Aspiration Apprenticeship: Are Apprenticeships still too much of an Afterthought?

By Ajay Sharman posted 03-02-2023 10:27


In time for National Apprenticeship Week, it’s the perfect time to ask - are young people being failed by not being offered or being encouraged to think about apprenticeships as a serious career option? Are apprenticeships seen as a token afterthought after a delicious main course of academic (and at times vocational) schooling? In my view, apprenticeships should be a prized After Eight mint to complete a sweet end to education!

Hiring an apprentice is a productive and cost-effective way to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled and highly qualified workforce. It ensures the pipeline of the UK’s young talent doesn’t stall, and as we recover from the depths and at times despair of the pandemic, more employers should be encouraged to take action for our future workforce where possible. Apprentices can adapt their training according to the needs of each business, and in my experience they are almost always highly motivated to learn new skills.

Apprenticeship programmes provide a learning structure and valuable vocational work experience that can help nurture skills and foster future senior roles. Given the current financial climate, the increasing levels of uncertainty and the growing challenges many organisations face, the financial support and focus recently announced by the Government may provide fresh impetus for employers to implement exciting, highly rewarding Apprenticeship programmes. In fact, our now Prime Minister praised the ‘outstanding’ work of apprenticeships when he was Chancellor last year.

Employers considering apprenticeships need to explore what skills they need to build within their workforce for now and in the future. Apprenticeships, if applied correctly, are an opportunity for STEM employers to get ahead of the curve by offering different programmes that upskill, strengthen and broaden the capabilities of their future employees.

A survey last August of 1000 people aged 18-24 carried out by Censuswide on behalf of BDO revealed the continuing misconceptions around apprenticeships among young people. The findings included:

  • More than half of young people believe a university degree makes you more likely to earn a high salary than an apprenticeship
  • More than a third believe you are less likely to reach the most senior positions within a business if you do an apprenticeship
  • Schools and colleges still favour students attending university, with almost two thirds encouraging this route over an apprenticeship

Disappointingly, the research also found that almost half (49%) believe that apprenticeships are better suited to those who don’t get high enough grades to go to university, and more than a third (34%) believe you are less likely to reach the most senior positions within a business if you do an apprenticeship rather than a university degree.

More than half (55%) of respondents said their parents or guardians would prefer or have preferred them to go to university over an apprenticeship. The percentage of parents encouraging the university route increased for those from a Black or Asian heritage. Almost three quarters (71%) of those from a Black heritage and 63% of those from an Asian heritage said their parents or guardians would prefer the university route.

While many believe that a degree will lead to a higher salary than an apprenticeship, 64% do believe that an apprenticeship is more likely to result in a permanent job once completed compared to a university degree. This is a positive message.

University education remains highly regarded and a focus for many school career leaders. However, significant debts and additional costs during the current cost-of-living crisis will begin to make this journey less attractive. Crucially, for those students from more challenging socio-economic backgrounds, university may become less accessible - impacting the social inclusion and social mobility drive in the UK.

Here's just one example of how an apprenticeship can take someone to the top. Carl Ennis left school at 16 and is now Chief Executive of Siemens plc. He’s calling on more youngsters to think about STEM careers, and during a previous National Apprenticeship Week he wrote an impassioned letter to his 16-year-old self. He is now a key senior executive at a global firm which employs more than 300,000 people around the world and has a market value of around £75bn…all after starting out as a teenage apprentice.

In addition to increasing the broad range of apprenticeship routes with many employers, especially STEM employers, it is critical that employers link apprentice STEM Ambassadors from organisations, to young people at schools, from local, regional and national companies, smashing stereotypes and inspiring a new generation to consider this as a journey of choice.

These STEM Ambassadors – all volunteers - are part of a unique national infrastructure of support for STEM education, allowing schools and colleges to access free STEM professional role models, enhanced-DBS cleared, to engage with young people in an impactful way, by supporting learning, illuminating careers and raising aspirations. An increasing number of apprentices are becoming STEM Ambassadors and helping to raise awareness around taking up an employer supported apprenticeship offer. Apprentice STEM Ambassadors within employers can now go back into schools and drive further interest to this exciting route.

The call to arms is three-fold. Firstly, encourage employers to consider establishing exciting and business-led apprenticeship training programmes. Ensure teachers and careers advisers at schools and colleges are fully aware of the broad apprenticeship offers that are available to young people. Finally, dispel any myths and negative stereotypes by working with local STEM Ambassador Hubs by accessing these free role models from local and regional employers, who can be the catalyst for young people to fully consider this route as a productive career journey.

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08-02-2023 08:58

Totally agree.  Have definitely noticed an increased interest and uptake in Apprenticeships.  Many of them are very competitive to get on and there is quite an involved process in applying!  A lot of time is dedicated in schools/6th forms/colleges to the UCAS application process, perhaps more can be done to prepare those wanting to pursue higher/degree level apprenticeships?  (Not withstanding all of the other demands on teachers of course)

05-02-2023 06:49

There are a few of us here in the office who have just enrolled onto a level 3 apprenticeship course for Digital Learning Practitioner.

Apprenticeships at school were never dicussed, I went to a grammar school where university was the next step after completing A-levels. I really believe that if apprenticeships were discussed and offered as much as A-levels & university then I most likely would have followed that route. I find I retain information better when I practically carry out tasks, and I understand why I need to know background information when I can see how it's applied in a practical way. It's great that there appears to be a bigger scope of apprenticeship courses on offer however we have a long way to go with more degree apprenticeships being created, offered and taken up as true alternatives of the equal standing they are.

04-02-2023 13:30

With T level Thursday coming up this week as part of National Apprenticeship Week we are certainly on board with this at my college.  We are very lucky to be hosting an apprenticeship fair this week to recruit our students directly onto these programmes with a range of STEM and other employers in the south east. There is a definite trend in our level 3 students towards apprenticeships and away from HE.  More degree apprenticeships would be even better.  The infrastructure in FE certainly helps with the organisation of these events. Many FE colleges such as ours have apprenticeship programs and with increased contact between secondary schools and the post16 sector now mandatory, hopefully more students will see this as a progression option.

04-02-2023 07:55

Hi Aj

I/we like apprenticeships. Currently have 3 teacher apprentices, 1 science technician, 1 network  technician and about to sign off on one for application of technology.

Putting the teacher apprentices aside, the 3 others will complete with real qualifications that will contribute to degree level study if they choose to go that route or further professional study if that is preferred.