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.
2. Significant proportions of young people who want to pursue vocational pathways are battling unsupportive parents (same source)
3. For Level 3 students, the choice of Higher Apprenticeships is miniscule
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.
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.
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.
This age group has, so far this year, gone on to make 939,630 applications.
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
- A lack of support with the whole application process from on line form to interview
- A lack of work experience building opportunities
- 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.