IN the final instalment of our series on apprenticeships, we rebuff the stereotypes, uncover some remarkable success stories, and discuss the Government’s £8M pledge to increase degree apprenticeships. We also hear from the Chief Ofsted Inspector and numerous reputable employers, careers counsellors and work experience advisors about their thoughts on the matter.
A recent careers survey of more than 5,250 youngsters found that almost half of those pursuing a university degree considered apprenticeships to be “second rate” in comparison. Of those, 40 per cent thought an apprenticeship wasn’t an option for their chosen career path and a comparable number argued that degrees had a significantly better reputation. In addition, students whose parents studied at university were more likely to be opposed to apprenticeships, with a tenth arguing that their parents were wholly against them.
Given the DfE’s ambition to increase apprenticeship achievement rates to 67 per cent, it’s more important than ever to dispel outdated notions and embrace the many benefits of apprenticeships. And with the UK’s unpredictable economy and endemic skills shortages, it’s vital for employers, learning providers, parents, and students of all ages, to advocate for real change.
The Benefits of Apprenticeships
The Government pledges £8M to increase the number of degree apprenticeships.
The education minister recently wrote to universities across the country stressing the importance of vocational education and degree apprenticeships. In a bid to support its growth, he has pledged up to £8 million this financial year to Higher Education providers who want to increase the number of degree apprenticeships on offer. Additionally, the Apprenticeship Support & Knowledge for Schools and Colleges programme (ASK) will raise awareness of the benefits of apprenticeships to encourage more pupils to consider them as part of their post-18 options.
“Universities play a vital role in our society. Inspiring institutions continuously contribute to our community, the economy, employment, skills, and the sum of human knowledge,” said Minister Halfon. “Having emerged from the social upheaval of the pandemic, we must now look ahead to do everything possible to support the class of 2023’s next steps - whether in university, other types of study, training, or employment.
“Higher Education must meet the needs of the young people who pay to access it, who rely on it for their future employability and prosperity. Courses that offer specific technical skills, such as degree apprenticeships, meet this need by responding to employers’ skills demands and equipping students to join the workforce.
He added: “My enthusiasm for degree apprenticeships arises from their key role in both meeting the skills needs of the economy and facilitating social justice. Degree apprenticeships offer all students a route to career progress and allow those from disadvantaged backgrounds to earn, learn and gain a degree without having to pay tuition fees. They offer these students a route up the ladder of opportunity, to good employment and career prospects.”
Source: The St Martin’s Group in Partnership with L&W (Learning & Work Institute).
Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said that despite two-thirds of apprenticeship providers scoring good or outstanding in recent inspections, there was still work to do. She said that while apprentices should expect to carry out online learning and self-study, they could be a “toxic combination” when overused or used too soon in an apprenticeship. And failing to balance these factors could damage an apprentice’s motivation and enthusiasm.
“If an apprentice spends most of their first three months studying at home on their own, we can hardly be surprised if they drop out,” she told the Annual Apprenticeship Conference 2023. “Apprentices need high-quality training from skilled and experienced staff. You need to plan it well and teach it in a coherent order. You need to balance the on and off-the-job elements carefully. You need to know what will be learnt and when, and your apprentices should know this too.”
Apprenticeship Success Stories
Can apprenticeships really lead to rewarding and fulfilling careers?
We asked a sixth-form careers advisor at a large comprehensive in Manchester that very question. While some parents still snubbed apprenticeships, she said that she’d noticed a significant increase in the number of students considering apprenticeships in the last five years.
“For younger students, they offer a debt-free route to a degree or a professional qualification,” she said. “For older people, they offer promotions often with the same employer. For example, many students on the Business Degree Apprenticeship course at Manchester Metropolitan University are older people sponsored by their employers. School leavers find it difficult to get places on the course.
“Similarly, many nursing and teaching apprentices are adults already employed in the fields of health and education. However, many digital marketing courses are open to school leavers and large employers such as Ernst & Young (EY), Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG) and British Aerospace Systems (BAE) actively recruit school leavers.
“Our students seem well aware of the positive aspects of applying for an apprenticeship rather than a degree. It is their parents’ generation which needs educating about why this is a preferable route for their children.
She added: “A-level requirements for apprenticeships are lower than those for degree courses. Students assume they must be easy to get on. In fact, they’re highly competitive. More so than equivalent degree courses. The selection procedure is rigorous. Students need to research the industry and gain some work experience to interview well. Employers are looking for evidence of personal qualities and transferable skills like teamwork, time management, leadership qualities, verbal, and written communication.”
That may be so, but how many apprentices go on to forge promising careers?
It might surprise you to hear that world-famous fashion designer Stella McCartney completed an apprenticeship with her father, Sir Paul McCartney, at his tailoring shop. Celebrated for her sustainable and ethical approach to fashion, she went on to found her own eponymous fashion label.
Known for his cheeky demeanour and casual approach to cuisine, Jamie Oliver started his career as an apprentice chef at the Neal Street Restaurant, in London. Now a famous TV personality and restauranteur, he has numerous recipe books and TV shows under his belt.
Karen Brady started her career as a trainee at the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi. She is now Vice Chairman of West Ham United football club and a prominent media personality on BBC’s The Apprentice.
Sir Ian McKellen completed a three-year apprenticeship at the Belgrade Theatre, in Coventry. He is now one of the most celebrated British actors of his generation, starring in blockbusters like The Lord of the Rings and the X-Men franchise.
Do apprenticeships make good business sense? And how do they effect my career prospects?
“There may still be misconceptions regarding who can be an apprentice relating to age and in what job role. However, over the last five plus years, we have seen a really positive change in the uptake of apprenticeships by employers,” said Amanda Holmes, Employer & Engagement Job Shop and Work Experience Manager at Coleg Cambria.
Based in Northeast Wales, Coleg Cambria is one of the UK’s largest colleges serving more than 8,000 students. The award-winning college offers a wide range of apprenticeships from engineering, manufacturing and maintenance to horticulture and landscaping, laboratory and life sciences, and social media and digital marketing. They work in partnership with more than 1,000 employers locally and nationally to help students gain fulfilling apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities.
“There are still pockets of misinterpretations around apprenticeships, which need to be addressed,” said Amanda. “An apprenticeship is not just about gaining a qualification. It’s a learning pathway. It’s about developing these well-rounded skills that you need to get a job, to keep it and to be prosperous.”
“People who aren’t actively involved in apprenticeships, especially in the education sector, need to be more knowledgeable about them,” she said. “We’re keen for schools to engage with Cambria to find out more about apprenticeships so that we can provide their pupils with the best information, advice, and guidance for their future careers. An apprenticeship may be a great option. And we also need to make sure that parents can access the right information to guide their sons or daughters. They are so influential.”
Apprenticeship systems in England and Wales are similar, but the main difference is how they are governed, assessed, and delivered.
“Apprenticeships are very popular with our employers and they’re definitely here to stay,” Amanda added. “It’s nice for people who have been in the business for a long time to impart their knowledge. It’s not just about a qualification, it’s about the support, training and the mentorship people get within businesses.”
So, what does a successful employer-apprentice partnership look like?
Hannah Payne, Skills Development Co-ordinator at WorldSkills UK, said positive relationships are built on trust, helping both parties achieve common goals. Speaking to Investors in People, she said: “A successful employer-apprentice partnership is having a positive two-way relationship between the apprentice and the employer. This will include supporting each other, trusting each other, respecting each other [and] having open and transparent communication. Both committing to the success of the organisation as well as the success of the apprentice’s development, providing opportunities to the apprentice as well as the apprentice utilising the opportunities that the employer offers.”
Research shows that completing an apprenticeship can improve your career prospects.
Source: The St Martin’s Group in Partnership with L&W (Learning & Work Institute).
During an Investors in People webinar on developing apprenticeships in construction, an expert panel discussed how society had created a divisive model where apprenticeships and universities competed against each other for young talent.
“At the moment, employers have a default setting in their mindset to add a degree requirement in their job descriptions. This has to change,” it said. “According to St Martin’s Group, 98 per cent of employers with apprentices say they’ve experienced additional benefits including addressing skills shortages, providing value for money, and improving diversity.”
In addition, the panel claimed that 70 per cent of employers in the construction industry said that apprentices helped them plug skills gaps. A further 53 per cent highlighted apprentices being a cost-effective labour source and 39 per cent said they improved their public image.
“Now we’re not saying that it’s one or the other,” it added. “But what we are saying is there must be an equilibrium between apprentices and graduates. The statistics speak for themselves. Apprentices benefit a business.”
Blueberry’s Jessie Parker agreed, saying the rewards of apprenticeships were two-fold. “An apprentice can receive valuable on-the-job training in their chosen trade,” she said. “A business gains a skilled individual who is tailored to their business needs and can develop within the company’s culture. My apprenticeship gave me structured learning whilst also gaining experience in an exciting sector. Everything I learnt during my apprenticeship has stuck with me and I continue to reap the rewards of it.”
Let’s wrap this up!
Apprenticeships are the bomb – what more do we need to say?
Chris Rea, a careers expert at Prospects for Jisc, said: “Despite the equality of esteem apprenticeships have acquired in the eyes of government and educators, some stigma remains in the public mind. Dated views place apprenticeships as second-rate to university and an option more suitable for low-attaining students, but modern apprenticeships are a very different career opportunity to when many parents were at school.”
In a quest to avoid some of the negative connotations associated with apprenticeships, some education providers refer to it as a “pathway of learning” or a “sandwich of courses.” Numerous employers have renamed their trainee schemes – Rolls Royce has named its newest apprenticeship training centre the Nuclear Skills Academy. But while that may work for some, is it really necessary? Can’t we just accept the fact that apprenticeships are here to stay?
Speaking at the Annual Apprenticeship Conference 2023, Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), said more needed to be done to curb apprenticeship dropout rates. She argued that more emphasis needed to be put on the value of apprenticeships.
“Despite their acknowledged benefits, apprenticeships are still not widely cited as a qualification requirement in the labour market,” she said. “Given the skills sector itself is guilty of this, we need to put our own house in order to convince others of the need to do so themselves.”
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, said she welcomed the UCAS announcement to extend its service to apprenticeship vacancies. Along with initiatives to improve school careers guidance, she claimed this could “significantly improve” youngsters’ awareness and take-up of apprenticeships.
The education, training and labour markets need to collectively promote, develop, and support apprenticeships. Furthermore, employers need to broaden their reach. There will always be a demand for university, but it’s not suitable for everyone. Careers that were once only accessible through higher education are now viable routes for those who want to do an apprenticeship.
“If you’ve got the qualification, you’ve got the work experience and you’ve developed the softer skills along the way – then for me, it’s a done deal,” said Amanda Holmes, of Coleg Cambria.