own area (SEMLEP) is here.

My local contract holder has also trailed the possibility of some actual activities happening but, by the time the representative came to talk to school careers advisers in my town, we were told the funding pot for these activities had already been exhausted.

Humans need not apply by @cgpgrey

Simply found this video too fascinating not to post it. “Humans need not apply” is a 15 minute insight into a labour market that might seem futuristic but is all too close to our doorstep. A labour market overwhelmed by automation and the bots that perform these tasks. Bots who have become so rapid in their rate of learning and adaptation, so complex in their ability to out perform humans in such a diverse range of tasks at such cost-effective rates that it’s probable that huge swathes of the labour market will succumb to their usage. Equally frightening and intriguing, the near future depicted in this video demands huge answers from economic and business leaders and the education system preparing those competing human workers of tomorrow.

Should careers advisers tell young people “the truth?”

The obvious answer is “yes, always” right?

Without hesitation and by compulsion we should adhere stoically to the truth when offering guidance to clients. Perhaps delivered with compassion and understanding but ultimately the truth should always be aired. Whether we are utilising statistics and figures to illuminate the benefits or downsides of certain routes and destinations or to explain the expert guesses at the future labour market landscape awaiting our clients, the onus is on the professional capability of the adviser to be prepared and competent enough to have a range of sources on which to draw from that reflect the “truth.” The importance of this skill is considered such a key element of the role it is given it’s own Unit in the Level 6 Career Guidance Diploma.

Sometimes, the actual reality of what statistics show is happening can be lost in our own personal experiences or subjective views as Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, discovered when confronting a room full of careers advisers convinced that the introduction of University fees was discouraging students from lower-income backgrounds to apply to H.E despite no current data to support this. Perhaps those advisers had personal, anecdotal stories which had blinded them to the wider world view or perhaps the data had just failed to get through the avalanche of numbers, figures and headlines that advisers try to keep up to date with about future labour market trends. The media (and those PR folk whose sole job it is to shout purely about their corner of the education world) don’t make this part of the job easy as the recent spate of headlines proclaimed that apprentices were now earning more than graduates shows.

Graduates are more likely to find themselves in low-paid jobs and are earning less than people who decide to do an apprenticeship instead of going to University, figures from the Office for National Statistics show

Which is all striking enough to get a Careers Adviser to take notice and feed into their messages of guidance. But was it the whole truth? A graph of recent ONS data shines a very different light on those claims.

Which clearly shows that, on average, graduates still outperform all other qualification routes on earnings. Some apprentices may be earning more than some graduates but HE leavers “on average” are still earning more over the course of their working life. When speaking to a confused 15-year-old about comparing the benefits of their possible future routes, which source would you use? Which one is closer to the “truth?”

Questions around subjectivity can significantly impact and influence the message conveyed by individual guidance givers. Despite our own professional best intentions, our own media intake, reading and decisions will drastically alter the range of data and the perception of that data we use with clients even before we interweave the personal stories and experiences of both ourselves and our client into the mix. The impact of influences on the truth we convey and omit can be drastic.

Let’s invent a client, a 15-year-old female student called Laura, studying at a regular English secondary school. Let’s imagine she’s bright and able to do well in her subjects with hard work. She’ll need to be, Laura is from a home eligible for Free School Meals so is 26.5% less likely to achieve A*-Cs in her Maths and English GCSEs than her classmates who do not receive FSM. If the school Laura attended was in Grimsby or Bradford, this hard work would be needed to insulate her from becoming the quarter of her age group who will become NEET upon leaving school. Let’s say Laura is on course to negotiate these initial hurdles and has expressed an interest in studying at the local Sixth Form College, which has navigated the pressures on their funding to still offer the STEM courses Laura is interested in. The closer she gets to her GCSE exams, it becomes clear that Laura may be on target for some excellent results which, considering her Afro-Caribbean heritage, means she would be outperforming her peers who remain the lowest performing ethnic group in British schools (para 1.3) . Teachers start talking to her about the differences in University options and light a fire in her to investigate the exclusive world of the Russell Group. Her fears about the average £44,000 of debt her studies will leave her paying into her 50s are allayed (much to Nick Hillman’s cheer) with the tantalising promise of  bursaries to help her despite that just a third of students receive £1400 a year. Achieve the outstanding grades required and you’ll have a great chance, she is told, despite the truth that her heritage and her state school education make it much less likely she would receive an offer compared to other students with the same grades.

Let us say Laura battles through to graduate with a valued STEM career to take one of the 13% of STEM roles currently held by women then to find that her pay is well below her male colleagues

and could be even more greatly affected by her decision to stay near her family home in the north of England.

If Laura was shown this version or each chunk of this version of the “truth” at the start of her journey, at which point would the enormity of the challenge laid out in front of her weigh her down and halt her efforts? At which point would the “truth” stop being beneficial and become a hindrance and a drag on aspiration? As Tristam Hooley comments on the  Nick Hillman piece

Careers advice, like politics, is the art of the possible. In fact much of the rationale for the existing of career guidance as part of public policy is the fact that helps individuals to make their way through sub-optimally organised systems.

so at which point should the full extent of just how “sub-optimal” the system is be shown? At which point does the “possible” become narrowed to reflect the reality rather than expanded to reflect the ambition? I’ve blogged before on framing Labour Market Statistics not as a dissuading element but as a motivator to encourage students to push on and achieve their dreams but Nick’s piece made me consider a deeper truth in my own practice in adhering to the statistics. Through omission and selection, I do not always “tell the truth.” I choose which facts and statistics to unveil to students that I think will motive and encourage them at opportune and transitional points and through that, hope to play a small role in the process as they move forward to see their version of the “truth” themselves.

Geeking out with @Edu_Employers research conference talks

The theory and statistics behind education and employer engagement and youth transitions into the labour market is exciting stuff isn’t it?

No wait, come back, IT IS. Or at least I find it to be. I find the theory and narratives found in the data (and by “found” I mean presented to me in easy to understand graphs by Professor types) allow me to speak to parents and students with much more clarity on the prospects ahead of them, compare the value of the routes on offer locally in a wider context away from the marketing hype and just generally be confident in that I have a better idea in what the hell I’m talking about when people are looking to you for guidance on that hardest of things to predict; the future.

These videos are from the Education and Employers Taskforce Research Conference January 2014.

Professor Alison Wolf – On the death of the youth job market, how the growth of youth unemployment in the 18-24 age bracket is seriously worrying, the comparison with between the value of a degree in the UK to Europe and how the Apprenticeship system is failing the under 19s, the age group who needs them most.

 

Dr Anna Mazenod – On the difference between Apprenticeship policy and rhetoric for the under 19s and actual system delivery in the UK compared to other EU countries (spoiler: we’re still not doing right by just asking employers nicely to play ball and not requiring them to play ball).

 

Dr Anthony Mann & Dr Steve Jones – On how experiences of employer interaction can aid young people in their future labour market entry which, considering the very clear requirements in last weeks Guidance on schools to secure employer interaction for their pupils, is now central to Careers policy for young people in the UK. The quoted feedbacks from students are very interesting especially when comparing the school types they originate from.

 

All worth watching and all will help me place the decisions I make on the provisions I try to secure for students and the value those provisions should hold in the wider context of the increasingly challenging school to work obstacle course.