Why we need a consistent voice on apprenticeships

Sep 6, 2018 | Apprentices & school leaver

Simon Reichwald, ISE Honorary VP and Strategic Lead for Emerging Talent at MyKindaFuture, considers the drop in apprentice numbers and the benefit of a consistent voice.

I was asked recently (on camera) how I felt employers were reacting to the levy and apprenticeships, and my response was “with enthusiasm and frustration”.

“Enthusiasm,” as most employers for so many reasons see apprentices as a good thing with 94% of levy payers planning to use their levy (BPP Research). And at a very personal level, I’ve found anecdotal evidence of employer enthusiasm for apprenticeships and the desire to do them well. This is through my work at the ISE. We asked members to join our recently created Apprentice Steering Group and were overwhelmed with interest.

But “frustration”, as employers cannot take advantage of it quickly enough, most commonly due to the lack of apprenticeship standards in place, which aren’t being signed off by government fast enough. The reason for that frustration is contributing to the drop-in apprentice numbers, other factors include:

  • Companies quite rightly paused to take stock of how best to maximise the levy
  • Most levy payers have, so far, been using their levy pot for enrolling existing staff on apprenticeships to upskill and help retain them
  • The plan is not to try and use it all quickly but rather to gradually use the levy, with 60% expecting to use it all within four years
  • A number of levy payers are focusing on higher level apprenticeships

And finally, and possibly most contentiously, one of the reasons for introducing the levy and new standards was to up the quality of apprentice training as it was just not good enough for too many young people. I suspect it is those programmes that have had the highest drop in numbers.

If we look at apprenticeships through the lens of young people, with 55% of levy payers targeting those 25 years old and younger, the two big issues are that:

  • Apprenticeships are still too widely seen as purely for manual work/trades
  • There is huge lack of awareness about the breadth and range of quality apprenticeship programmes, with young people, teachers and parents.
  • Apprenticeships, particularly at the higher level, are competing against the well and long established ‘UCAS machine’… you can see our webinar on how to promote your apprenticeships to schools here. 

So what will or should the future look like?

It will take time, but apprenticeship numbers, the volume of standards available and the apprentice ‘brand’ will continue to grow positively. Key to this will be a consistent positive voice on the topic. In the run up to A level results this year we saw many more positive stories about young people going down the apprenticeship route as opposed to university, so even the UK media are behind them!

An important example of the need for a consistent voice in the youth market is driven by one of the things that we are seeing in the market: a growing number of employers are currently, or plan to, engage schools. This is a good thing, but as apprentice numbers grow, the volume of employers wanting to do this will become overwhelming for schools. One approach could be sector collaboration. As opposed to one employer going into a school, a group of employers could come together to create sector specific content for young people and take that message into schools, getting ahead through collaborative advantage.

This approach benefits all. For employers, they won’t have to individually go into as many schools, saving resource, time and cost. Schools will not be as overwhelmed and have more confidence that their students will get a balanced view of careers. For young people, who have little idea of all the employers who offer apprenticeships, they first need to know what different levels of apprenticeship there are, what kind of work each sectors do and only then will they start to think about which employers to apply to.

In these uncertain Brexit times, one thing we can be sure of is that apprenticeships, quite rightly, are part of a bright future.

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