Nichola Hay explains how and why she helped launch an innovative network of apprenticeship champions to provide better information and advice about the benefits of the vocational training to jobseekers.

Unfilled apprenticeship vacancies have been a problem for the FE sector for a number of years.

They have also been a source of personal frustration in my role as director at Outsource Training and Development, a national training provider.

This frustration led me to a meeting at a local Job Centre Plus (JCP) office in Hillingdon, to discuss the barriers to young people registering and applying for an apprenticeship.

It became very clear that there was a real lack of information, advice and guidance (IAG) on apprenticeships being given to young people attending the JCP.

From this meeting we formed a focus group to look at what the barriers were to engaging young people and how we could increase apprenticeship applications.

This group included: Outsource Training and Development; the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS); the Skills Funding Agency (SFA); the Department for Work and Pensions; the JCP; and the National Careers Service (NCS).

From my experience and through subsequent research and discussions, we identified that many JCP/NCS advisors lacked awareness or knowledge of how to apply for an apprenticeship and how to identify local apprenticeship opportunities.

The lack of partnership working between training providers, JCP, NCS and schools/colleges to promote apprenticeship vacancies was also identified as a growing concern.

Working in partnership can provide a platform for developing solutions around IAG and promoting apprenticeships to young people

We agreed to run a pilot in West London to address these issues.

The pilot saw over 30 JCP/NCS advisors up-skilled on apprenticeship IAG.

The role of these ‘champions’ was to increase IAG awareness around apprenticeships in their offices and hopefully impact on the number of apprenticeship applications received.

The pilot was a great success; NAS reported an increase in young people applying for apprenticeships (in London West) and the JCP ‘Champions’ reported to be more confident when using the application system.

We then expanded the project across London, delivering half-day workshops for any JCP advisors that were interested in becoming a ‘champion’.

To ensure the project maintained momentum we held our first JCP/NCS Apprenticeship Champion seminar.

Over 100 JCP Champions attended to share practices and raise awareness regarding apprenticeship career pathways.

It provided a chance for advisors to discuss best practices and to disseminate these practices back into their offices.

We have now up-skilled over 140 JCP Apprenticeship Champions across London with at least one champion in every JCP office.

We have also held a further three seminars.  97 per cent of champions have reported they now feel more confident in promoting apprenticeships and 100 per cent reported they will refer clients to the “Find an Apprenticeship” website.

There has also been a notable increase in apprenticeship activity on the NAS website and within the JCP offices.

There is no doubt the project has been a real success. It has shown real innovation through the way relevant stakeholders have collaborated to improve the information provided on apprenticeship opportunities.

It has also raised the level of quality IAG young people receive on career pathways and how to use the application system effectively. The ‘champions’ are also now working closer with training providers to increase the number of young people moving into apprenticeships.

The project shows that working in partnership can provide a platform for developing solutions around IAG and promoting apprenticeships to young people.

The group is now in discussions with the JCP to roll out the project nationally.

The focus group also joined forces with the Work Based Learning Alliance in London who hosted the most recent Champions event on March 31, at City Hall.