university

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.

Careers apps

Back in December 2018, the DfE announced two winners of a £300,000 funding pot open for digital IAG tools that would help young people make more informed choices about their University choice both in regard to provider and subject. Now, in April 2019, both of the tools have launched.

Offering IAG through digital platforms to young people has a mixed track record (we’ll always have the memory of Plotr) but practitioners know they can be a fundamental resource to use with your client base.

The two apps take different approaches to how they inform and advise their users with the Higher Education data now available. It’s worth saying that both platforms are (at the time of writing) still in beta testing so improvements in design, layout and usability will be ongoing and any judgments should be made with that in mind. The first app, ThinkUni is described as a “personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare” and is from a team that has a good track record in offering social mobility enhancing schemes through the Brilliant Club. The current site looks fairly basic with text drop down boxes asking users on their preferences on University study (city or campus, course reputation or earnings outcomes etc).

think uni1On first impressions, I found there isn’t much to be impressed with here. The very first question assumes that the user knows what subject they want to study so relies on a baseline that simply isn’t there for a lot of young people and then site assumes that the user will be studying A Levels so widening participation also doesn’t seem to be a concern (I’m sure that other Level 3 qualifications will be incorporated into the site at some point but soft launching without them isn’t a good look). The “digital assistant” selling point is also over played with the course suggestion results being much the same as would result from a search using advanced filters on the UCAS search facility. If the user already knows their views on subject, location, course type etc. to input, then why not just go or be directed to the source site? Currently, the “assistant” part of ThinkUni seems extremely inactive.

The other competition winner comes from The Profs, a team who have previously built a Professional Tutor finding platform, and is a much more interactive looking experience. “The Way Up” games tasks users to pick an avatar and make choices on learning and earning routes at each step of their journey.

way up game1This approach develops a greater sense of ownership in the process and the results as the user is able to modify the route to reflect their own interests while still following the linear structure of the game. The interface isn’t the most aesthetically astounding you’ll see and I also thought that some of the presented LMI was easy to miss on-screen but, once you notice it, the format does incorporate a significant amount of LMI data into each stage. I also think that the biggest learning gain for young people using the platform might not be regarding their career choice or route but the realistic balance to be found when budgeting monthly in-comings and outgoings.

As a format for simulated learning, turn based, point and click games were also used back in the days of late 2000s Aimhigher University visits when one of the regular activities was a web-based game that allowed secondary school students to take control of a new University student avatar and make choices for their study, work and social life. The implications of those choices displayed in a character health chart which valued balance above partying too hard or studying too much. The user was able to see the realistic choices on offer and the consequences of those choices and reflect on how they would react in that possible environment. So the format isn’t new but the inclusion of the LMI and HE data is.

The “Way Up Game” is designed to have the widest possible capture point so that it includes career routes and choice options for lots of young people. At the more specific and detailed end of the simulation market, flight and even truck driving simulations are PC games that can require high level computers to run with the amount of detail their fan base demands while still offering career learning opportunities. More accessible versions of this format can be found in sector skills funded apps such as Construction Manager from the CiTB. Allowing users to take charge of a construction business, hire employees, pitch for contracts and then take on those jobs all presented within a SIMS type graphical interface make for an engaging career learning experience. Place these alongside digital diagnostic tools and digital communication tool there is a rich variety of online CEIAG resource.

Research

Research evidence on the value of digital and online IAG experiences offers some guidance to both of the creative teams on what could help their products have the impact they are looking for with users.

Two excellent summaries of research in this area are the CEC What Works edition: “Careers Websites” and this recent webinar from Tristram Hooley “Approaches to online guidance”

Neither of the two apps offer any links to expanding social networks or sharing results so building users social capital does not seem to be on the agenda.

The CEC document references research from Dunwall et al (2014) which evaluated the MeTycoon careers game and found that

87% of participants said playing the game had given them new career ideas and 66% said they had shared or discussed the game with friends.

The format of “The Way Up Game” more closely matches MeTycoon so those developers will be hoping for that level of impact with their users. The ThinkUni platform perhaps gains research backing with its slight nod towards the user involving CEIAG professionals in the findings from using the site. The CEC summary states:

The use of careers websites should be integrated into schools’ careers education provision, and may be more effective for pupils when use, at least initially, is mediated and supported by careers and education professionals.

Once the user has contemplated their suggestions, the final screen ThinkUni suggests

think uni assistant1

This is only a very slight prompt though. The user is not asked, for example, if they wish to email their results to a named individual which could be a CEIAG professional or school tutor so perhaps both developers would benefit from designing accompanying session plans that could enable teachers/CEIAG practitioners to use the apps in group sessions and build upon the learning experiences of the young people in the room. A further step could even be to incorporate “nudge” techniques by communicating to both user and professional so conversations could occur to see if further research tasks have been undertaken by the user. Neither of the platforms require the involvement of CEIAG professionals in the learning journey of the user.

This failure to build in involvement of practitioners places both of the apps well behind more detailed digital offers such as Start Profile. This program combines both personalisation lead by the user lead and exploration of career routes with LMI drawn from LMI for all and the ability for practitioner oversight and involvement. As this ICEGS evaluation of Start concludes

Start builds on much of what the existing evidence base tells us about the efficacy of online products. It brings together information and advice for a young person and allows them to personalise their learning journey. It offers a blended learning technology in which the school can connect the online learning to classroom based career learning. It builds on longstanding career assessment practices by building a personal profile of work preferences, qualities, skills and interests and using this to match users to jobs and learning opportunities based on their suitability and how available those jobs are in the labour market.

Differences do remain though between Start Profile and these two new apps in their data sources. LMI for All utilises a range of sources (detailed on page 10 here) but they (and so Start Profile) do not seem to include data from the Office for Students on HE access, continuation, attainment and progression.

By side-stepping CEIAG professionals both apps purely user focussed offers but this could still offer positive impact. The CEC Moments of Choice research concluded that young people desire the presentation of careers data that:

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and it would be fair to conclude that both apps achieve at least 7 of those requirements to varying degrees. Young people can access the data in a method that is convient to them, when they require it, be safe in the knowledge that it is using reliable sources, receive suggested future actions and be able to personalise it. Only the involvment of influencers is missing.

International comparisons

These formats for offering HE focused CEIAG learning are also available in other countries. For example, Australia has Campus Quest which offers users two games, Campus Quest based on a student attending a University campus and E-Study Quest based on a student studying from home.

The graphical interface is slightly more interesting than both of the new UK apps but in particular the 3D presentation is more eye-catching than “The Way Up” game.

Value

For the DfE to offer funding, policy holders must hope that any resulting resources will add value to the marketplace of existing CEIAG digital products either through successfully filing a niche or building upon existing products. For me, currently the two apps (still at testing stage remember) do neither and they also choose to set aside a proportion of the research in this area. It may be more politically satisfying for the DfE to achieve a new CEIAG platform through this process but questions should be asked whether a more worthy platform could have been achieved through the adaption of existing products and how any resulting products are able to fit into, adapt and shape for the positive the current CEIAG landscape supporting young people.

HE Careers support and consumers

The trend for Higher Education students to think of themselves as consumers of a service rather then learners in a place of education is a wider societal change accelerated by tuition fees and qualification demands of and competition within the labour market. A recent survey (“Education, Consumer Rights and Maintaining Trust: What students want from their university”) carried out by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK found that 47% of student now considered themselves “customers” of their Universities. There will be diverging views on this as some will welcome the customer focus and efficiency this brings while others will mourn the loss of a sense of the value of learning for it’s own sake.

An offshoot of this growing viewpoint seems to be an increase in the quality of support services students expect to access during their time at University which, in turn, is both a boost to the standing of Careers departments in Higher Education but also a raising of expectations. The survey results show a clear desire from students to receive personalised support and advice from their University with 80% responding that this was one of their top three priorities and 34% (which was the second highest after “a service for the fees you pay”) placing it as their top priority.

universities uk report

Students expect their university to take an active interest in them as an individual and to help them progress through their education, as well as providing careers guidance and support.

The importance of their University experience in helping their career progression is also clearly apparent in student views on what makes a course good value for money.

universities uk report2

The inclusion of “future career prospects” here is interesting because it would seem to include not only stand alone Careers Service offers but also the employability offered by the degree being studied. The collaboration needed to embed Careers work into programmes of study and academic departments is a strategy that colleagues in Higher Education would be more able to give their view on but the example in this recent article in the Times Higher Education from the Director of Graduate Advancement at Liverpool John Moores of “faculty teams” developing “academic school career plans” seems to be a model to emulate.

The growing importance of Careers Service provision to student satisfaction levels (and so marketable statistics for a HE institution) will be a boost to colleagues in HE who, like many practitioners, are conscious of the need to justify their departments. The slides below from a presentation at last month’s AGCAS conference by Nalayini Thambar, Director of Careers & Employability at the University of Nottingham, are a neat way of approaching this task

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Lists of types of provision won’t cut it

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But how problems are solved does

All of this adds up to a promising time for Careers support services in HE as they become central to the future plans of any UK University. The recent news that almost half of young people in England are now progressing onto Higher Education and the potential growth of other employer linked courses such as Degree Apprenticeships shows that (bearing in mind fears over Brexit restricting recruitment) the demand for Higher Education places is still very strong. With the right promotion, collaboration and support from Vice Chancellors and their Executive teams, Careers provision in HE has the drivers to go from strength to strength over the coming years.

 

 

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.